She’s Dressed in Black Again


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

I don’t even want to know what that expression is supposed to be.

Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps vol. 2, DC Comics, 2010.

By Sam Hurwitt

Last week we looked at the end of Greg Rucka’s terrific tenure as the regular writer of Wonder Woman. But that wasn’t quite the end of Rucka writing Wonder Woman, as he came back four years later to write Blackest Night: Wonder Woman, a three-issue miniseries showing what Diana was up to during a mega-crossover that took over the DC universe in 2009 and 2010.

The idea behind Blackest Night is that dead superheroes, villains and supporting characters all come back from the dead, possessed by Black Lantern rings that are like Green Lantern’s ring only with different powers. In the Sinestro Corps War, Green Lantern writer Geoff Johns introduced a whole “emotional spectrum” of power rings, each with a corps carrying them: green for will, yellow for fear, red for rage, violet for love, orange for greed, blue for hope, and indigo for compassion. And the Black Lantern represents, of course, death, which obviously isn’t an emotion but the lack thereof. The sequel Brightest Day would introduce the unfortunately named White Power Ring, which combines all the others to represent life.

The Black Power Rings (again, unfortunately named) raise the dead into evil zombies that have all the memories of the originals but exist only to rip people’s hearts out and create more zombies like themselves. Plus the rings allowed the Black Lanterns (and the reader) to see the colors of emotions radiating from everyone around them (all tidily categorized in Johns’s designated emotional spectrum), and for some reason the zombies had to taunt their victims and toy with their emotions, feeding off them somehow, before killing them. In addition to dead characters, the rings can apparently also possess heroes who have been brought back from the dead at some point or another—which describes pretty much everyone.

In addition to the “fun” of having everyone in the DC universe haunted by loved ones, teammates and enemies they’ve seen die over the years, one of the gimmicks of Blackest Night is having various DC characters deputized into the various Lantern Corps that Johns introduced in the last crossover: The Flash embodying hope with the Blue Lantern Corps, for example, and the Scarecrow bringing his knack for instilling fear to the Sinestro Corps.

Blackest Night is one of those massive, unwieldy crossovers that you have to read dozens of comics every month to even try to follow. That’s no exaggeration: Blackest Night takes place in Blackest Night #0-8, Green Lantern #43-52, Green Lantern Corps #38-46, Tales of the Corps #1–3, Adventure Comics #4, 5 & 7, Blackest Night: Batman #1–3, Blackest Night: Superman #1–3, Blackest Night: Titans #1–3, Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #1–3, Blackest Night: JSA #1–3, Blackest Night: The Flash #1–3, Booster Gold #26-27, Doom Patrol #4-5, Solomon Grundy #7, Justice League of America #39-40, Outsiders #24-25, R.E.B.E.L.S. #10-11, Superman/Batman #66-67, Titans #15, Teen Titans #77-78, The Atom and Hawkman #46, The Question #37, Phantom Stranger #42, Starman #81, The Power of Shazam! #48, Catwoman #83, Weird Western Tales #71, Green Arrow & Black Canary #26-30 and Suicide Squad #67 (one of the gimmicks of the crossover was to bring some dead series back from the dead for one last issue). And that may not be all; I may very well have forgotten some. It’s all spearheaded by Johns, who really seems to have a yen for this kind of thing.

In fact, this event took up exactly where the Sinestro Corps War ended in the Green Lantern titles, and Blackest Night itself didn’t end so much as morph into another crossover called Brightest Day, another Johns-devised storyline that was really just phase two of Blackest Night. What’s worse, Blackest Night started just as Final Crisis and Battle for the Cowl were ending and ran concurrently with Last Stand of New Krypton. Then Brightest Day hijacked nearly as many comics as Blackest Night did, and Brightest Day wasn’t even over before Flashpoint began, yet another Johns-led crossover—this one centered around the Flash, whose adventures he was also writing. (Johns had brought both the Silver Age Green Lantern and the Silver Age Flash back from the dead, shoving the heroes who had been filling those roles aside, and these revived heroes became his pet projects.) Flashpoint then rewrote the universe entirely, leading to the ill-defined “New 52” reboot we have today, in which nobody really knows exactly what the status quo is anymore, who still exists and who does, what still happened and what didn’t. In short, Blackest Night was part of a domino chain of crossovers that destroyed everything, most of them the work of Geoff Johns.

But that’s not really the point. The point is whether Blackest Night tells a good story. And that’s the real problem with a massive crossover like this: There’s no way of reading it. Even the central nine-issue Blackest Night miniseries itself isn’t readable as a story unto itself, because it relies far too much on what’s going on in all the other titles. The story had to be collected into seven hardbound volumes: Blackest Night, Blackest Night: Green Lantern, Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps, Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps, Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps vols 1 & 2 and Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns. And even those don’t include the stories that took place in other series like R.E.B.E.L.S., Titans, Teen Titans, Superman/Batman, Doom Patrol, Booster Gold, Green Arrow and Black Canary, Justice League of America and Solomon Grundy, which would be included only in the regular collections of those series, if in fact they’ve all been collected at all. Plus, in order to have the foggiest idea what’s going on, you would have to have read the Sinestro Corps War event in the Green Lantern titles, and then Blackest Night doesn’t end at all but moves right into the mega-crossover Brightest Day. And even if you were to have read every single one of those comics (and I’ve read almost all of them, mostly through my local libraries), it still doesn’t stand up as a story. The thread is just strewn all over the place, so that it appears to go nowhere.

The Blackest Night: Wonder Woman miniseries illustrates this problem particularly well. No issue takes up where the last one left off: In the first one, Diana’s fighting a zombie come back to haunt her and rip out her heart. In the second issue, she’s become one of the Black Lanterns herself, with no explanation of how that happened, and going after other heroes the same way the Black Lanterns were going after her in the first issue. In issue three, she’s become part of one of the various rainbow lantern corps that were introduced in the Sinestro Corps War, with again no hint of what has happened since the last issue. It’s just sloppy storytelling—but again, even the main Blackest Night series reads that way.

This takes place during Gail Simone’s often delightful stint writing Wonder Woman’s own book, which managed to ignore the event entirely, focusing on a completely separate story (the end of the “Warkiller” arc and a two-part tussle with Power Girl). Then-regular Wonder Woman artist Nicola Scott does pencil the miniseries, which is a major plus.

Blackest Night: Wonder Woman is collected in Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps vol. 2, alongside two other three-issue miniseries: Geoff Johns’s Blackest Night: The Flash and James Robinson and Tony Bedard’s Blackest Night: JSA. Of these, only JSA tells a single story, as the Justice Society find themselves emotionally manipulated by dead teammates, some of them parents of the current team, plus the Golden Age Lois Lane and Superman of Earth-2 who died in Infinite Crisis. The Flash miniseries skips around a lot—not showing you, for example, how Barry Allen becomes a Blue Lantern in the middle of it—but vaguely follows two groups, Flashes Barry and Wally West and their enemies the Rogues, each pitted against their own dead. Nothing in this volume would make a damn bit of sense if not read side-by side with Blackest Night and its other spin-offs, but as I said before, it doesn’t really make sense even if you buy ’em all.  I’d heartily recommend skipping it, but in the interest of completism, here’s the lowdown on the Wonder Woman chapters.

I’m not sure that guy is a licensed chiropractor.

Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #1, DC Comics, February 2010.

In the first phase of Blackest Night, the dead bodies of all sorts of heroes, villains, and people close to heroes are reanimated by (sigh) Black Power Rings, with the deceased’s memories downloaded into the rings so as better to bedevil the living. So who from Diana’s rich past do the Black Lanterns dig up to haunt her? Trevor Barnes? Antiope? Orana? Diana Trevor? Tim Trench? Harbinger? The Wonder Dome? Medousa? Priscilla Rich? Sebastian Ballesteros? Eris? Maxima? The Yazz? Mer-Boy and Bird-Boy?

Nope.  Just Maxwell Lord, the Justice League International founder who abruptly turned into a rapidly anti-superhuman murdering villain just in time for Wonder Woman to kill him during the last few issues of Rucka’s Wonder Woman, as part of the lead-up to yet another mega-crossover event, Infinite Crisis. Diana and Max never knew each other particularly well, as there was only brief overlap between their eras of the Justice League. But when he’d turned Superman into a mind-controlled killing machine and refused to let him go, she felt she had no choice but to kill him. It became a notorious character-derailing event in her history, not because it was notably out of character (she is a warrior, after all, if a compassionate one) but because other characters kept harping on it and harping on it. For a while Wonder Woman became better known for killing Max Lord than for, you know, defending peace and justice and saving the world a zillion times.

So now the dead start to rise, and herrrrrre’s Max, running around slaughtering people just to piss Wonder Woman off. Black Lanterns feed on emotions, after all. They also see emotions in Johns-assigned colors, and no matter how aghast Diana is at Max’s atrocities and no matter how fiercely she battles, all you can see is love, love, love. There’s no will or hope or compassion mixed in there, and certainly no rage, only love. This is, of course, ridiculous, but it’s needed to somehow rationalize her temporarily joining the Star Sapphire Corps later on, because they’re all about the love.

Memento mori, sister.

The issue opens with Diana pondering death in an interior monologue, remembering people she’s seen die, like her mother Hippolyta and fellow Amazon Artemis (they got better), and remembering her own death at the hands of the Fabio version of the devil, Neron (she got better, too).

See, it’s funny because it’s really not. And man, those are some stoic mufflefluffers.

Max is defiling Arlington National Cemetery, killing the soldiers who attend it and raising the bodies of the soldiers buried there. She dispassionate keeps chopping him up with an ax, his black blood everywhere, but it doesn’t do any good. He keeps taunting her with lame chatter like, “All aboard the Ted Kord Express—destination brains!” (I’ve already complained in the last entry about how much I hate the fact that they turned a fun, morally complicated character into a typical sneering villain, so I won’t go over all that again.)

Looks like it really is that simple, in Johns-o-vision anyway.

Even if the setup is silly, it’s great to have Rucka handling it, because he still really gets what Wonder Woman is all about. Diana’s interaction with the soldiers who stand guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier is touching, as is her respect for the “honored dead” who rise from their graves to attack her. Even if I think the “all about love” characterization is insipid (especially compared to how the soldiers are pure will), Rucka handles it elegantly here, even managing to make it badass. It’s especially awesome when Diana thinks, “He wants me angry. He never did understand me.” just as she’s leaping to chop off his head while still radiating love.

Yeah, OK, that’s pretty badass.

There are a few fun war-comic cameos, like zombie Unknown Soldier and a few zombie Blackhawks. Black Lanterns are apparently vulnerable to light—or at least the white light that unites the emotional spectrum—and Diana somehow manages to disintegrate the horde with her magic lasso, explaining “love is light.”  That doesn’t make a damn bit of sense, but hey, whatever works.

The battle it probably never even occurred to you to wait for!

Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #2, DC Comics, March 2010.

This issue takes up somewhere considerably different from where the last one left off, because Diana is suddenly a Black Lantern herself—probably because she’d died and been brought back to life years ago, which somehow allows her to be possessed without dying all over again, but in any case you’ll find no explanation of that here. You have to read Blackest Night to find out even a glimmer of what’s going on here.

Now that’s just rude.

In any case, whereas most Black Lanterns go terrorize those who closest to them, Diana doesn’t go after anyone in her current supporting cast, nor any of her old close friends or family or fellow Leaguers. No, instead she goes after Mera, Aquaman’s wife, who really has nothing to do with her. I guess Johns really wanted Mera to be involved in the crossover (she also played a role in Flashpoint, and Johns has gone on to write Aquaman in the New 52, which I guess means we can expect a gory Aquamageddon mega-crossover soon) and she seems to be pitted against Diana here just because, hey, chick fight.

Her mind says no, but her ax says yes.

So Diana is taunting Mera and kicking her ass, while her interior monologue is seen battling the Black Lantern one, praying that something or someone will stop her from doing this, and cheering Mera on when she starts to gain ground, even if it means Mera killing her. As Mera starts to exude pure rage in the battle, Diana starts to gain more control of herself, fighting the Black Lantern influence and almost coming out of it. But then Wonder Girl interrupts her, and Diana and Black Lantern Donna Troy decide it’d be fun to kill Cassie. So Diana kills Cassie! Tearing her heart right out, because a certain base level of gore is expected in a Johns-era crossover event. (No “mature readers” label needed for that stuff either. Hey, kids, comics!)

Aw, c’mon, have a heart.

Then she kills Donna too just for the heck of it (even if Black Lanterns killing Black Lanterns doesn’t make much sense), and then starts in on her mom when Hippolyta comes after her. It seems like nothing and nobody can get through to her anymore.  Nobody except Batman, that is—with the power of smoochies.

Batman telling you to knock it off is really an all-purpose counterspell.

Batman comes to tell her to knock it off, and she’s overwhelmed by love and confusion, because Bruce Wayne is dead, and the power of a big ol’ kiss from him is enough to drive the Black Lantern out and summon a Star Sapphire ring to her because of the great love in her heart. Aphrodite even comes to her to tell her how full of love she is. Aphrodite also tells her that she didn’t really kill her sisters and mother after all (or really kiss Batman either), but that this was all some special fantasy world that Aphrodite created conveniently to let Diana get all her aggression out. Deus ex machina!

Now, the implication here is that Batman is in some way the great love of Diana’s life, which seems really, really out of nowhere. I know that they had a bit of a romance in Joe Kelly’s JLA and the TV Justice League cartoon, but it was soon over and never really took hold anywhere else. In fact, Diana’s hardly even had a love interest since her reboot in the 1980s, and never for very long. So having her carrying a torch for Batman seems absurd. At the same time, he was a good friend, and I can certainly see her having great love for him—probably not as much as her “best friend” Superman, and certainly nothing even close to the love she has for the three women she was just in the process of massacring, but still, a lot of emotion.

I also notice that the rings call her “Diana Prince of Earth” rather than “Diana of Earth.” I guess that new, editorially mandated secret identity of hers has really taken hold.

Yeah, that costume looks like ass, but Diana would look fabulous in a chicken suit.

Even Nicola Scott can’t make the Star Sapphire outfit look anything less than ridiculous, especially the weird hybrid Star Sapphire Wonder Woman outfit that forms spontaneously around Diana when the ring attaches itself to her, but she at least makes Diana wear it well.

I certainly hope that getup comes with a Dream House and a pink convertible..

Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #3, DC Comics, April 2010.

This one at least takes up more or less where the last one left off, with Diana suddenly a member of the Star Sapphire Corps. The original Star Sapphire, Green Lantern’s old girlfriend/nemesis Carol Ferris, marvels that Diana is the only one of the various corps’s new temporary deputies who actually fought her way out from under Black Lantern possession to become something else. I’d think that would speak to Diana’s tremendous will, but will power is green and we’re told that Diana’s 100% violet love, so I guess not.

Diana so loved the world that she gave up her only shred of fashion sense.

Now, I really don’t buy the idea of putting Diana on Team Love. If she were to join any of the Corps, it would make much more sense for her be with the compassion-oriented Indigo Tribe, especially as the love for all creatures that’s described as a rationale for her to become a Star Sapphire sounds a whole lot more like compassion. (The Indigo Tribe got the Atom instead.) Or heck, she’d make a much better avatar of hope than the Flash would, and she’s not so shabby on will power either, so I could just as easily see her as a Blue Lantern or a Green Lantern. But the Star Sapphires are all hot ladies in skimpy outfits, so Wonder Woman has to be one of them. And don’t get me started on why men can’t be motivated enough by love alone to be Star Sapphires, which couldn’t possibly be more sexist. The Star Sapphire outfits are appalling, but I’d see the male version as looking a little like Bow from She-Ra, only I guess he’d have to stop wearing pants.

But you know, I think he’d be OK with that.

At least Rucka sells it well. “The love you carry for everything, for the entirety of creation… it’s limitless,” Carol says. “I’ve never encountered anything like it.” Carol, after all, is motivated by good old-fashioned unrequited love. Diana is pitted against her same old sparrring partners from the first two issues again. Max makes a lot of piggish, sexist come-ons while she keeps destroying him and he keeps re-forming. Of course he makes a crack about Diana being into bondage, which doubles as a nod to the kinky peculiarities of the original Wonder Woman comics of the 1940s as well as just driving home what a creep Max is now, even if he weren’t an evil zombie who feeds on getting people riled.

Mera’s now a Red Lantern, the inarticulate rage monsters who attack people by vomiting blood, and she goes after Wonder Woman in a thinly motivated reversal of their last thinly motivated fight. Now Mera’s the unreasoning monster while Diana is trying to calm her down. Diana tried to calm Mera down with her ring and magic lasso, showing her visions of the love and pain in both women’s hearts. (I see that making goo-goo eyes at Batman has pride of place in Diana’s personal slideshow, but we’ll let that pass for now.)

Sharing is caring. Or something.

In any case, it works, and seems to bring Mera to her senses, even if she’s still a Red Lantern for now. And Diana sees something in Mera’s heart that makes her understand the queen of Atlantis much better than she did before, a secret that Aquaman never knew. And we don’t know it either, because it’s referred to here without actually saying what it is. And the same sort of insinuation is made about Diana herself. Mera says, “The lasso showed me your heart the same way it showed you mine. What is the truth there? You never spoke a word.” “Because there was nothing that ever needed saying,” Diana replies. “And even if there had been… it’s too late for that now.”

Oh, and that thing? In the place? With the thing? How can you even talk about that?

This sure sounds like another touch of “Diana loves Bruce” fanfiction, and let’s be clear: I’m not against that because boys have cooties and he’s not good enough for her or anything like that. I’m against it because I don’t see why Diana should be paired with another superhero. Most of the guys have civilian girlfriends who are just their romantic interests, so why shouldn’t Wonder Woman? What’s wrong with a guy having a more powerful girlfriend? Does DC think that’s emasculating somehow, and if so, how screwed up is that?  I’m not the biggest Steve Trevor fan in the world (I’d never dream of taking that honor from Ragnell), but if Superman has his Lois Lane, Flash has his Iris, et cetera, why shouldn’t Diana have a Steve Trevor of her own? Why shouldn’t she get to have that too? (And yeah, I know that both Superman and the Flash’s marriages have been retconned away by the New 52, but at least they always had a romantic interest.)

This business of no guy being good enough for Diana is why all evidence seems to suggest that she’s a virgin—Cheetah almost said as much late in Rucka’s run—and certainly not because of any religious restrictions on her part. She’s the popular gal who everyone’s too afraid to ask out because no one’s in her league. Just because Batman seems to be the superhero who gets laid the most (more even than Hal Jordan or Dick Grayson) doesn’t mean it makes sense for him to be the  guy she falls in love with. That’s just sad. And the idea of her being paired with Superman–which is apparently what Johns is doing now in Justice League, which I gave up reading after the first few issues–is even worse, because he has always had a true love, and it ain’t her, and pairing Clark and Diana just reinforces stereotypes about the “weaker sex.” But then, if Wonder Woman were going to be paired with any other hero, I’d say it should be Captain America, and that’s just not going to happen.

Oh, and there’s no ending to this miniseries, any more than there’s a beginning. Hal just shows up at the end with the leaders of all the other corps and their temporary deputies and asks if the ladies are ready to go kick ass. I’m going to guess yes. All in all, I don’t know that this miniseries should really count as part of Greg Rucka’s Wonder Woman because it’s just a small, confusing cog in an unwieldy and only semicoherent crossover—but if it had to happen at all (which of course it didn’t have to), I’m glad the capable hands of Rucka and Scott were the ones shepherding us through it.

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