Wonder Down Under


On Wednesdays I’ll be taking a look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. This is the fifth in a series of posts on Greg Rucka’s much-lauded stint writing Wonder Woman. The first four installments are hereherehere, and here. My write-up of the most recent era of Wonder Woman is here.

Worst pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game ever.

Wonder Woman: Land of the Dead, DC Comics, 2006.

By Sam Hurwitt

After the generous portions of the last trade collection, this one feels a bit skimpy, with only four issues of Wonder Woman in it, plus one issue of The Flash. And really, only three of those issues advance the story that Greg Rucka’s been telling in the last several volumes. The first couple of chapters here don’t have much to do with anything; they’re just a crossover with Flash, featuring a team-up between Wondy’s old enemy the Cheetah and the Flash’s twisted counterpart Zoom. It does establish just what the Cheetah’s up to, after the revelation in the last volume that she’s back—it’s just that what she’s up to will mostly be in other titles, rounding up bad guys for a new version of the Secret Society of Super Villains.

This unfortunately is a harbinger of things to come. From here, Wonder Woman gets lassoed into a domino chain of major crossover events that completely derailed whatever stories were going on in other series all over the DC universe: Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, 52, One Year Later, Amazons Attack, Countdown, Final Crisis, Blackest Night, Flashpoint. At least three of these were supposed to forever change the multiverse. Small wonder that the last of these, spearheaded by Johns, led to the near-complete “do-over” of the New 52 reboot. Mind you, several of the previous continuity-shattering events that screwed things up so much that the reboot was necessary were also spearheaded by Johns, but if the same people who screwed things up beyond repair aren’t the best ones to fix it, who are?  But I digress.

The point is that Johns’s fast-upcoming Infinite Crisis series would cut Rucka’s stint on Wonder Woman short (along with the series itself, at least for now) and largely determine its ending, so all the plotlines that Rucka slowly built up over the last few volumes have to be wrapped up very quickly or not at all, because the last several issues were reserved for crossovery stuff.

Fortunately, in this volume at least, it doesn’t feel all that rushed. Whatever’s going on with Circe and Veronica Cale is put on hold for the moment while Wonder Woman resolves what’s really been bothering her since her battle with Medousa in the last volume. And no, it’s not the fact that she’s been blind ever since, because she actually seems to be doing just fine with that.

As soon as she gets in someone else’s book, it’s bondage city.

The Flash vol. 2 #219, DC Comics, April 2005.

The strangest thing about this collection of Greg Rucka’s Wonder Woman is that it actually starts with an issue of Geoff Johns’s The Flash instead. The Cheetah pops up to spring Zoom out of captivity. Zoom is a guy named Hunter Zolomon that Johns created as a replacement for the old Flash enemy Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash. This Zoom isn’t really a super-speedster—he just seems like it because he can control the way he moves through time. He’s also batshit crazy, considering himself a good guy who helps heroes be better heroes by providing more tragedy in their lives for them to overcome. In a weird way, this parallels Johns’s own strategy as a writer, inserting childhood trauma into the previously happy backstories of various classic heroes to give them something to obsess over all the time. But again, I digress.

She’s a clever one, if suddenly disturbingly kittenish.

The Cheetah has had a personality makeover since last she was seen. She’s now nearly feral, seemingly much less intelligent, and voraciously flirting with anything that moves. I dunno where that’s coming from, but I guess she’s been through a lot, and that’s how she’ll be depicted in the Johns-centric DC universe for some time to come. I guess all cat-themed superwomen wind up being portrayed that way at some point or another, whether it’s Catwoman or Tigra or whoever.  She’s especially hitting pretty hard on Zoom to make him join her even though he doesn’t identify as a villain at all. She finally ropes him in by pleading with him to make her a better villain, and since self-improvement is his thing, he readily agrees. He counsels her to murder the original golden-age Cheetah, for no reason I can see except the usual rationale of Johns-era DC: killing off neglected characters horribly to show how badass such-and-such villain is now.

There’s a bit of the then-current Flash, Wally West, reflecting about how perfect and wonderful his mentor Barry Allen was, little suspecting that this manufactured nostalgia would soon lead to Johns bringing Barry back from the dead—because nobody demanded it—and consigning Wally himself to limbo.

We catch up with Wonder Woman as she’s soundly trouncing Giganta, a very minor old Wonder Woman villain who’d recently been revamped to be exactly like the giantess version from the Super Friends cartoon of the 1970s. (The Golden Age version was a gorilla transformed into a woman, and she was reintroduced post-Crisis by John Byrne as a woman scientist in a gorilla’s body.) They’ve actually hardly met, but apparently Giganta hates Diana something fierce anyway.

See, it’s the lasso making her blurt out all this crazy crap about herself, because apparently that’s what it does now.

There’s a running gag in this issue about Wonder Woman’s lasso, how anyone touching it starts oversharing all their innermost thoughts—in Wally’s case, how tedious he finds Diana’s “constant preaching.” That’s not usually how the lasso works, but whatever. It even sidetracks them into a whole conversation about the death penalty, which doubles as a bit of unsubtle foreshadowing because it seems so forced as an exchange unto itself.

The Flash also makes a crack about how Wonder Woman doesn’t understand what it’s like to be human. This is a theme that Johns will harp on a lot in the Infinite Crisis crossover series, so it bears some explanation. Unlike the Wonder Woman that a lot of us grew up with—and, more to the point, that Johns grew up with—this Diana has never had a civilian identity posing as an ordinary human. So having various people she respects nag her out of the blue about how out of touch she is—despite ample evidence that she’s actually way more caring and understanding than most—is a prelude to the return of her civilian Diana Prince identity right after Rucka’s run ends.

Determined pout!

Wonder Woman vol. 2 #214, DC Comics, May 2005.

The story shifts to Wondy’s own title as soon as Zoom and Cheetah appear and seem to have our heroes on the ropes. But, refreshingly, this issue of Wonder Woman doesn’t start there. Instead, it starts with an interlude on Olympus between Ares and Athena that sets up the events of the next few issues. I like this for a couple of reasons. One: Rucka’s take on the gods is always fun to read, and penciller Drew Johnson’s rendition of Hephaestus is particularly hilarious, like something out of a Popeye comic.  And also it makes it understood that even in an issue that largely has little to do with anything else in Rucka’s run, he’s still taking the time to set the stage for what’s to follow—and reminding us that there’s a lot more going on in the book than big ol’ standard-issue supervillain battles, although there’s certainly a place for that sort of thing.

Half man, half beard!

As for the fight, it’s an awfully bloody one; Cheetah sure is fond of those claws of hers (one of her hands is actually normal here, but that’s not something Rucka ever had time to explain before things came to an end). Zoom decides to take the time to improve Diana, which leads to the lovely line, “I was designed by gods, doctor. I doubt you can improve on their efforts.” Burn!

Mind you, she’s mostly keeping him talking so that she knows where he is, being blind and all, but her fronting backfires a little as he punches her all the way to Paradise Island (something about being punched at light speed, which packs a wallop) and decides it would help her out to start killing her friends. He starts, of course, with the blacksmith Io, who’s the closest thing Diana has to a love interest in this run (albeit a chaste one), punching her “two hundred times in less than a second.” That’s gotta hurt.

That’s some keen deductive use of the ol’ wisdom of Athena there.

Wonder Woman responds by challenging Zoom about whether he’s a hero or a villain, which seems like it’s giving him wayyyyy too much credit. Sure, he thinks he’s a hero, but that’s just because he’s a loon. For anyone sane there’s absolutely no question, and it’s bizarre that she’s even indulging the question. I guess the point is that he’s looped in her magic lasso when she does this, so maybe he really has to face what he really is—but we’ll never know, because she’s kicking his ass so hard while she does it that he can’t do anything but gurgle, and when he escapes a few pages later he’s as deep in his pathology as ever. At the end Cheetah introduces Zoom to Doctor Psycho, which is a good sign that we won’t be seeing much of that little guy again here either, because he’ll be too busy playing supervillain team-up elsewhere.

And now back to your regularly scheduled program already in progress.

Wonder Woman vol. 2 #215, DC Comics, June 2005.

Rags Morales takes over art duties from this point, inked by Michael Bair, and he brings a strong mix of elegance and creepiness to the book that isn’t a jarring shift from Johnson’s work at all.

Note that none of the things she’s kicking your ass with are her eyes.

We open with Diana busting up some sex-trafficking ring, establishing once again that she’s just as effective blind as she was when she was sighted. Plus she’s got a Pegasus now, which is cool.

Cut to the Underworld, where Ares goes to scheme with deposed Zeus and his two brothers, Poseidon and Hades, to wrest back Olympus from Athena’s rule. Ares remains sly and playful and Loki-like, holding his cards close to his chest, making it hard to guess who he’s double-crossing at any given time. Everyone, most likely.

Leslie actually looks deeper into the purloined computer files that are helping her cure the Silver Swan of, um, cybernetic poisoning, and discovers—hey look!—that her best friend Veronica was behind the whole thing. The plot sickens! And Ferdinand the minotaur chef’s growing fondness for Leslie seems to have blossomed into full-blown love while we weren’t looking. But his attentions seem to freak her out, unless she’s just freaked out about the Veronica thing that he doesn’t know about—either way, it makes him not like himself very much and wish he wasn’t what he is.

You break the bull’s heart, you get the… uh, I got nothin’.

The current Wonder Girl, Cassie Sandsmark, has been hanging around the embassy helping Diana out ever since the fight with Medousa, and Athena shows up to give them an assignment. Hermes has been dead for a while, and they’re to go down to Tartarus and free him—and in exchange Athena will grant Diana her heart’s desire, which she said she couldn’t do a couple issues earlier. Ferdinand asks to come along, because he conveniently now has a heart’s desire of his own to resolve.

Awww! Poor guy.

There’s a door to Tartarus conveniently located right on Themyscira (Paradise Island), mostly intended as a well-guarded gate to keep its dark beasties out of the surface world. Oh, and Diana lets slip that whatever her heart’s desire is, it’s not getting her sight back. This isn’t really much of a mystery after what happened in the last volume, but out of respect for narrative conventions I won’t just blurt it out here, however obvious it may seem.

We also learn that Jonah, the new hire from the very first issue of Rucka’s run, who’s stayed in the background ever since then, is apparently some kind of spy, or in any case a plant on her staff who’s taking shadowy meetings with shady-looking dames. Oh Jonah, we hardly knew you… actually I guess we didn’t really know you at all.

The blind leading the damned.

Wonder Woman vol. 2 #216, DC Comics, July 2005.

The group is tested by dark visions in the Underworld. Cassie and Ferdinand are seduced by bloodsucking monsters posing as the ones they love, and Diana has yet another face-off with Medousa, this time a ghost version with a flaming skull-head like a snake-dreadlocked version of Ghost Rider.

What’s scarier than snakes? Snakes on fire! Extreme!

They’re rescued by the unlikeliest of saviors—Ares, who at least in Cassie’s case arrives just in time to keep her from being told which god is her father. Even when he seems to be being helpful (and why is he being nice, they might wonder), he’s clearly up to something.

Ares saves!

Ares goes back and forth between the modern, casually dressed version that Rucka and Johnson introduced and the full-armored version that Perez created in the ’80s, seemingly depending on how fearsome he needs to be. And he leads them closer to their goal, but what’s he up to? Well, we’ll see in the next issue.

That is a pretty freaking sweet cover, I have to say.

Wonder Woman vol. 2 #217, DC Comics, July 2005.

It’s a traaaap!  Ares leads Diana and her companions right into Hades’s clutches. Who’da thunk? Hades sends all the monsters of his realm to subdue the heroes, and they fight their way through to him and keep on fighting Hades, though it’s not looking good for them at all. (This version of Hades, by the way, resembles a sinister, top-hatted undertaker.)

Even Zeus thinks this is kind of messed up.

Poseidon cheers Hades on without doing much himself—it’s not his turf, after all (nor his surf)—and Zeus doesn’t do much of anything, clearly conflicted. Ares shows up to help—but to help who? Well, himself, of course.

And, refreshingly, things go remarkably well. Hermes is rescued, and Diana gets her heart’s desire after all, which is pretty darned touching. Ferdinand isn’t so lucky, alas, as he’s wishing against his own nature.  But by and large, it’s a good old-fashioned happy ending.

Too bad for you, moo-man.

It seems like it might be arriving a bit quicker than originally planned, because the afterlife rematch with Medousa, for instance, happens only a few issues after Diana killed her—as I say, Rucka has a lot of loose ends to tie up before the series goes kaput—but it’s a nicely satisfying conclusion to the story of the last volume. If the series had ended here, it would have definitely gone out on a high note, albeit with a number of unanswered questions. Because the next chapter is somewhat more problematic, part of me wishes it had. But Rucka’s not done telling his story—as much of it he has time to tell in the issues remaining, anyway. Now there’s just that pesky matter of what on earth Jonah’s up to, not to mention Cale and Circe, but that will have to wait for the next (and, sadly, last) volume.

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