Nazis and Gorillas and Aliens, Oh My!


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

Not the most exciting cover, but a great start to Gail Simone’s run.

Wonder Woman: The Circle, DC Comics, 2008.

Gail Simone made me a Wonder Woman fan.

That’s not quite true, but it might as well be. I was a Wonder Woman fan when I was a kid, but I hadn’t been for a long time until Simone came along. I followed Wonder Woman off and on through the late 1970s and early ’80s—the height of my DC fandom—but when the character was killed and reborn in Crisis on Infinite Earths, I took that as my cue to stop reading her comic, for several reasons. I was in my mid-teens and becoming more interested in Marvel than DC in general (a shift that would only last until the beginning of the ’90s, but that’s another story), and the Wonder Woman that followed the Crisis wasn’t “my” Wonder Woman anymore.

I was a bit curious about how the character would be reinvented in George Perez’s new series, and some of the changes seemed interesting—improvements, even—but others bothered me, especially having her be the new heroine on the block, much less experienced than her erstwhile protege Wonder Girl, and certainly no longer a founding member of the Justice League. But more to the point, Perez was one of my favorite comic book artists—still is, really—but experiencing him as a writer was a new thing, and I wasn’t all that taken with it. And as the series went on, switching from one creative team to another over the years, I observed it with mild curiosity from afar, but never got back into it.

But when Gail Simone came aboard, that was interesting to me. I’d recently gotten back into comics after a long lapse, and had been turned onto Simone’s work on Birds of Prey, All-New Atom and Secret Six through the comics blogs and samples I’d read online. When I heard she was coming aboard as the new Wonder Woman writer, that seemed like exciting news, and it was the first time I’d been excited about Wonder Woman in decades.

Added to that excitement was the fact that Simone was the first woman ever to write Wonder Woman on an ongoing basis. Sure, a female writer occasionally stepped in to pen a few of the Amazon’s adventures—Joyce Murchison in the 1940s, Mindy Newell in the 1980s, and most recently novelist Jodi Picoult—but never for very long. And when the world’s foremost superheroine has been around for more than 70 years, almost always written by men, there’s something wrong here.

Now, having gone back and read what I’d missed before Simone’s run, the difference in quality between this and what came immediately before is astounding. Simone took a flailing, poorly conceived soft relaunch and turned it around. Greg Rucka had been doing some great work with Wonder Woman a couple years before, but what had come between had been terrible, from the “everything new is old again” free-range nostalgia of Allan Heinberg’s run to the senseless bombast of the Amazons Attack! miniseries and several writers’ attempts to slog through it in Wondy’s own title. The impressive thing is that Simone manages to come into the ill-conceived status quo—Wonder Woman taking on a secret identity for the first time, being powerless when not in costume, having a misogynist jerk of a romantic interest, having a mother who just waged war on the United States for no apparent reason, and all the other Amazons exiled in amnesiac human form—and weaves some delightful stories out of it. The trade collection The Circle features the first six issues of Simone’s run, the four-chapter story of the same name plus another two-issue tale, “Expatriate.”

Everything’s better with monkeys. Or, in this case, apes.

Wonder Woman #14, DC Comics, January 2008.

When last we saw Hippolyta in the very last issue, she was the only remaining resident of Paradise Island, her Amazon sisters sentenced by Athena (or rather an imposter of Athena) to live as ordinary humans with no idea who they really are. Now we find out she’s not actually alone on the island—there are four prisoners that Diana’s never even heard of, locked away deep in the four corners of the island, and Hippolyta visits them every year to ask if they repent. “Never,” they say. Whoever these Amazons are, we find that they betrayed Hippolyta long ago, but of course they don’t see it that way. For them, the betrayal was the queen bringing a baby to Paradise Island, and whatever they did, they did to “save” Hippolyta; they call Diana “the dragon” and insist she must be destroyed.

That’s what I call hospitality.

Now, it seems pretty unlikely that these prisoners would still be there after Hera tossing the island around, Fauxthena exiling all the Amazons, and all the other devastations that Themyscira has endured. For that matter, it’s pretty impressive that Diana never stumbled upon even one of their cells while growing up on Themyscira, or that none of her Amazon sisters ever let the story slip. But that’s just the way of this kind of story; you just have to go with it.

Oh yes, I believe we shall.

Meanwhile, Diana is off being badass, singlehandedly fending off an attacking army of talking gorillas. Why are they attacking? Well, the usual reasons. Ape power. To prove themselves. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that that Wonder Woman kicks all of their asses and seems to enjoy herself doing it. And, being Wonder Woman, she manages to make friends of them in the process. In fact these apes will be hanging around for much of Simone’s run, as Diana Prince’s simian houseguests.

It’s just like “Friends,” only with slightly less poop flinging.

Simone does go full steam ahead with the budding romance between Wonder Woman and Tom Tresser, the master of disguise known as nemesis, but at least she writes the character better than he’s come off in the series so far. Tom’s still a bit of a jackass, which had not been the case before he showed up in Wonder Woman (he’s been around since 1980 as a character, just in other series), but there’s much less macho posturing and putdowns of Diana Prince while he drools over her costumed alias. Now he’s cocky and preening, but a decent guy otherwise. As the gorillas put it after observing Tom and Diana for just a minute or two, “They will mate soon, if they haven’t already.” Ugh.

And Sarge Steel is acting weird again, which is interesting considering that the last time we saw him he turned out to be an imposter. Now he’s suspicious of Diana, convinced (correctly) that she has ties to the Amazons who recently attacked the United States. And who does he bring in to spy on Diana? Why, her old pal Etta Candy! Etta hasn’t been the bonbon and spanking obsessed sorority girl for a long time now; she’s a lieutenant colonel who, although it’s not mentioned here, is married to Wonder Woman’s original romantic interest Steve Trevor. (This version of Wonder Woman, the one that’s existed since the 1980s, has never been involved with Steve, though.) Like the original Etta, however, Lt. Col. Candy quickly establishes that she’s still a total badass.

Oh, and Diana Prince has an invisible helicopter now, apparently a gift from Bruce Wayne based on the technology of her old invisible plane. Now, that plane was actually an alien lifeform, so I’m not exactly sure what that means. And last we heard she still had it as a functioning plane; it just wasn’t alive anymore. But that’s not the point.  The point is, Diana has an invisible chopper! We don’t see much of it, but trust me, it’s there.

This arc is mostly drawn by Terry Dodson with inks by his wife, Rachel Dodson. They’ve been doing the covers for this series all along. and interior pencils now and then, such as for the initial Heinberg run. Some of the figures look a little rushed, particularly with male characters like Tom, but the Dodsons have a strong style for Wonder Woman that’s often pinup style but also shows a great deal of power and personality. The little smiles Diana gives when she’s ready for battle are priceless.

All this and Captain Nazi too! Now, Captain Nazi was always a foe of the Marvel Family, and particularly Captain Marvel Jr., but putting him up against Wondy is a nice touch, because everybody loves Wonder Woman stomping Nazis.

I keep thinking this has to be an homage to one of those Daredevil covers chock full of ninjas.

Wonder Woman #15, DC Comics, February 2008.

So now it’s not just one Captain Nazi—they made more of them, through the same experiments that gave the first one his superpowers. And they’re planning to take over Themyscira! That’s not good news for Hippolyta, who’s effectively there all alone. It’s especially bad news because the mysterious magic force field that seemed to be keeping everyone off the island two issues ago is apparently gone now—or rather, as we discover in this issue, it only keeps out Amazons, by Athena’s (or rather Fauxthena’s) decree. So while Diana has to fend off the original Captain—in her nonpowered secret identity, no less—Hippolyta fights a guerrilla war against the horde of Nazi supermen.

In the old days, that is to say before the 1980s reboot of Crisis on Infinite Earths, a man setting foot on Paradise Island would cause all the Amazons to lose their powers, but now the rule of no men on Themyscira is more of a cultural thing than a divine decree.

We get a substantially different view of Wonder Woman’s magic lasso than has been shown before. Over time the lasso had changed from its original uses of being unbreakable and making anyone obey your commands to a more specific function of making it impossible for anyone touching it to lie. Simone takes it further, giving it the power to cut through psychological denial and make anyone confront their deepest, darkest secrets.

Diana’s “your mama” jokes still need some work.

We get a bit more of the backstory of the four mysterious prisoners of Paradise Island, who used to be Hippolyta’s royal guard. But they were also convinced—particularly their captain, Alkyone—that a baby would destroy their civilization, particularly because the rest of the Amazons couldn’t have them.

Worst baby shower gift ever.

There’s this underlying assumption that the Amazons had a maternal instinct—a longing for children gnawing at their souls—that had to be deeply repressed in a society of only women, with no men allowed. Alkyone makes a big deal about this becoming a plague among the “barren” Amazons, and we do see some other sisters playing with baby dolls on the sly, but it’s pretty clearly just her issue.  Her obsession, more like. Babies babies babies!  (Note: this refrain will come back to haunt us later.)

Forbidden by Fauxthena to visit Themyscira, Wonder Woman goes visiting other pantheons for help getting her to Paradise Island, but everyone’s wary of flouting the Olympians. She gets turned down by Odin, Raijin, Bast and even Shazam before turning to Kane Milohai, an obscure Hawaiian god, and pledging herself to hold no other gods before him in exchange for his help.

Now, this is interesting, because Diana has always been affiliated with the Greek gods who gave her her powers and granted her life when her mother crafted her from clay. Back in the 1940s she was a servant of Aphrodite, and more recently she was Athena’s champion. So it seems pretty fickle for her to convert so conveniently to the highest bidder. But, you know, it’s all to save her mom, and it’s not like the gods she’s been serving all this time aren’t incredibly fickle either.

This cover doesn’t really have anything to do with anything.

Wonder Woman #16, DC Comics, March 2008.

The saga continues! The super Nazis (who don’t seem especially super) are having a hard time just handling Hippolyta’s guerilla warfare, and of course Diana’s on her way, so it’s not looking promising for this new reich. Also, they’ve uncaged the prisoners, which seems not terribly wise for anyone’s interests. And of course, being Nazis, they’re destroying cultural artifacts and such, just because.

She has a cunning plan. Also, a posse.

This is mostly a battle issue, and it keeps things moving at a pretty good clip, with a few aww yeah! moments along the way. There’s still more back story on the royal guards’ betrayal, as events in the ongoing flashback come to a head.

I will call her … Wonder Tot!

Curiously, Ron Randall comes in to draw chunks of this issue and the next, but not a consistent subsection of pages, like, say, just the flashbacks. It just looks as if the deadline loomed and they needed multiple hands to get it done. Randall’s clean, elegant style complements Dodson’s well, and even stands out at times as a slight improvement.

Aww yeah!

Oh, and Etta meets up with Marvel’s Wonder Man! OK, it’s probably some other guy with glowing eyes hidden behind shades—Ares, maybe?—but we won’t find out in this volume who the heck it is and what he’s doing in Diana Prince’s apartment while she’s out saving the day.

Fire! Also not really a story-relevant cover, except insofar as Wonder Woman is badass.

Wonder Woman #17, DC Comics, April 2008.

The thunderous conclusion! Alkyone’s great crime is shown, and it’s pretty much what the story indicated from the start that it would be. With Hippolyta (finally) wounded, Wonder Woman has to face both an army of super-Nazis and the rebel Amazons who believe she should never have been allowed to live. You get one guess which one is the real threat. As stunning conclusions go, it’s not all that stunning just because things play out in a pretty predictable way, but the execution is strong.

I don’t really get what’s up with the blood as war paint, but I’m guessing it means it is ON.

I’d say Alkyone is a bit loony, believing herself Hippolyta’s loyal, loving servant even as she took up arms against her and her child, but frankly, after Amazons Attack! that just seems like normal Amazon behavior. It’ll be a long time before anyone expects their actions to make any sense, and in that sense maybe it was for the best that they were retired for a little while just to let the bad taste from that event subside, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call the Amazonian exile a good idea. (There were no good ideas associated with Amazons Attack!)  I will say that Simone paints a fascinating psychological portrait of the homicidal, baby-obsessed warrior. There have been a lot of these deep dark secret stories told about Diana and Hippolyta over the years, and this isn’t really an unusual one as far as that goes, but it’s well told.

Those are Khunds. Not Klingons. Totally not Klingons. There’s a difference. Honest.

Wonder Woman #18, DC Comics, May 2008.

“The Circle” is broken! So what’s next? Well, oddly enough, Wonder Woman in spaaaace! But first: sudden romance!

Wonder Woman comes around to totally mack on Tom Tresser. She brings him flowers, gives him a friendship bracelet and a nectarine pit to wear around his neck. She comes on so strong, in fact, that I wouldn’t be surprised to her she has her invisible jet parked outside with all her stuff, ready to move in to his apartment. Mind you, they’ve never even kissed or anything, just exchanged some mildly flirty talk.

Some people on the internet were raging about the lip-biting, but eh, it’s cute.

Now, on the one hand I’m saying, “Gahhhh! No! What are you thinking?!,” because the romance with Tom seems so horribly forced, and has from the beginning. There’s been nothing charming about him in the Wonder Woman series so far; he’s just been a misogynist jerk. And we haven’t seen much of him since Simone came aboard, but he did surprise Diana Prince with a birthday party. So he’s got that going for him.

So it’s a little weird that she’s even attracted to him, and it’s also a little weird that she’s making such a big show of this Amazing courting ritual, but actually it’s kind of cool that she’s taking the initiative. Wonder Woman has very, very rarely had any kind of romance in the post-Crisis world, with no faithful Steve Trevor hanging around, and a lot of her attempts to strike up any kind of action have been shown as pretty wishy-washy. So it’s good to see her taking charge, even if it’s in a slightly bizarre way. Bernard Chang, who’s handling the art for the next couple issues, conveys this scene with a certain awkward charm.

I also find it funny that she makes a point of telling Tom that she doesn’t know how to bowl, when of course the 1940s Wonder Woman was a dedicated bowler. I guess after several reboots and reimaginings, it’s understandable if your bowling arm gets a little rusty.

Oh come on, you TOTALLY know how to bowl. I’ve seen you do it.

One cool thing is that after all Wondy’s talk about the mating customs of her people, Tom catches on that her people are all women, and there’s not usually a man involved at all. That’s the logical extension of a women-only society—that of course any romantic relationships would be lesbian ones—but the topic has usually been skirted around when it comes to Wonder Women’s people, so it’s nice to see that acknowledged here.

But no time for love, princess—it’s an alien invasion! Or at least a whole lot of aliens. The Khunds, a warlike alien species very much like Klingons, come down to wage war. Not on earth, but on Wonder Woman herself. You see, she kind of mopped up the floor with them during the 1988 Invasion! crossover, and they’re back for a rematch.

I freaking love that. Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman is always ready for action.

Being a warrior culture, the Khunds don’t hate her because she trounced them. They think she’s awesome because she trounced them. They call her the Destroyer and treat her with reverence, practically worship her for her warrior prowess. In fact, this attack isn’t at all what it appears to be. The emperor’s advisor Kharhi and his fangirl daughter Kho have actually come for her help. Their homeworld is being wiped out by unknown aliens called the Ichor, whose ships land in major cities, exterminating the population.

Oh, and this happens.

I like Simone’s flair for inventing alien vernacular: Though Kharhi generally speaks standard English to Wonder Woman, by way of agreement he has a tendency to say, “So said, it is so.” In fact, just in general her depiction of the Khunds is delightful. She really has a lot of fun imagining their culture as a warrior race, but with relationships and attitudes very familiar to us.

And in the grand tradition of Etta Candy turning up everywhere there’s action, no matter how unlikely, there she is on the Khund homeworld! The Khunds figured Diana would need a squire and brought her along. Oh, and we finally get a “woo woo!” from Etta, or rather a more sardonic “Woo-@#%ing-woo.” I’ll take it.

Gee, who do we know who shoots green stuff?

Wonder Woman #19, DC Comics, June 2008.

Trouble is, the Ichor has a protector: Procanon Kaa, a very angry, fairly irrational Green Lantern from some blue-skinned alien race. At first it’s unclear if he even knows much about the beings he’s protecting. He just really, really hates the Khunds as murdering, world-conquering bastards, so the Ichor must be doing god’s work by eliminating them. So of course he and Wondy have to fight, and fight they do.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Tom is shown pondering Wonder Woman’s proposal while seemingly every woman in the Department of Metahuman Affairs is checking him out or actively flirting with him. I don’t see the appeal. I do like that one of his coworkers asks him if he’s Wiccan or something because of the keepsakes Wondy gave him. People ask much more insightful and well-informed questions in this series than you’ll normally see in a comic.

I love that she says stuff like that.

Once his rage subsides enough for he and Diana to talk, it turns out Kaa actually does know a little about the Ichor, saying, “it’s said that thy are blood relatives of the gods of a hundred different worlds.” I don’t know what the heck that means, but it sounds pretty cool. So all she has to do is convince these godlike aliens not to wipe out the Khund race, while making sure the Khunds themselves don’t do anything foolish in reaction.

It’s a fun and touching tale filled with well-written dialogue and some great character moments for Kharhi, Kho and Kaa, and for Diana and Etta for that matter. Most of all, it leaves you with the feeling that Wonder Woman is freaking awesome, and it had been a few years since a story had done that. And it’s what a Wonder Woman story should leave you feeling, because you know what? She is. It’s good to feel excited about Wonder Woman again.

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