Wynonna Earp, created by Beau Smith, is the fictional story of a young woman who is a descendant of the real-life legendary gunslinger Wyatt Earp. Skilled like her ancestor, Wynonna uses her sharp shooting to bring the supernatural to justice. Melding the horror and western genres — two genres which rarely treat lady-folk well — WYNONNA EARP might be the empowerment that scrappy girls like me have dreamed of for their entire lives.

Wynonna made her character debut in the eponymous 1996 five-issue Image Comics miniseries. IDW acquired the rights to the character and published a short series in 2003 titled WYNONNA EARP: HOME ON THE STRANGE, followed by “Blood is the Harvest” in 2004, and WYNONNA EARP: THE YETI WARS in 2011. In 2016, IDW re-released the original five issues and all of the following arcs in a trade paperback titled WYNONNA EARP: STRANGE INHERITANCE.

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Crossing mediums, WYNONNA EARP was adapted by Syfy into a television series of the same name in 2016, with season two premiering June 9th of this year. The television show is a glittering example of gritty feminist fantasy, filling the chasm left for many of us by the conclusion of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. And most recently, in 2016, IDW published an eight issue television tie-in series. While her start was rocky and, frankly, a little appalling, WYNNONA EARP proves that a character doesn’t have to be bogged down by their initial poor characterization. Rather than exiling sexist depictions into a vault to never be seen again, harnessing a character’s potential and evolving them into what they should’ve been in the first place does wonders to soothe wounds.

Nip-slips and Name-calling

The first three issues of the 1996 series make up Wynonna’s first story arc, “Rednecks, White Corpuscles, and Blue Ribbon Beer.” We follow U.S. Marshal Wynonna Earp as she combats a pack of trailer trash vampires in New Mexico. The bloodsuckers are getting into trouble peddling a new drug called Hemo, which mutates the blood in a human’s system.

READ: Have a soft spot for vampires? Check out AMERICAN VAMPIRE VOL. 2!

As soon as Wynonna appeared on the page, I was praying it wasn’t so. My eyes scanned the panels slowly, hoping to find that the impossibly proportioned, barely-clad blonde was a one-off villain. Her jeans are skin-tight, which occasionally dip enough to reveal the fact that she’s wearing a thong. Her haphazardly loose brown leather corset not only looks like a pile of scraps, but also makes me think that too deep of a breath will result in a nip-slip of a horrifying degree. Alas, that is Wynnona Earp, our heroine, in all her impractical and unprofessional glory.

WYNONNA EARP: STRANGE INHERITANCE
Image from WYNONNA EARP: STRANGE INHERITANCE, courtesy of IDW.

Wynonna’s enemies constantly throw around the word “slut” baselessly and indiscriminately. As if the worst thing a woman can be is sexually active. As if a woman’s sexual proclivity is the first word that would pop into my head if she was shooting me in the face. I never thought I’d advocate for the use of the word “bitch,” but at least that makes sense.

First Crack at Characterization

Fortunately, beyond her hyper-sexualized appearance, Wynonna wasn’t a walking stereotype of womanhood. In her debut arc, Wynonna definitely kicks ass. She’s not just good with a gun but packs a punch with some physical combat skills. She’s overflowing with confidence and tosses around the occasional witty one-liner.

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Unfortunately, that’s where the good news pretty much ends. She’s severely lacking in characterization. Besides her reckless determination and lack of fear, I know nothing about her. There’s nothing empathetic or relatable about her. It’s always cool when a character lives outside of the law, and Wynonna claims to uphold only justice, not the legal system. But what does that mean? This arc gives readers no sense of Wynonna’s personal moral code. Does she just want to eradicate evil — especially of the supernatural variety — or does she want to protect the innocent? It’s hard to tell, as bullets are more forthcoming than her personality. In fact, she comes off as callous and single-minded, not really seeming to mind that the body count of bystanders is rising as she battles her foes.

A sexualized character is never inherently bad, but when the character lacks depth like Wynonna does here, it turns them into a glorified sexual prop. The men are interesting at least, shown as grotesque redneck vampires who love television or gruff, bounty-hunting werewolves. The other women of this comic barely say more than a few lines. They’re either scantily clad, insignificant villains, or brutally slaughtered. Wynonna’s clearly wish-fulfillment — she exists to excite men with her ample, bared bosom and sassy back-talk, but she doesn’t feel real.

Not a Fan of that Service

The next two-issue arc is “The Refried Dead.” In this story, the heads of crime families around the world are the targets of a series of murders. This leads Wynonna to fight to prevent an Egyptian crime cult from resurrecting a mummified goddess.

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Off to a not-so-great start, Wynonna strides into a comic shop to deliver a cringe-worthy line of fan-service. A young, socially inept male asks if she likes comics. Wynonna slides down her sunglasses to say, “I just dig the kinda guys that read comics.” Sure, maybe one can interpret it as Wynonna being cheeky, but I find the whole exchange unnecessary.

WYNONNA EARP: STRANGE INHERITANCE
Image from WYNONNA EARP: STRANGE INHERITANCE, courtesy of IDW.

A woman, no matter how attractive, shouldn’t be met with disbelief upon entering a comic store. We’re an ignored demographic in the first place. A line like that is just pandering to an audience, and it reduces Wynonna to a fetish.

Swing and a Miss

One positive from this arc is that, in order for the cult to resurrect their goddess, the cultists need an appropriate vessel. Wynonna, of course, is that vessel. Is it cool that Wynonna is basically at goddess status? Yes. Is it cool that to do the ritual the cultists have to take off Wynnona’s clothes and wrap her in bandages? Not so much. It doesn’t even make much sense. If a mummy is going to be resurrected, wouldn’t she want a non-mummified body? Why is this the only thing that needs to be done to prepare the vessel?  Are the rules of magic as sexist as this lazy excuse to get her naked?

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Things get even less cool when, upon being helped out of danger, the bandages are cut so Wynnona’s only clad in a few strips of cloth around her chest and groin. Suddenly she’s one mild breeze away from making the comic an eighteen-and-older product. It goes without saying that it would be more practical to take two minutes to find her clothes before facing baddies with guns and monsters, but, of course, she doesn’t do that. She spends the rest of the arc looking like Mrs. October in a pornographic calendar.

WYNONNA EARP: STRANGE INHERITANCE
Image from WYNONNA EARP: STRANGE INHERITANCE, courtesy of IDW.

Bad Boys are so Last Year

My biggest issue with this arc is the character Nick Deferro, an ex-flame of Wynonna’s. Nick rides the coattails of Wynonna’s hard work and arrives at the Egyptian crime base as Wynonna is restrained for the ritual. Nick sees that Wynonna is unable to move, and of course uses that opportunity to plant a kiss on her lips. As a defense he says that the last time he kissed her he got punched, and I think we’re supposed to find his workaround charming. After the speedy assault, Nick rescues Wynonna like the damsel she isn’t.

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Naturally, the two of them spend the rest of their time together verbally sparring. Yet, somehow, once the immediate danger is over, the arc closes with the two of them on a date. Nick puts forward the idea that they should put their romantic mistakes in the past, and Wynonna promptly reminds him those mistakes include him cheating on her — in an orgy. Not to mention she’s a U.S. marshal and he’s, you know, involved with the mob. Inexplicably, it all concludes with a steamy make-out scene. There is no real previous indication that there might be an attraction between the two of them, as Nick just delivers ill-timed sleazy come-ons. Wynonna’s character is singularly reduced to fending him off.

A Glimmer of Light

HOME ON THE STRANGE was when Wynnona moved from Image to IDW. In this storyline, Wyatt Earp’s old enemies are back from the dead. They discover that they will gain immortality if they wipe out the Earp bloodline. Wynonna’s life is the only thing that stands in their way to an eternal life of crime. Wynonna faces off with the cowboys at Tombstone, Arizona, with the help of some new friends — and even Wyatt’s ghost.

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With the first appearance of Wynonna, this series is already on a good foot. She looks more like a real woman. Her proportions are more natural, her hair doesn’t look like it was achieved through witchcraft, and her clothes are much more befitting of a marshal. Her neckline is a little more plunging than necessary for law enforcement, but I’m hardly one to begrudge anyone their cleavage. Especially if they look bad-ass.

WYNONNA EARP: STRANGE INHERITANCE
Image from WYNONNA EARP: STRANGE INHERITANCE, courtesy of IDW.

Wynona’s image lends a lot more to the Western genre, which I feel is more authentically embraced in this series. The lawful Western style melds nicely with an early-2000s flair, too. She looks like a woman one might actually have run into in an Arizona bar back in 2003. Her appearance also walks a more androgynous line, harnessing the strength of both masculine and feminine energies.

A Friend Indeed

In this series, Wynonna’ friends humanize her and flesh out her character. In the previous series, Wynonna had a few acquaintances that hopped into the ring with her. However, she came off as a little cold and harsh to them, all business until the last pages of each arc.

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A warmth develops in Wynonna with the introduction of her old friend, weapons expert, Smitty. The best part is that there’s no hint of sexual or romantic tension between the two of them. They’re genuine friends — friends that give each other a hard time, maybe, but they look out for each other. Wynonna tries to give her friends an out when she goes to her final showdown with the cowboys, knowing they might not all make it out. However, her friends won’t stand for that. They’re in the fight together. They have her back.

One particularly delightful addition in this series is Wynonna’s new sister-in-arms, Marshal Holly Day. I’m not sure if the pun on Wyatt Earp’s old right-hand man, Doc Holliday, is perfect or groan-worthy, but it’s nice to have more than one woman on the team. Adding her to the series highlights that being a powerful woman isn’t a fluke, and there’s not just one way to be a strong woman. She’s attractive without being objectified, and shoots with the best of them. Neither Holly nor Wynonna are ever threatened by each other, even when it’s dropped that Holly is in a relationship with Smitty. Wynonna’s softer side comes out when Holly sustains an injury, and she regards Smitty with sympathy and compassion when she thinks that Holly won’t pull through. However, Holly’s cool factor doubles when she reveals her immortality.

A Mixed Bag

Though this series is leaps and bounds ahead of the last one, it’s hardly perfect. There are still a few eye-roll moments. Near the beginning of the first issue, Wynonna fights a cluster of zombie mailmen. Yes, really. In their hunger for flesh, one of them hisses that they want breast meat, taking the opportunity to remind us of Wynonna’s womanhood, just in case we forgot for two seconds.

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Afterwards, Wynonna is in a hotel room sitting on her bed after a shower. She reports in to her boss over the phone, dressed in a tiny purple robe. I wouldn’t mind the obvious ploy for a moment of sexualization so much if she weren’t posed in a way that has her legs splayed open. It’s not even a natural or comfortable position. Trust me, I tried it just to see. There’s unnecessary, and then there’s just gratuitous.

WYNONNA EARP: STRANGE INHERITANCE
Image from WYNONNA EARP: STRANGE INHERITANCE, courtesy of IDW.

One-off Wonder

“Blood is the Harvest” is a very short one-off horror issue that was first published in TALES OF TERROR in 2004. Wynonna flies to Kansas to investigate a haunted wheat field — and that’s pretty much the gist of the story. For all of its shortness,”Blood is the Harvest” is by far one of my favorite issues.

Wynonna feels much less like a gimmick in this. Before, she kicked ass and was attractive, but in “Blood is the Harvest,” she owns it. She’s friendlier and more playful, making bets with the local law enforcement for donuts and spewing horror movie references left and right. She huffs about flight layovers and paperwork, finding them inconvenient. If that isn’t relatable, I don’t know what is. Most importantly, she’s lovable. She complains that she expected more of a fight from the big bad who turns out to be an unimpressive, demonic wheat scarecrow. There’s no quicker way to my heart than a character annoyed by sub-par villains. If there’s only one thing you read from WYNONNA EARP: STRANGE INHERITANCE, it should be this.

WYNONNA EARP: STRANGE INHERITANCE
Image from WYNONNA EARP: STRANGE INHERITANCE, courtesy of IDW.

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T

In 2011, IDW published a four-part series titled WYNONNA EARP: THE YETI WARS. In this series, Wynonna travels to Alaska to combat evil immortals, vicious yetis, and a psychopathic doctor who toys with genetics. This is one of the most compelling story lines before the 2016 television tie-in. However, I’m still torn.

THE YETI WARS has one of the most respectful approaches to Wynonna’s character. Imagine my shock when I found out that we don’t even see a centimeter of her cleavage in the entire story. Sure, she’s in the snow most of the time, but when has practicality ever hindered past creators? In all sincerity, though, it’s very satisfying to see the approach to Wynonna’s appearance change this way. There’s nothing wrong with sexy women in comics, but a lack of realism and agency is where the problems come into play.

WYNONNA EARP: STRANGE INHERITANCE
Image from WYNONNA EARP: STRANGE INHERITANCE, courtesy of IDW.

Wynonna evades those problems in this series. She has authority: she commands a crew of people who never question her orders. On top of that, she has intelligence and experience. She’s more than just a woman with a gun. However, I feel like this comic loses part of her characterization in diluting her sense of humor. The plot has more intricacies than past series, so I think it’s only natural that Wynonna’s strong personality fell to the wayside, but it is certainly missed.

Not Like Other Girls

As empowering as this updated Wynonna is, the depiction of other women is still a little iffy. Marshal Holly Day makes a comeback, which is great. Unfortunately, her role mostly centers around trading playful jibes with her ex, Smitty. There are exes who can handle working together maturely, and then there’s this weird brand of dependence on snark. It feels like Holly doesn’t exist outside of a punchline. On top of that, after she saves Smitty’s life, another marshal makes a “saved by a girl,” comment. Gag me.

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Worse than that is the villainess, Sasha. She does very little besides seduce the psychotic Dr. Robidoux. Her boss, Maxim, worries that Robidoux will double cross them, so he wants her to keep an eye on him. She ends up keeping a lot more than that on him, that’s for sure. Apparently lacking creativity, Sasha tries to seduce Robidoux a second time after what appears to be mere hours after their first tryst. However, she fails at even that before Robidoux shoots her in the face.

Heaven’s Got Nothing on This

WYNONNA EARP (2016) is the current eight-issue series that both loosely ties in to the current television series as well as reboots her origins. Rather than running her organization, she’s new to it. Instead of this making her come off as less powerful, it makes her empathetic, as she has a lot to learn. Honestly, after all of the questionable representations that the previous iterations of this character have had, I am surprised that this series is so flawless and inspiring. If I’m honest, I sped through it, breathless, unable to put it down. Then maybe I cried when I was done. This series is as if someone reached into my brain and pulled out everything I’ve ever wanted.

This series is a wild ride. Wynonna battles Chupacannibals in Idaho, infiltrates a supernatural fight club in West Virginia, and faces off with a scientist and his horde of zombies in a mall in Arizona. All the while, a mysterious gunman taunts and toys with Wynonna’s life, trying to coax her back home to Tombstone. Once she gets there she discovers the shooter is Johnny Ringo, a revenant spirit who plunges her hometown back into the past. To wrap up the series, Wynonna helps a werewolf in the Witness Protection Program defend his family from vengeful white wolves who run the dark web.

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Real Women Have Flaws

The Wynonna Earp of this comic is recognizable, but a million times more authentic than when I first entered the Earp-verse. She’s not portrayed as perfect by any means. Wynonna is reckless, disregarding orders and shooting at every paranormal body that moves. She’s stubborn, but she’s driven by compassion. She’s not single minded like she used to be, and she prioritizes the lives of the innocent caught in demon cross-hairs. Her rough edges make her lovable and interesting.

WYNONNA EARP (2016)
Image from WYNONNA EARP (2016), courtesy of IDW

She’s not a fearless woman, which I think is important. Bravery is more defined when a person walks into danger, afraid of its power. She’s witty and playful, and while there’s no emphasis on her sensuality, she still flirts and teases. Wynonna is angry, proud, and jealous. She’s complex and real. Beyond the fact that she’s the heir of a cursed bloodline, she’s just like you or me.

READ: Check out this review of WINNEBAGO GRAVEYARD #1 for more spooky fun!

It’s Raining (Wo)men, Hallelujah

The number of women in this series is honestly mind blowing. On top of that, they’re all interesting and diverse. The first kick ass woman to join Wynonna’s crew is Valdez. She’s supposed to act as Wynonna’s mentor, as she has more experience and a cool head. Valdez is strong and fierce and, most interestingly, she is an ancient Mayan warrior princess. Occasionally she and Wynonna clash, but they believe in and support one another above all.

WYNONNA EARP (2016)
Image from WYNONNA EARP (2016), courtesy of IDW

Deputy Haught is featured in the final issue, which is exciting if you’re familiar with the television series. On TV, this redheaded beauty is in a same-sex relationship with Wynonna’s younger sister, Waverly. While not explicitly stated in this series, there is a very heavy subtextual implication towards Haught’s sexuality. Her boss describes Haught as one of the best in the Black Badge Division, and she proves to be noble as she throws herself in harm’s way to protect the werewolf family she’s assigned to.

There are a lot more cool women in this series, friends and foe alike. Sadly, Holly Day doesn’t make another appearance. That’s likely because, in her place, we have the actual Doc Holliday, immortal and sassy as ever. I find him to be a very important inclusion in this feminist series, because while he’s very flirtatious, he’s never sleazy. Most importantly, he’s probably the most sexualized character on the page. Do I have a bit of a crush on him? You bet your cowboy hat I do! And so does Wynonna. See? I told you she was a realistic character.

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Why WYNONNA EARP

Tracing the print history of my favorite gun-slinging heroine wasn’t easy. The earlier issues made me uncomfortable, and as I read along, progress seemed slow to come. So why did I read on? Well, first and foremost, I’m familiar with the television show. On the screen, Wynonna’s world is so rich and interesting. I wanted to believe that was something that could exist on paper, too.

While it took two decades to get there, I can confidently say that Wynonna got there. I think that WYNONNA EARP: HOME ON THE STRANGE and onward is worth reading, but you’re truly missing out if you choose to pass on the 2016 series. Wynonna’s beginnings are important to consider because readers and creators need to be aware of the possibility for learning and change. Characters and their writers and artists can improve. They can go from problematic to enlightened. It’s possible. And I believe that that faith in character growth is far more productive than writing someone off.

WYNONNA EARP (2016)
Image from WYNONNA EARP (2016), courtesy of IDW

Wynonna makes me feel powerful. I have never so clearly seen myself in a character before. I’ve seen her grow as an icon, as a symbol of female strength, and she makes me want to be better. I’m proud of Wynonna Earp.

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