5 out of 5
Epic. Truly. Earned. And across a relatively slim amount of pages – 4 prestiges, which we could consider 8-ish regular comics – that’s not a “retelling” or “reimagining” or any somesuch of a classic character, and yet manages to do what one might hope with such ventures: capturing the spirit of that character and revitalizing it anew, or even presenting that spirit wholly for those who’ve never experienced it in the first place.
Honestly – I’m not sure which I am in this case. The character highlighted here is Wonder Woman – Diana – and although I have very much enjoyed certain takes on her, I’ve never experienced the same kinda Wow factor that addicted me to other name heroes along the way. Sure, this is DCs “Black Label” imprint, and so maybe it’s not canon – we’re tossed into the far future, so a million other stories can be told between now and Dead Earth’s eventual setting – but that doesn’t make it any less impactful and essential and true to what I would identify as a distilled version of Wonder Woman. There are so many cheap tricks writers employ in stories of this nature – stories in which we try to boil a Batman or Superman down to their core ethos – that would cause me to put something like “epic” in quotes; writer / artist Daniel Warren Johnson amusingly feints towards some of those things here and there, but ultimately goes a different way, and tells his own story, but one that should now be considered one of the best WW tales going forward.
At some point in the future, Wonder Woman awakes from an unidentifiably long sleep. There are no other heroes. The planet is in ruins. She runs across scraps of civilization, under attack form monstrous beasts – Haedra – that she comes to understand emerged post the nuclear war that decimated the land long ago. Diana cannot remember much of what occurred beyond some snippets, but she knows who she is, and she knows that she’s not running at full steam. She follows a small group of humans back to their stronghold, and discovers all the usual dystopia, Mad Max stuff: disparate classes; an abusive “king;” gladiator battles for entertainment of said king. Surely, the beats from here are clear: liberate these humans; save the world.
This is a very human tale, in order to properly connect this goddess to the regular folk she’s supposed to love. Daniel Warren Johnson’s rough, free-flowing artwork ain’t always pretty, but that’s the point: this isn’t the bikini-clad Diana to be put on a pedestal, and this future Earth isn’t populated by cool badasses who strike splashpage poses. The monsters are ugly; everyone – Wonder Woman included – is grimed up and dirty and exhausted. And that design is just the first step of many that makes this tale feel so raw and bold, and it’s not “isolated” from the DCU at large – there are nods to other Whats and Whos and they’re just as weighty as the rest of Johnson’s world building.
Even when “epics” – in quotes – manage to be entertaining, or distracting, they normally fall flat in the end. Because nothing is ever really allowed to change; we always have to get back to smiling faces and status quo. While Dead Earth doesn’t rewrite that rule, necessarily, it maintains its quoteless-epicness by earning its conclusion, kicking and dragging its way to final pages that feel like a bold declaration of character, and not just an easy-peasey way of winking The End at us.
This is amazing storytelling, start to finish, and great looking, from the oversized prestige printing, to panel after panel of emotional art, to Mike Spicer’s colors, bringing a full range of hues to the mix without degrading the impact of the heavy-duty story.