Is She Really Going Out with Him?


On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments, including Greg Rucka’s run, the earliest 1940s comics, and the current “New 52” era.

Man, look at how proud they were to have a bestselling novelist writing this tripe.

Wonder Woman: Love and Murder, DC Comics, 2007.

For all that she’s the world’s most prominent superheroine and a feminist icon featured on the very first cover of Ms. Magazine, Wonder Woman’s comic has almost never been written by women. Mindy Newell wrote a few issues in the 1980s, and Trina Robbins did a miniseries around that time as well, but throughout her history the Amazon warrior’s adventures have been written almost entirely by men.

So it was an interesting experiment, in the third series of Wonder Woman, to have a five-issue arc by a prominent female writer who has nothing whatsoever to do with comics—the prolific bestselling novelist Jodi Picoult. I don’t know anything about her fiction, although one of her novels was one of the four books sitting around in my guest house room in Kerala, India, earlier this year, so I guess she must be pretty popular.  Four of her books have been adapted into TV movies for the Lifetime channel, if that tells you anything.

She comes in to the troublesome new status quo set up by the previous writer, Allan Heinberg. He reestablished Wonder Woman’s old secret identity, Diana Prince, who’s now a badass secret agent working for the Department of Metahuman Affairs rather than for Army Intelligence like in the old days. The trouble is, this version of Wonder Woman, the one we’ve had ever since she was rebooted in the late 1980s, has never had or needed a secret identity, but the powers-that-be at DC decided that she needed to get in touch with humanity, so here we are. What’s more, Heinberg added a twist that has never been true in Wonder Woman’s history: Now she has no superpowers when she’s not in costume. Oh, and she twirls to turn into Wonder Woman, just like on the 1970s TV show.

Incidentally, DC was publishing two issues of Wonder Woman a month for a couple of months there—two in May 2007, and two in June.  I can only guess it was to sync things up with the Amazons Attack! crossover that started in June, and that Picoult’s arc, “Love and Murder,” would pretty much collapse into.

I see they’re as dubious about this new direction as I am.

Wonder Woman #6, DC Comics, May 2007.

Picoult really, really plays up how Diana has no idea how to live as a human being in this crazy modern world. She doesn’t know what a credit card is! She has no idea know how to pump gas or how much it costs! She can’t figure out a subway turnstile! She doesn’t know how to order coffee at Starbucks! (Or rather Tarmucks, judging from the partially obscured sign.) Never mind that she’s been in this world for years now; never mind that she had to take a job at a fast food joint a while before this; never mind that she employed a full staff when she was ambassador to the United Nations.  Now apparently she’s suffered some kind of brain damage.

It’s funny because a cup of coffee is just a freaking cup of coffee.

A note about the Tarmucks scene: I’ve seen this same gag a number of times in pretty much every entertainment medium. Somebody orders a ridiculously complicated coffee drink, and someone else can’t even order a simple cup of coffee because Starbucks makes up these ridiculous size names and won’t call things what they are.  A small is a “tall,” a medium is a “grande” (“large” in Spanish), and a large is a “venti” (20 in Italian). And sure, Starbucks deserves the dig, because that really is stupid and deliberately obfuscating, but it’s not going to change now because it’s part of their brand. And the fact is, I’ve had to go to Starbucks many a time and have never once bothered to use that ridiculous nomenclature, and nobody would ever interrupt the flow of the transaction to make me say “venti” instead of “large.” Sure, they might say it back to me as “Venti coffee—anything else?” but more as confirmation than correction. I can tell you that for sure because I would not have put up with that shit.

And while I’m quibbling, it doesn’t look like artist Drew Johnson has ever seen the Washington, DC public transit system either, because he draws the turnstiles like the New York subway, complete with a practiced commuter apparently about to put his Metrorail card into a token slot.

Tom Tresser, alias Nemesis, is a hero I know very well—or as well as anyone knows such a minor character. I was a faithful reader of The Brave and the Bold when the master of disguise was introduced as a regular back-up feature in 1980, and I was also a fan of John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad in the late 1980s, where Nemesis began to branch out as a supporting character and secret agent. The petulant, sexist jerk who shows up in Wonder Woman calling himself Tom Tresser is simply not the same character. He was pretty boorish when he showed up in Allan Heinberg’s run preceding this one, and in Picoult’s hands he becomes unbearable. He whines all the time, particularly about being paired up with some dumb girl, because girls are poopyheads and they have cooties. Johnson gives Tom a truly ridiculous-looking stubbly soul patch to seal the deal. (I don’t know that anyone really looks good with a soul patch, but blond guys look especially stupid.)

His codename should be Crybaby.

Tom and Diana assigned to babysit some reality-show superhero as a superhero-themed amusement park, which has got to be a new low for the Department of Metahuman Affairs. Suddenly a roller coaster mysteriously falls apart, and Wonder Woman shows up to save the day.

There’s a running gag—at least I guess it’s supposed to be funny—about how Wonder Woman’s products are all discounted or discontinued because she’s not as popular as Superman or Batman. Which of course explains why DC is making such a halfassed attempt to relaunch her again with the series we have in our hands.  It’s meta!

At some point Tom makes the offhand comment to Diana, “You talk about people like you’re not one of them, you know that?” And as she turns away, a single tear runs down her cheek, exactly like a character in a cheesy romance comic, because apparently that’s what she’s been reduced to. If I were to write promo copy for this story, it would probably be, “She’s always been a wonder, but can she learn to be…a woman?”

Oh, Tom! Why can’t you understand my sudden inexplicable neediness?

Their boss, Sarge Steel, continues to refer to Wonder Woman as a “fugitive” even though the World Court already dropped all charges against her for killing Max Lord. Apparently now “the government wants her to answer some questions about the murder of Max Lord.” At least Picoult has Tom point out that this makes no sense, and Sarge agrees.  It’s a bad sign when not even the writer of the comic can make any sense of Wondy’s new status quo, presumably mandated by DC editorial.

Tom gets a call that Wonder Woman’s been seen at the Villains and Vixens Bar, so he rushes over there to find her making seductive cheesecake poses at him. In fact she comes on really, really strong, making all kinds of kinky innuendos.  It would be pretty hard for anyone to conclude at this point that this isn’t someone else posing as WW, but Tom’s already been established as a testosterone-driven idiot in this comic, so he lets himself get captured.

Don’t get me wrong, I see the appeal.  But come on.

And of course Sarge jumps to the conclusion that WW abducted Tom, because bracelets like hers were found at the scene of his disappearance, and we all know how prone Wondy is to just leaving her bracelets lying around.

But who could be behind this fiendish plot?  Well, OK, that’s pretty obvious too. It’s that most overused of latter-day Wonder Woman villains, Circe! You know, the one who was just shown as being all nicey-nice to Wonder Woman a mere month ago. I think we all knew that wouldn’t last, but damn, that was quick!

Hey, Circe as Wonder Woman! We haven’t seen that in like a month!

Wonder Woman #7, DC Comics, June 2007.

It just so happens that the fake Wonder Woman bracelets found at the scene of Tom’s abduction aren’t just any fake bracelets.  They’re the replicas created for “the Wonder Woman Museum,” now closed down, and Diana recognizes them instantly.  After all, it’s not like Tom’s abductor was a powerful witch who could just make her own bracelets.  So Wonder Woman plays detective, going to the museum to look for clues because she knows they belong there. “If only I knew where I belong,” she whines inanely to herself.

Circe quickly puts an end to this self-indulgent nonsense by bursting out of one of the exhibits and attacking WW while engaging in banter along the lines of, “You’re such a liar,” “No, you’re the liar,” “Nuh-uh!” “You claim to fight for humanity, but you’ll never be human,” Circe taunts, directly contradicting everything she said the last time they spoke a couple issues ago. It’s pretty tame and lame stuff, but somehow it really pisses Diana off, probably because she ain’t been quite right lately.

You should listen to the lady. This nonsense needs to stop.

So Circe beats a hasty retreat with some parting jab about “Do you even know who you are?” And you know what?  This whole theme is baloney. There’s rarely been a hero as self-actualized and sure of herself as Wonder Woman, so this whole identity crisis of hers just seems manufactured and false.

Circe left Diana a gift: Tom, all trussed up with live snakes, tortured and bleeding and hanging from magical chains from the ceiling. I guess those magical chains aren’t too sturdy, because WW quickly frees him and rushes him off to get medical attention—only to drop him on the floor when he makes a sleazy remark about her being dressed in dessert toppings in his dreams. It would be a cute gag, except isn’t he badly wounded? Would she really do that?  Well, no, but Picoult obviously isn’t too concerned with credibility here.

Guess she never heard of the “first, do no harm” rule of medicine.

There’s some nonsense about how they can’t go to a hospital because she’s a fugitive, which is ridiculous nonsense, and Tom continues to babble sexist crap as Diana breaks into a vet’s office and patches him up. They go back to the villain-themed bar to look for clues about Tom’s kidnapping—which is absurd because they already know Circe was behind it and Diana knows where she lives—and Tom tries limply to hit on WW along the way.

What a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

The bar is cute—a place for people who like to dress up as supervillains. Or some of them actually may be villains—Picoult seems to go back and forth about it. And hey, Circe’s there!  In the restroom!  They fight a little, then Circe retreats through a mirror for the second time in this issue, stealing the Mirror Master’s gimmick. But oh no!  Sarge Steel is there! With a bunch of government goons! In the ladies’ room!

They take Diana into custody and hold her prisoner, demanding information about the Amazon’s Purple Death Ray technology “in exchange for any further questions about your pal, Max Lord, being dropped.” Not charges, mind you, questions. Being dropped. As if they were charges. Which they are not.  Because they’re questions. The kind that are dropped when you cut a deal. You know, those questions.

It’s all topical and shit! Or would be if Picoult had a better sense of what words mean.

Meanwhile, Circe keeps busy, petitioning the gods to gain access to Themyscira, in whatever extradimensional pocket they’ve stashed it. (Well, it’s a mysterious hooded figure, but it’s incredibly obvious who she is.) But now she’ll owe the gods a favor, anything they ask, which might become relevant if future writers pay any attention to these kinds of things—which I guess is good news for Circe. Free favor! She shows up at Queen Hippolyta’s grave, uttering some portentous nonsense: “Death’s a bitch, darlings, and then you’re born again.” Could this be some incredibly obvious hint?  Stay tuned!

I’m guessing Skeletor.

Wonder Woman #8, DC Comics, June 2007.

Oh no, Circe’s sinister master plan involves…bringing Diana’s beloved mother back to life? That fiend! Oh wait, isn’t that a good thing?  Well, you’d think so, except that it’s setting things up for one of DC’s all-time worst crossover events, and that’s saying something because they’ve had some crappy ones. But for now, Hippolyta’s back!

Oh, what a tangled web Circe weaves when her plan seems to be, you know, whatever.

You see, Hippolyta’s always been stubborn and strong-willed and has been known to act rashly. So Circe’s apparently brought Hippolyta back from the dead just to sic her and the Amazons on the United States of America. She shows the queen an image of her daughter held prisoner by the government, and that’s all it takes.  You realize of course this means war. Because Wonder Woman has never been held prisoner by anyone ever—except, you know, all the time.  They’ve gone too far!

Meanwhile, Tom’s in the villain bar talking to the bartender, Lulu. Not asking any questions, mind you, just drowning his sorrows. You can tell Lulu’s the bartender, because she’s polishing a glass, the way bartenders always do everywhere except in the real world.

Sarge straight-up lies to Tom, saying he doesn’t know where Wonder Woman is being held (exactly where he put her) and that Diana Prince has been reassigned (hmm, how does he know he has to create an alibi for Diana?). They make hack hard-boiled dialogue for a while, the kind that makes no sense

You’re a loose cannon! Your methods are unorthodox!

Meanwhile, Circe’s doing pretty much the same thing to Wondy, showing up to taunt her with dialogue that really, really wants to be clever but doesn’t know how. There’s some cheap philosophizing about who’s really the good guy and what is right and wrong anyway, and Circe says “love and murder are the only things that matter”—getting the title of the story in there by any means necessary.

Hey, she references Shakespeare! This is literate stuff, you philistines!

And now Sarge Steel comes in… to rescue Wonder Woman? Knocking out his own guards?  What’s all this? It’s like it’s not even Sarge but some, I dunno, master of disguise, like Nemesis.  But where would they get one of those… oh wait. Now I see. Hi, Tom.

She’s learning the human art of the tantrum, anyway.

Still having some severe anger-management problems, Diana rails at “Sarge” while he frees her from captivity. So now she’s basically jumping up and down yelling “Lemme at him! I’ll moider da bum!” until Tom gets her to simmer down.  He frees her and she busts them out of the base, tunneling her way through the ground like Bugs Bunny by punching her way through it. There’s a bit of “cute” dialogue between them that we don’t need to get into, in which Tom continues to be a sexist pig and Wonder Woman tee-hees at it. Ugh. Oh, and apparently Diana has a birthmark on her butt.  Not that she was ever born. Really, don’t ask.

Oh god, please, just don’t. The flirty talk, it’s killing me.

Meanwhile, Amazons attack! Hippolyta leads an army of Amazons and Cyclopses and Pegasi and who knows what-all, laying siege to Washington, DC. And uh-oh, Sarge is in league with Circe somehow! Who would have suspected? And holy crap, Hippolyta just blew up the Lincoln Memorial! You can bet that’s going to be continued.

They’re like Charlie’s Angels! Sorta.

Wonder Woman #9, DC Comics, July 2007.

Hippolyta asks Athena for wise council in her war on America, and Athena tells her it’s pretty much a stupid idea to begin with. But does she listen?  Nooo. She just goes ahead and blows up the Washington Monument.

Goddess grant me the wisdom to listen only to the wisdom I want to hear.

Mind you, the last issue ended with Diana and Hippolyta face-to-face for the first time since Hippolyta died, and this one starts somewhere else. That’s because Will Pfeifer’s notoriously dreadful Amazons Attack! miniseries has started, and so the story in Wonder Woman’s own title becomes kind of chopped up, happening in the spaces between issues of the miniseries. Suffice it to say that Wondy doesn’t really believe it’s her mother, and she’s just trying to save civilians and prevent as much damage as she can. In fact the heroes all seem to be pretty ineffectual at the moment, not really doing anything to stop the invasion.

But hey, they saved part of the Washington Monument. Just in time for a penis joke from Batman.

Diana finally goes to talk to Hippolyta, and yep, she’s Hippolyta, and she’s glad to see her daughter free of captivity, but she’s totally not going to stop attacking America anyway.  Let’s just bear in mind that Hippolyta was a member of the Justice Society of America in World War II and also in the early 2000s. It’s not like she doesn’t have close ties to the US, and it’s not like she’s some crazy xenophobic ruler itching to attack America on the slightest provocation. Except when it’s convenient for the plot, that is.

Diana keenly deduces the obvious. It’s ALWAYS Circe.

Tom quickly deduces that Sarge isn’t Sarge at all, so of course he disguises himself as Sarge too and lets the authorities make sense of which false Sarge is which.

Oh, Tom, you clever bastard.

And Circe shows up again to make more nonsensical quips: “Being dead makes you weird, darling. Just look at the Spice Girls. Or Chicago Cubs fans.” No, it doesn’t make any more sense in context.

Fake Sarge turns out to be Everyman, a shapeshifting character recently introduced in the 52 series who would quickly outstay his welcome by being used for one too many shocking twist endings. And he’s trained a nuclear missile on Themyscira! With Circe’s help!  And Circe’s not at all sorry! At least not until Hippolyta’s Amazons show up and attack her and Diana and… well, pretty much everyone. Circe tells Diana that the only way to stop the war is to usurp her mother, and the only way to do that is to kill her. And because everyone listens to Circe for some unknown reason, Diana guesses that’s just what she’ll have to do.

Seriously, all through this arc, Circe will say something inane and then whoever she’s talking to will repeat it back for the next few issues as if it’s their new mantra or something. She tells Nemesis that his name means “enemy” (something of course he would have known), and he keeps repeating it afterward. She tells Hippolyta that the enemy of her enemy is her friend, and Hippolyta parrots that to Diana. She tells Diana nothing counts except love and murder, and Wonder Woman starts tossing that into conversation too. It would be one thing if this was her power, some Jedi mind trick that makes people repeat everything she says, but Occam’s razor says it’s just bad writing. Picoult does that all through this arc: Early on Tom tells Wondy, “You must really love me right now,” so of course she has to say the same thing to him a couple issues later.  It’s a rule!

She should really be more careful shaving.

Wonder Woman #10, DC Comics, August 2007.

Hippolyta’s trying to kill Diana! And Nemesis! And everyone! Because she’s an Amazon, and she’s attacking! That’s what they do now! With magic exploding spears! And Diana tells her mom she’s totally going to have to depose her! Because they can’t talk anymore! Or something!

There’s more “cute” flirting between Wondy and Nemesis, and she’s weirdly jealous about him making eyes at Black Canary. The whole idea of Wonder Woman and Nemesis as a romantic pairing would be strange under any circumstances, but with him being such an infantile jerk it’s just infuriating. I guess women really do go for the bad-boy type, if by “bad” you mean irritating. Tom’s even dumb enough to unleash the Amazons’ secret weapon all by himself, even though both the Amazons and Wonder Woman are yelling that it’s a stupid, stupid thing to do. But what do they know? They’re just dumb girls. And the weapon is… bees!  Lots and lots of bees! But, you know, instant-death kind of bees.

I’m covered in bees!

Tom gets the bejesus stung out of him protecting some random unconscious Amazon from them.  Maybe we had him all wrong after all. Not that this isn’t all his fault for his idiocy, but still. In his seemingly dying breath, he calls Wonder Woman “Diana,” indicating that he knew her secret identity all along. Unless he simply knew that her name is Princess Diana, like the whole world has known for years, but let’s not confuse the moment with any logic. It can’t hold up to it.

“Idiot” would be pretty apt, though.

I assume that the writers just don’t have people calling Wonder Woman “Diana” much anymore when she’s in costume so as not to draw attention to the fact that everyone knows her name and her secret identity is ludicrously easy to figure out, seeing as how she hasn’t even bothered to change her name. It’s remotely possible that the whole world has forgotten her name as one of the changes from Infinite Crisis, but if that were the case it would have been made clear at some point. Instead they just don’t talk about it.

Anyway, enraged by Tom’s fate, Diana has a knock-down drag-out fight with her mom, during which she talks and talks and talks about how she’s living her life and her mom just needs to accept her for who she is, or something.

Look, Mother. It’s my life. OK. So if I want to live on a beach and walk around naked…

And when she has Hippolyta on the ropes, when she could easily kill her if that’s what she chose to do, she turns the tables and challenges her mom to kill her if she wants to win so bad.  That really doesn’t seem like such a good idea when everyone’s acting so wildly out of character.

And…that’s it! That’s the end of “Love and Murder.” Or rather, it has no end. It just kind of trails off into Amazons Attack and the next few issues written by J. Torres. So not only is it not a good story, it’s not even a story. It’s just a prelude to some ridiculous event comic, with no semblance of an arc of its own.

Reading this really makes me see why Greg Rucka’s Wonder Woman run was so well-remembered, aside from being quite good in its own right. It’s partly that the writers that immediately followed him, Heinberg and Picoult, really seemed to have a poor grasp of the character.

Next week: If you thought this was bad, just wait till you witness the horror that is Amazons Attack!

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