Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia, DC Comics, 2002.
By Sam Hurwitt
When I posted my review of the first six issues of Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s rebooted Wonder Woman series last Wednesday, an esteemed colleague (and bitter Words with Friends adversary) of mine remarked that he just wasn’t feeling it because the Greg Rucka run of WW remains the gold standard for him. And I certainly agree that Rucka did some great things with Diana and her supporting cast, so why not take a look back at one of the most acclaimed periods in Wonder Woman’s 71-year history? I’ve been thinking for a while about taking an issue-by-issue look at various periods in the premier superheroine’s history. So heck, let’s start there!
It doesn’t make any sense to talk about Greg Rucka’s Wonder Woman without talking about The Hiketeia, the graphic novel that came out a year before Rucka started writing the WW monthly title. In fact his author bio says, “The Hiketeia is his first published work featuring the DC icon Wonder Woman, and he hopes it will not be his last.” Well, Greg, you’re in luck.
The title refers to an ancient Greek ritual in which desperate people show up and fall on the mercy of a host, who is then obligated to offer them sanctuary and protection. Typically this rite was practiced at designated sanctuaries—that is to say, temples—but the focus here is on those without hope throwing themselves on the feet of prominent citizens, who then have to take them into their home and look after them. It’s much more binding and involved than simple laws of hospitality, which the Greeks took very seriously to begin with.
In this poignant, self-contained tale, a murderer unexpectedly performs the rite of hiketeia before Wonder Woman, who then has to take her in, feed her and even give up her bed to her. (And it’s a pretty fancy bed—Diana is an ambassador at this point, living in a palatial embassy.) Diana doesn’t know Danielle Wellys is a murderer; she asks her no questions, although Danny wishes she would. So Wonder Woman also doesn’t know that her super friend Batman is in hot pursuit of the young woman, and he’s not the type to give up.
Also hanging out outside the embassy are the Erinyes or Furies, who are best known for hounding those who harm their own family, as they do in The Oresteia, but they also punish oathbreakers of all kinds. So even if Diana were not compelled by her own sense of honor (which is much more unshakable than most heroes’, and they’re pretty steadfast as a rule), these three Furies are just waiting for her to slip up so they swoop down on her.
J.G. Jones’s art is super dramatic throughout the story. I particularly love how he shows the statue faces of the gods looking down in darkness while Danielle makes her plea. This is serious business. I also like that he gives Diana a kind of sharp, Greek-looking nose, not large per se but not the little button nose often given to beautiful women in comic either. It’s a good look for her. His Batman freaks me out a little, but that’s really based mostly on one panel where he’s baring his teeth while talking with an expression that makes him look a little like a grinning skeleton. Maybe he’s got a little Joker Venom in his system from whatever adventure he was having earlier that night.
Of course it turns out that Danny had good reasons for killing the people she did, who took horrible advantage of her sister when she moved from their small town in Missouri to big bad Gotham City. Batman, naturally, doesn’t make allowances for extenuating circumstances like that. Wonder Woman similarly doesn’t care, because her oath is all she cares about. Mind you, this setup is a bit simplistic, because obviously Diana does care very much about truth and justice. In fact, she was even a goddess of truth for a while, and her magic lasso compels people to speak the truth. But at the same time, her deep respect for ritual and keeping her promises—to say nothing of the gods who made these rules in the first place—also feels very true to the character.
Still, all this is essentially a device to bring Wonder Woman into conflict with Batman. Now, that should be a pretty short fight. Diana is faster than Mercury and stronger than Hercules, after all, and she was raised as a warrior from the cradle. However, it’s also been increasingly a truism that Batman always wins. It doesn’t matter if he’s up against Superman or Darkseid—Batman wins, because that’s what he does. He figures out a way. Batman doesn’t have any superpowers, but always winning has been a sort of de facto superpower of his for a long time. He’s like Bink in Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, the one guy who didn’t appear to have magical powers in a land where everyone has magical powers—it’s just that his power turned out to be much more powerful than anyone imagined, the power to make everything turn out for the best for him. Even when the being that gave the land of Xanth its magic in the first place went away, he ultimately had to come back because it was in Bink’s best interest for him to do so. Only in Batman’s case it’s not magic or luck, it’s just because he’s so damn clever.
To Rucka’s credit, he doesn’t play that game. Wonder Woman kicks Batman’s ass, repeatedly and definitively. He has no chance whatsoever against her. But it’s also not in Batman’s nature to give up, so the only one who can resolve the situation is Danny. What will she do? Will the Furies get to tear anyone apart? Well, you’ll just have to read the story, and I suggest that you do. It’s a good one.