Amazons from Space


On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments.

I honestly have no idea why it’s called “Contagion.”

Wonder Woman: Contagion,DC Comics, 2010.

Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman run ends with this slim tome, collecting Wonder Woman (volume 3) issues 40-44. This book jumps around a lot, as if Simone had a lot of things planned and had to rip through them fairly quickly before the next guy came in. The series changed hands with the next issue, which wasn’t number 45 but number 600, combining the numbering of the first series (1942-1986), the second series (1987-2006) and the third, then-current series. The comic would retain its new numbering until the end, which was only a little over a year away, when DC rebooted its entire universe and started all its series over from issue 1, even those like Action Comics and Detective Comics that had continued unbroken since the 1930s.

Because the changeover happened on such a landmark issue, you might think it had been planned for a while, but DC Comics seems to make all its big decisions on the fly lately, as evidenced by how sloppy and seat-of-its-pants the latest “New 52” reboot was. They clearly hadn’t bothered to determine which parts of the previous continuity carried over into the new one and which didn’t before pulling the trigger, so that references to Tim Drake having been Robin have to be excised from reprints of the early issues because now editorial has decided that actually that never happened.  So I don’t know how much advance warning Simone had that it was time to wrap it up, but it reads like she was planting the scenes for a much longer story than what actually came to pass. Not that I mind comics where a lot happens in a single issue—far from it—and it’s all too rare nowadays. But it does feel a little rushed.

I can only hope that Simone had plans for the Ichor, the spacefaring elder siblings of all gods everywhere, but that thread was abandoned abruptly, with Zeus saying that he was going off with these mysterious figures that we never got a chance to properly meet. As far as I know neither the Ichor nor Zeus’s star trek were ever mentioned again, but to be fair it wasn’t long before the entire DC universe that this story was set in was scrapped and rebooted. And Zeus is conspicuously absent in the current Wonder Woman series, even though it seemingly shares no continuity with any previous version, so who knows? Maybe Zeus wandered away far enough that he missed the reboot entirely, and will be surprised as anyone to hear that he’s suddenly Wonder Woman’s dad now.

In fact, there’s an interstellar visitation in this last Simone arc that at first seems like it might have something to do with the Ichor, but then totally doesn’t. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Hey! Wondy! Leave those kids alone!

Wonder Woman #40, DC Comics, March 2010.

Hey, remember those babies those mysteriously knocked up Amazons were going to have just an issue ago? Well, they’re all grown up. Okay, not all grown up, but they look like they’re easily 8 to 10 years old, in prep school uniforms. We never found out exactly how those pregnancies happened, because the Amazons swore they never had sex with a guy, but in any case Ares was behind it and remains behind their antics, even if he’s currently dead and we don’t see his ghost skulking around in this particular story.

He seems to have raised them right, anyway. They’re ever so polite as they make mild-mannered suggestions to people that enflame suspicion, hatred, and violence. And not just people. The feathered serpent Quetzlotl, son of Quetzalcoatl, has eaten a subway train, and Wondy has to slap him around a bit to get him to cough it up. Here again, it’s fun to see Simone bring in deities outside of the usual pantheons that show up in comics. Not that it never happen—Quetzy’s dad has shown up occasionally in both Thor and Superman comics—but it’s unusual.

That’s Diana. She’s all things to all people. And big snakes.

Oh, and we find out that Etta Candy has been a secret agent for Checkmate all this time, which comes as a shock to Diana but won’t really become relevant again before the universe ends, so never mind that. Here it’s brought up basically to explain what Etta’s been up to all this time since last we saw her, how and why she slimmed down, and why Diana really needs to let herself off the hook for putting Etta in harm’s way. As for how her nurse, Tamika, seems to have dropped 60 pounds and 20 years since last we saw her nine issues ago, that goes unexplained, although the real answer is just that Aaron Lopestri draws the character substantially differently than Bernard Chang did.

Meanwhile the children are busy being terrifying, turning Wonder Woman fans against her or inciting race hatred with a few well-chosen insinuations delivered in an innocent “heavens forfend!” tone. It’s somehow much more disturbing than when it’s, say, Doctor Psycho whipping a crowd into a murderous frenzy with his mind control, even if it’s essentially the same thing. The boys wear a crow symbol on their caps and uniform jackets that looks like a knockoff of the Hawkman logo, though that’s probably unintentional. With names like Scorpion, Goat and Adder, the kids appear to be collectively called “the Crows,” at least to judge from promotional text, but I don’t think they’re ever called that in the comic itself.

Listen to what the children say. On second thought, don’t.

But the real star attraction of this story is who they turn against Diana—Power Girl, who’s relevant for two very big reasons. One, she has powers just like Superman’s, because she’s from the Krypton of another, now-vanished universe (home of the former Earth-2, where the Golden Age Wonder Woman lived). Two, she’s notoriously hot-tempered. Oh, and as Black Canary mentioned in the last volume, PG is also the only superheroine with a more famous bosom than Wonder Woman’s, which I’m sure doesn’t factor at all into the decision to get the two of them into a knock-down, drag-out fight. For all those reasons, when she gets turned against Wonder Woman, it’s going to be a battle to watch.

Oh, it is ON.

Wonder Woman #41, DC Comics, April 2010.

Before we get to the battle, there’s an adorable scene in which Achilles goes to buy a house, only to find that the real estate agent seems to be a reincarnation of his old friend (and probably his lover) Patroclus. This is handled pretty skillfully, in that savvy readers will glean that Achilles is probably gay, while if other readers want to object that they’re just good friends, they can do that too. The fact that Diana set up the reunion makes it all the more adorable.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen him happy before.

I suppose a Power Girl/Wonder Woman fight is bound to include a fair amount of fanservice, but I didn’t expect it to be quite as fetishy as it is here. The fight itself is pretty badass, with a whole lot of full-out pounding on each other. (My favorite line by far is, “Wait. This isn’t… Did she just punch me into Canada?” Not bad considering the fight is in Washington, DC.) And how Diana finally gets through to PG is pretty great, as is the way Power Girl gets to save the day.

Just look at those two titans clash!

But the art, by fill-in team Chris Batista and Fernando Dagnino, definitely emphasized the girl fight titillation factor, and I could have done without the lurid panel of Power Girl flying with a hot dog in her mouth, splashing mustard on her boob. The fact that this is preceded by the line, “I should eat this somewhere where it won’t end up on a pay website,” doesn’t exactly make it better, though it’s funny and true enough.

I’d say this isn’t the time, but with Wonder Woman, there’s ALWAYS time for bondage.

This issue also has Wonder Woman asking Power Girl to tie her up, and there’s spanking involved. It’s like the whole issue is a tribute to the pervy glory days of Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

And hello, Nicola Scott!

Wonder Woman #42, DC Comics, May 2010.

Hey, remember that blue-skinned Green Lantern from Simone’s first volume, Procanon Kaa, and his brash young Khund trainee? Well, more time seems to have passed out in space than back on Earth, because Kho Kharhi has been through a fair amount of training and has considerably toned down her shtick of being a savage warrior who doesn’t understand non-thumping culture. In fact, now she’s super compassionate. The two of them and another Green Lantern, an excessively wordy and formal alien called Thulka Re, investigate a planet of happy smiling wee Hobbit folk that have been suddenly exterminated. Not by Khunds this time, nor by the Ichor like last time we saw these GLs, but by horrible swarms of flesh-eating snakes from the sky.

Yeah, that’s pretty gross.

Whatever’s up with these snakes, their slaughter appears to be to feed whatever dwells on a spaceship with all that it’s consumed. And no sooner are we introduced to how horrible this new threat must be than, of course, it attacks Earth. We find it’s the Citizenry, a massively powerful invasion fleet of women warriors based on a creed of survival of the fittest. They lay waste to planets and feed on their organic and technological materials, and they take the planet’s best and brightest women to absorb into their culture.

At least they take an interest in the cultures they destroy.

Oh, and their leader? Well, she claims to be Wonder Woman’s aunt. One thing any long-time Wonder Woman reader knows is that whenever a long-lost sister of Hippolyta shows up, that’s never good news.

Man, Nicola Scott did some great work on this run.

Wonder Woman #43, DC Comics, June 2010.

The issue starts with a flashback to the forging of Wonder Woman’s uniform, driving home that its resemblance to American patriotic symbols is supposedly sheer coincidence—that it’s patterned after the stars in the night sky, the red of the harvest moon, and a passing golden eagle. I’ve never cared much for this kind of revisionist, though it’s not quite as ridiculous here as it was during the period when Superman writers were trying to convince us that the S on his chest wasn’t an S at all but a Kryptonian family crest that only coincidentally looked like an S. That was some nonsense. But there are some nice touches in the flashback—the implication (not for the first time) that General Phillipus was a coparent to Diana and possibly a partner to Hippolyta. We also see the blacksmith Io, who’s in love with Diana, for the first time since Greg Rucka’s run, as she’s tasked with forging Wonder Woman’s breastplate.

Worst. Aunt. Ever.

Apparently there’s some kind of force field keeping the rest of Earth’s heroes out of the action, so it’s up to Diana and her allies to try to stop her long-lost Auntie Astarte from grinding the world into nutritious paste. Achilles gets a long-deferred chance to be awesome, with the amusing explanation that his strength is proportional to his conviction in battle, and the gorillas and Steve and Etta all step up to join the fight.

Yeah, you really don’t want that coming for you.

Diana gets a taste of Astarte’s back story with her magic lasso, seeing her take her baby sister’s place when the Citizenry came, 3,000 years ago, to take a hundred exceptional females from the planet. What’s interesting is that back then the Citizenry wasn’t nearly as cruel as it is today, leaving planets in peace and only taking what they needed. The tribe’s current scorched-earth savagery is madness of Astarte’s own invention. Mind you, this doesn’t quite make sense. As Diana points out later, the Amazons other than herself came into being as adults, so Astarte’s account of herself as a little girl and Hippolyta as a baby can’t possibly be true. But even if Astarte is deceiving herself, the lasso should cut through that and show her the truth. That’s what it does. So even with Diana acknowledging that it makes no sense, it still doesn’t make sense.

Never mind that, though, because Diana manages to convince Astarte to settle the conflict in Diana’s own comfort zone, the Arena. Trouble is, her opponent is her own opposite number—Astarte’s savage space Amazon daughter, Theana. She’s got giant piercings and white-gal dreads, so you know she’s bad.

She will be assimilated.

Wonder Woman #44, DC Comics, July 2010.

Theana’s back story is appropriately disturbing. As a toddler she was locked in a room with all the other children, who were told they wouldn’t get any food unless they killed one of their fellows every day. Three years later, she was the only one left, and she’s been fighting for her food ever since. And, unfortunately, she seems to be Diana’s equal in combat.

I guess they’re kicking cousins.

Diana has an ace in the hole, though. Not the peace and love patter she keeps up all through the fight, which doesn’t seem to be getting through to Theana at all, but a well-chosen ally. She picked Astarte’s lieutenant as her second for the duel, and Zusen seems mighty conflicted about her entire way of life. She has Zusen work quietly to let some of Diana’s allies through, and none of them are named Superman.

Outside, Achilles is wreaking havoc on the fleet on his two-trunked, three-eyed elephant, and Steve Trevor joins him, returning to his roots as a fighter pilot in an invisible plane. (Not Wonder Woman’s original, but a copy made by Bruce Wayne’s company—it’s unclear whether the original is still in action after Wondy used it against D’Grth.)

Oh Steve, how we’ve missed you. Well, I have, anyway.

The cavalry comes a-running in a pretty damn satisfying way, and as usual things go very poorly for the bad guys. When the Amazons come flying in with the battle cry “Amazons…defend!,” on the one hand it’s a cute if somewhat eyeroll-worthy play on Amazons Attack!, of course. But if you actually think about it, even though it’s not commented upon, it also really is an answer to that debacle, because here they are swooping in to save the very same city they laid waste to just a couple years before.

One thing I find interesting here is that that in this volume Wonder Woman keeps sending all the bad guys back to Reform Island to be reeducated. Creepy children of Ares, evil space Amazons, whatever—they go to the same place Paula von Gunther and her slaves were rehabilitated back in the 1940s, and where the Gorgons escaped from when it was destroyed early in Rucka’s run. I would have loved to have seen a story exploring what went on at the rebuilt Reform Island before all that history was wiped away.

The group-hug ending seems to come all too fast, but it’s still a nice way to close out a promising run that ended too soon. In fact, even now I’m a little sad to have reached the end of the Gail Simone run in my writeups, because it feels like I was just getting started revisiting it. But it made me a Wonder Woman fan for the first time in more than 20 years, and that’s something that’s not only stuck through the problematic stories that followed but has ballooned to the point where I’m compelled to blog about the Amazon’s adventures every week. So Simone did some pretty darned good work right there.

It’s just a shame that this—or rather the following issue—was the last we’d see of the “classic” Wonder Woman until the present day. J. Michael Straczynski would reinvent her entirely, with a new costume and a new reality, and then Flashpoint would do the same thing, and then the New 52 would do it again. It’s a pity her whole world would be tossed out the window again after all the years of storytelling that had gone into building it, but the old stories are still there if you want to reread them. They may not be reprinted, and the majority of Wonder Woman stories still aren’t because DC doesn’t seem to care much about her, but they’re still out there somewhere if you want to track them down. So that’s what I’ve been doing.

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