Review – Wonder Woman: Dead Earth
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Daniel Warren Johnson
Art: Daniel Warren Johnson
Coloring: Michael Spicer
Lettering: Rus Wooten
Cover/Back Art: Daniel Warren Johnson with Michael Spicer
Release Dates: May 2020
Black Label has been a bit of a boondoggle for DC Comics since its debut in 2018. It was conceived as a label for ‘adult’ titles, being much more permissive of content like violence, sex, and the words that make comic letterers go #@$&!. This, of course, all went right to hell as soon as there was controversy over a certain piece of anatomy being visible in the very first Black Label title, Batman: Damned. DC Quickly stepped their mature readers label back a bit, and it felt like the imprint became a bit milquetoast and lost in its purpose ever since, with existing classics like All-Star Superman and Batman: White Knight being released with the label slapped on them and nothing that particularly made them any more for adult readers when they were at the time of release.
I give you this brief history lesson on the nature of DC Black Label strictly so I can then tell you that Wonder Woman: Dead Earth is an original title exclusive to Black Label and absolutely takes advantage of the imprint’s original purpose, at least insofar as the topic of violence is concerned. This book is gory. It’s dark. It is, dare I say it, metal (Move over, Scott Snyder). But does this story capture the essence of Wonder Woman, a character who it is all too easy to miss the forest for the trees on and turn into an out of character, bloodthirsty warrior? Find out in our review of Wonder Woman: Dead Earth.
Dead Earth is an elseworlds title, which means it doesn’t take place anywhere near your standard DC Universe continuity for the uninitiated. The divide from standard continuity is immediately felt as the reader is introduced to a post apocalyptic world where Wonder Woman has just woken from a cryogenic slumber with a wicked case of amnesia. No sooner has our protagonist regained consciousness than she finds herself saving the lives of some friendly scavengers by fighting off an immense monster. Within these first pages, the tone is set. Wonder Woman eviscerates the creature in a shower of blood and viscera, and finds a moment to breathe wonder to herself just what the hell made the earth so… well, dead.
From there the story takes a turn for the Mad Max inspired as Wonder Woman (who I will refer to as Diana going forward for the sake of not having to type Wonder Woman ten thousand times) is taken to the dysfunctional dystopic society that her new scavenger friends hail from. We get a dose of everything from a cruel, polygamous despot leader to forced gladiatorial fights for survival and entertainment, and it all feels very Thunderdome. Despite this, it’s never hamfisted and doesn’t ever feel unoriginal, more like loving but noticeable homage.
Part of the reason this setting works so soundly is because Daniel Warren Johnson, who plays double duty as both author and artist, uses the harsh world to contrast and highlight Diana’s character brilliantly. The princess of Themyscira is both compassionate and brutally ruthless in combat. Relatively early in the story, she deposes the aforementioned dictator of this society of survivors, but she chooses not to kill him, instead jailing him and even offering him a chance to help her lead. In one particularly memorable scene while Diana is imprisoned by the people she thought would be her new allies, one of her captors incredulously questions a statement she makes about loving all of humanity, even when they betray her.
“You’re Crazy!” her new companion turned Judas says, “Who are you to talk about love? You don’t even know me! Nobody can live like you say! It’s inhuman!”
“Exactly.” Diana replies knowingly.
If nothing else, it’s perfectly clear that Johnson understands Wonder Woman as a concept. She occupies a similar space to Superman (who does make an appearance, of a sort), in that she represents the best of us. An ideal to be striven towards. Unlike most incarnations of the man of steel, however, Diana is also deeply human and flawed, and the balance between these two sides is portrayed masterfully as the story plays out.
Of course, yes, we do eventually find out what happened to the world, what happened to the Amazons, and where all the other heroes went, but I’m not about to spoil everything here. The plot points I have covered, believe it or not, all take place in the first of four issues, and I highly recommend you read the rest to get the answers to those burning questions.
As mentioned before, Daniel Warren Johnson handles both writing and artistic duties on this book, with the aid of Mike Spicer’s coloring. Johnson’s art style isn’t necessarily what you would expect given the violent nature of the subject, and yet it fits perfectly. It has an almost children’s storybook illustrative quality to it, which matches with the mythical tone of the narrative. The main difference here being most children’s storybooks aren’t full of evisceration blood spouting from gaping wounds. The art is hopeful when it has to be, and incredibly dark when it’s called for.
Mike Spicer’s colors have the quality of hand painted animation cels, and he goes a long way to capture the tone of any scene he’s helping set. The desert wastes are composed of browns and oranges, highlighted with vivid crimsons when the action gets particularly visceral. Later in the story these earth tones give way to deep blues and grays when Diana and a few other characters are at sea looking for Themyscira.
I can fully understand, granted, if someone is put off at first by the art. It does feel somewhat incongruous at first, if you were expecting something a bit more in line with most modern DC products. I promise, though, if you give it a chance, you will warm up to it rather quickly.
In case it wasn’t incredibly clear already, I’m quite taken with this book. Part of the reason I chose to review Wonder Woman: Dead Earth is because I feel it didn’t get the attention it deserved upon release. I would easily call it a must read for any fan of the character, or anyone looking to understand who Wonder Woman is on a deeper level than ‘ha ha she has an invisible jet, how silly’. Daniel Warren Johnson crafts a fun adventure in the styling of a Greek odyssey turned Mad Max, and it will keep you turning pages to the end to find out what brought the world to ruin. I’ll be eagerly awaiting Johnson’s future work, and if any of this sounds up your alley, you can pick up the trade for Wonder Woman: Dead Earth here, and give it your own review.
If you enjoyed our review of Wonder Woman: Dead Earth then leave a comment below or leave your own rating.
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