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The Wicked + The Divine: The Trials of Patience

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We’re approaching the endgame supreme, lovelies. The players are all more or less in their places. All but a vital one, who has chosen to follow his heart and go to the Underworld for friendship’s sake. Sounds kind of Orpheus-like, doesn’t it?

Issue #30
“Beware the honest.”

The time spent below in the Underground last issue was draining. But although Persephone is free to mindlessly indulge in whatever she desires, the day isn’t over for Valhalla’s “R&D Department”. Woden, the Valkyries, and the non-Godly day workers have been busy preparing both the grand mysterious machine and Valhalla’s grounds for the upcoming gig.

Speaking of which, let’s do a quick recap of the specifics. Exactly 44,444 people in the grounds, ripe for Dionysus to pull his party hivemind thing, thus powering up the machine… and then see what happens. It’s a plan running entirely on uncertainty, both with regard to the gig actually containing the precise number of attendees and the outcome. A considerably more civil Woden assures Urdr the Valkyries can do crowd control if this event goes belly up.

But there is yet another concern on the preliminary side of things. Will Dionysus be around to do his thing? Urdr tells Woden Dio will make it. But this line straddles two possible senses: knowledge and desire. So, more uncertainty on our laps. Nothing quickens the pulse quite like uncertainty before some huge thing goes down, eh?

 

We find Dionysus sitting cross legged (a position conveying tranquil defiace) in the Underground. Right off the bat, we can say the scenario of waiting to be allowed to talk to Baphomet is something of a play in three acts. Obviously, each act will have Dio speak with Baphomet’s captor, the Morrigan, or rather each of her three personae. We begin Dionysus’ trials with The Morrigan’s more lucid side, her default goth queen personality. Despite her refusal to let Dio speak with Baph, she establishes some common grounds with the Wine God. They both want what’s best for those they care for. The Underworld Gods in this narrative have never actually been evil, not even Persephone. However, their fundamental difference from Dio is a matter of pure hubris.

Whereas Dionysus recognises that he doesn’t know what is best for everybody, the Morrigan thinks she does. Therefore, she declares that she will never allow Dionysus to speak with Baphomet. This doesn’t deter Dionysus from his attempt. In fact, a particular phrasing hints that his action doesn’t stem from a spontaneous decision, but an actual plan. The score so far: The Morrigan, 1; Dionysus, 0.

Meanwhile, at the Shard, Woden meets up with Baal, Minerva, and Amaterasu. What follows is something of an amusing means of ‘sweeping the rubbish under the carpet’ as Woden adds functionalities of tracking and recording to their gadgets. In truth, he does fuck all since he already did this ages ago. Woden’s dickishness has been considerably toned down since Persephone took him down to hell, but some of his entertaining features thankfully remain. At this time, he also remarks that he may have to create some pretty gadgets for the Goths if they show up. They’re basically the wild cards, the people who click maybe on a Facebook event, which can get annoying.

 

Back in the Underground, Dionysus continues to wait. The second trial of patience begins with a punt from The Morrigan’s second persona, the furious Badb Catha. She is not pleased at all that Dionysus would dare ‘disrespect her authority’ and judge her. In her infamous warlike fashion, Badb invites Dionysus to bring his crowd with him, for her to kill them all. His retort is a serene assertion of his efforts being only his own, which Badb takes offense to. So she has her birds claw and peck away, leaving him bloody. Once more, she leaves him declaring she won’t allow him to see Baphomet. Still, Dionysus waits. The score is now: The Morrigan, 2; Dionysus, 0. And his face probably hurts now.

We get an interlude of sorts in the story, courtesy of Instagram (or a legally-friendly stand in). On the one hand, we see the casual side of the Pantheon’s prominence in social media, despite the controversial recent events (as well as Amaterasu’s horrible taste in captions). On the other, we get the sense that Dionysus has been waiting in the Underground for a while. Soon enough, by the natural succession of threefold motifs and entities, we are now at Dionysus’ final trial. The Morrigan’s third persona, Gentle Annie has come to check up on him.

The relief in this scenario is palpable. Just check out Dio’s expression of a fond long-time-no-see. Some of this derives from the fact that Gentle Annie is, well, gentle; the security that she won’t harm Dionysus does play its part. But the main bulk of the sensation is Annie’s acknowledgement that she’s the part of Marian that doesn’t get to come out and play much anymore. That’s no surprise considering we’re this far into the Imperial Phase, where there appears to be little room for leniency and kindness. Nonetheless, Annie’s awareness of Badb and The Morrigan’s current states feels like a calling her full-self out on her latest actions. This truth about herself invites honesty towards Dio.

 

Gentle Annie is very concerned about Dio’s willingness to endanger himself for the sake of others. And she feels a sense of  finality approaching. Thus, she bids her farewell to Dionysus (and perhaps to the readers as well), after which she grants him his wish, much to the anger and spite of her other selves. This is possibly what Dionysus intended all along, to chat with the one part of Marian that he could still reason with. As he would, Baphomet is quick to tell Dio how bad he looks.

Meanwhile, the mood grows tense as the Gods’ task force to capture Sakhmet comes to action after a sighting of the Cat Goddess. Minerva plays the Oracle to Baal and Amaterasu’s birds of prey, as they close in on Sakhmet.

However, before they catch Minerva’s command to abort, Baal crashes through a wall, ready to take his chances against perhaps the deadliest of the Gods. This turns out to be a waste of time, though. It was merely a girl who styled her attire after Sakhmet for the sake of an autograph. Anti-climatic as fuck, but still a good simulacrum. Yet again, as per the conventions of a narrative, an actual attempt at capturing Sakhmet may not go as smoothly. And then, we may return to this moment as a rueful retrospective.

Back to the boys in the dark. Baphomet is back in his usual pun-gent mood. But it no longer feels as right as it used to, not after seeing how badly his relationship with The Morrigan has decayed. By now, his wise-cracking has become a flagrant masquerade to hide the damage. Furthermore, when touching on the matter of the fine line between co-dependence and abuse, Baphomet tells Dionysus of the moment after his ascension. It was cool and all, until Baph realized he was made a God like The Morrigan, bound to live only for two years since. Although one could say he went ahead and presumed something else, Marian didn’t bother to bridge this communication gap before the deed was finished.

 

Therefore, Baphomet sees this relationship as an inescapable situation for Marian and he, perhaps from the very beginning. This is somewhat mirrored by Dionysus’ own situation, as he reveals he has feelings for Urdr, whose sexual orientation and current relationship status with her fellow Norns make a relation between them impossible. Such is life.

At the end of this heart-to-heart, Dionysus leaves a device in Baph’s hands, a means of communication in case he needs help. Although he doesn’t seem to care much for help now that things are reaching rock bottom, he may as well use it sometime in the issues to come.

Finally, bringing this issue to an end, The Morrigan pays Persephone a visit. Baph has told her the way, it seems, and she has a few words for the Destroyer. After ridding herself of the part that would forgive her (a dreadful implication for Gentle Annie), she delivers a threat for Persephone to stay away from her and Baphomet. Her tone turns cautionary as she warns Persephone of the things some people would do just to feel honest and clean.

Thus, Marian walks away, unaware that, though she came with the threat, she was the one in peril. Sakhmet was waiting to strike and kill just out of sight. Unbeknownst to the Queen of the Underworld, the Destroyer has just saved her life.

 

When questioned by Sakhmet on why she allowed The Morrigan to talk like that, Persephone says they’re too close to their inevitable doom for displays of vengeance and pride to matter. Finally, they share a kiss. Little does Sakhmet know or care, a furtive tear streams down Persephone’s face.

There’s no better way to portray a doomed, depressing romance. The Morrigan’s words may well apply in this case, somehow. It takes no more than common sense to know that there is a large difference between Sakhmet and Persephone. At this point, even one sliver of a conscience counts aplenty. Casting this statement as a reflection back on The Morrigan, one can only hope she hasn’t taken permanent leave of hers.


The Wicked + The Divine Issue #30 Credits

Writer: Kieron Gillen

Art / Cover: Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson

Images courtesy of Image Comics

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Barbarella, Still Stunning After 55 Years, Gets New Comic

Dan

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After three decades without a comic, kitschy sex icon Barbarella is returning to the printed page thanks to Dynamite Entertainment.

Barbarella exploded onto comic pages for the first time in a 1962 issue of  V Magazine, and since then has been stiffening hearts and minds of readers the world over. Created by Jean-Claude Forest, the comic follows the (often controversial) titular heroine as she travels the galaxy engaging in adventures as exciting as they were erotic. It was labeled as the very first pornographic comic.

Created to represent the author’s ideal of a sexually liberated woman, the comic became a fixture of the sexual revolution. But the world was not yet satisfied, and Barbarella came to the big screen in 1968 with Barbarella.

The film starred Jane Fonda as Barbarella, the camera firmly affixed to her every movement and gyration. Accompanied by the sexy angel Pygar, Barbarella must defeat the evil Dr. Durand-Durand and his sinister Orgasmatron. It famously featured the first female orgasm in US theaters. Despite derision from contemporary reviewers as “schlock,” and condemnation from the Catholic Church, the film did well and even became the second most popular film in the UK for that year.

Since then the legend of Barbarella has only been a grower, as the camp and fun of the movie has made it a fixture of midnight movie showings. Its influence has been felt up and down the globe, from the designs in The Fifth Element to the name of Duran Duran.

Io9 reports that the series will be written by Mark Carey (X-Men, Lucifer, The Girl with All the Gifts) with art by Kenan Yarar (Hilal). It will be Barbarella’s solo title since 1982, and her first appearance in an American comic. Its release will celebrate 55 years of Barbarella.


Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

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Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life Excels At World Building

Matthew

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Yes, friends, it’s time to revisit the Scott Pilgrim comic books for the work of art they are. First published in 2004 and being both written and drawn by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the six-part series is about the eponymous title character, Scott Pilgrim, and what happened to him when he sort of started juggling two relationships at once. In this article, we will discuss the first volume “Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life”.

Recap

Scott, 23, is the bass player for the underachieving band Sex Bob-Omb which also stars Stephen Stills singing and Kim Pine on the drums. We meet Scott as he is talking about his new high school girlfriend, Knives Chau, to his friends and then to his roommate, Wallace Wells. When his sister finds out, she calls Scott and asks him why he decided to start dating someone much younger and he tells her “it’s just nice, it’s just simple”.

Being the broke young adult he is, Scott’s options for hanging out with Knives usually involve the band practice (which Knives absolutely hearts) and low budget places like Goodwill and CD stores — this was 2004, so bear with it. Their conversation flows nicely because Scott seems genuinely interested in Knives’s day-to-day high school intrigues like who-likes-who and whatever happened at the yearbook meetings. However, at one of these hangouts, Scott sees a pink-haired roller-skating woman that catches his eye because he had seen her before in his own imagination/dreams.

After some obsessing, Scott finally has the chance to introduce himself to the girl of whom not a lot is known about, with the exception of her name, Ramona Flowers, and that she left New York after a breakup with some guy named Gideon. Scott tries to make conversation, but his sheer awkwardness gets the best of him and he ends up leaving her alone.

However, Scott was still stuck on Ramona so, armed with the information that she worked doing deliveries for Amazon, he placed an order just so she would go to her house, which she eventually does, and actually agrees to go out with Scott on a date after some persuasion. We also see that, after Ramona’s introduction, Scott became distinctively uninterested in Knives’s stories which culminates in him running away after Knives make a move to kiss him.

Stephen Stills is able to set up a gig for Sex Bob-Omb against Crash and The Boys. At their date, Scott and Ramona have a nice time getting to know each other and Ramona finally explains that she uses these subspace highways to get to one place to another faster and it is because of those that Scott was having visions of her. They end up at her place, but they don’t engage in sex right away which is not only okay but preferred to Scott.

It’s showtime and everybody is there which includes Stacey and Jimmy (new boyfriend), Wallace, Ramona, and even Knives who totally got a makeover to become more “rad”. Naturally, Scott ends up freaking out about both of his girlfriends at the same place and tries to run away from the discourse. It’s worth pointing out that, at this point, pretty much everyone has told Scott to break up with Knives, but he simply can’t bring himself to do it.

Their presentations finally start and the Crash and The Boys’ last song is powerful enough to knock everybody in the audience out for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, a little after Wallace ends up kissing Jimmy and a not too far into Sex Bob-Omb’s song, the unexpected happens: a man flies from the sky, breaking the roof, and announcing himself as Matthew Patel, the first of Ramona’s Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends.

Clueless at first, Scott picks up the thread and engages in the fight: apparently, Scott is known as the best fighter in the province and is able to turn this around. Matthew even brings out sexy demon women to help with his fighting/musical choreography, but Scott is able to flip it and reverse it to his benefit. In the end, Matthew Patel is gone leaving behind $2.10 in coins.

During the subway ride back home, Ramona and Scott finally define the relationship as she tells him that, in order for them to be a free couple, Scott will have to defeat Ramona’s League of Evil Exes. Pilgrim acquiesces to the proposal, but, upon asking whether Gideon is one of them, Ramona’s head starts glowing weirdly.

So… what was that?

Right off the bat, I’ll admit that not only the Scott Pilgrim series is one of the few comics I’ve read, but also it’s downright my favorite. The work Bryan Lee O’Malley put into each of the 180-paged issues is astonishing and, as much as I love a visual gag, I have to hand it to the self-aware and genuinely funny script: it’s tight and, from the very beginning, it serves the mission to set us up for a complex and detailed ride.

Now, if you’ve read the comics, you know what I am talking about: the drawing is purposefully inspired in Japanese manga while still having a style of its own. If I had to pick up one word to describe it, it perhaps would be “irreverent”, because the lines and coloring help the story develop even with its larger-than-life and ludicrous storytelling.

The best part about the volume is how well the world building was done. The Scott Pilgrim reality is quite obviously very whimsical and it’s only semi-grounded in reality (or maybe it is fully grounded in reality? I honestly wouldn’t know because I’ve never been to Toronto so I can’t testify to Toronto’s whimsicality). This is a story that includes a wormhole-like subspace highway that is absolutely ubiquitous to Ramona, but not for Canadians, apparently. Not only that, but Crash and The Boys physically knocked people out with music and Matthew Patel brought in demons and ended up turning to coins. It’s quite clear that Scott Pilgrim’s world is one inspired by the possible plausibilities of video games and cartoons.

As for the characters, from very early on, we see how Bryan Lee O’Malley, a half Korean man, wanted to integrate his own culture on the story as he has talked about on his Tumblr account, giving a very straight answer about the lack of POC in his story:

So anyway, I guess what I’m saying is, what I knew in the first 20 years of my life was white people and a little bit of asian people and so that’s what I put in Scott Pilgrim. I had an unexamined non-attitude towards race and I didn’t think about it until years later.

In the first volume, we do meet Knives and her friend Tamara, who appear throughout the series. Sadly, Matthew Patel bit the dust right after his introduction.

A nice point I always love when I read this comic is Wallace’s relationship with Scott and everybody else. Reading Wallace as a “gay best friend” is quite easy and he does fall victim of hypersexualization during some time, but I still love the tiny moments that include LGBT+ characters in the story and, spoiler alert, there are quite a few still to come.

It’s also nice to point out how quick everyone got concerned when Scott, 23, said he was dating a high schooler. While Scott says it is “easier” for him and Knives seems to genuinely like Scott, their relationship appears sketchy to the reader on most occasions, especially after Ramona is introduced. Knives own arc of self-discovery, independence, and love is amazing and definitely worth the price of admission on its own.

As far as Scott and Ramona, the duo still has a lot of ground to walk. One moment that usually gets praise is the non-intercourse that happens after the first date. I don’t particularly think that Ramona was aware of Scott’s anxieties regarding being intimate with someone for the first time after getting his heart broken a year before, but it was a nice touch that he ended up getting what he needed: an intimate moment, sure, but one that didn’t have to appease to pressuring dating rules. This moment also probably doubles as when the couple really started connecting, putting down the basis for the relationship to become believable.

Well, that’s about it for Vol. 1. Join me in a couple of weeks to talk about Vol. 2 Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World!


Images Courtesy of Oni Press

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Wonder Woman’s enemies practically defeat themselves in “Heart of the Amazon”

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The “Heart of the Amazon” arc has had its ups and downs for Wonder Woman.  It started very strong with a meaningful and emotional first issue, but then petered out when its attempt to build on top of that with action couldn’t quite bring it together.  It finally seemed to get a handle on itself in issue #29, where they managed to have both an action/adventure setting while still retaining the friendship and family connections.

Unfortunately, despite having a very satisfying main body, issue #29 of Wonder Woman closed with a “twist” that was severely wanting: Hamilton Revere, the man behind Dr. Crawford’s attempt to grant herself superpowers using Diana’s blood and also behind the bounty hunters sent after her, works for the US Government.  That twist — if you even want to call it that — didn’t make sense, and it lacked any sort of emotional punch.

So now we are on to Issue #30, part 5 of “Heart of the Amazon”.  This is the last issue of this story-arc, and let’s see if they manage to pull out a victory.

Recap

At the Evil Lair

Wonder Woman speaks to Hamilton Revere and the various soldiers under his employ, and Revere reaffirms his statement from the last issue.  He is an operative of the US government, and what’s been going on is a sanctioned mission to gain superpowered soldiers.  The surrounding guards aren’t mercenaries or villains-for-hire, but soldiers who have been personally inspired and saved by Wonder Woman who volunteered to gain powers themselves in the hopes that they can help the world.

What was a lie was the claim that the research would be immediately applicable to diseases and medicinal cures, which is why Diana had walked into this “trap” willingly.  Though he says that it might lead to medical breakthroughs eventually, Revere admits that the goal of their research was purely about the combat side of superpowers.  His previous talk about how their research would help the world referred to his belief that all other nations would surrender to their authority and they would have “peace” once the US had an army of super soldiers.

Obviously, Diana wants no part in this plan, so there’s the obligatory fight scene.  It turns out that the soldiers present have already been given superpowers, so they can fight Wonder Woman on even terms, although some of them still use their plain olds guns as well.

Eventually their numbers overwhelm her, and Wonder Woman is strapped down for Evil Medical Experiments.

Generally speaking, it undercuts the argument that you just want to help people if you’re attacking somebody as you say it

At the Picket

At the beginning of the issue, Etta Candy and Steve Trevor were sullenly sitting at the Picket after being ordered to reman there as Diana goes off into who-knows-what danger.  They idly swat at some of the ants crawling on the table (Again?  Seriously, what is up with the ants in this arc?), and then Sasha Bordeaux asks to see them in her office.  She explains that General Thomas (Aha! His name is General Thomas.  It only took five issues to get this) has been ordered to keep them there, lending credence to Revere’s “we are the government” bit.  In a parallel to her conversation with Etta in the preceding issue, Sasha says that she has picked her side and helps them sneak out so that they can go help Diana.

I do have to wonder how many people accidentally placed their hand right there while innocently using the restroom

Etta and Steve race to the Evil Lair, scope out the defenses (Steve even recognizes one of the soldiers on guard), and then launch an attack/distraction.

Wonder Woman manages to break out of her restraints, and with Etta and Steve’s assistance (Plus the help of one of the soldiers who regrets her involvement) they defeat and disable all of the super soldiers.  Just as with Dr. Crawford at the beginning of the arc, Wonder Woman removes all of their superpowers through the use of the Lasso of Truth, since it can separate the lie of their powers from their true beings.

Aftermath

When Revere is being carted away by the cops, he again claims that he works with the military and the police say that they checked with the Pentagon and they claim they never heard of him.  I’m assuming this is the military disavowing his actions rather than a reveal that it was a lie all along, because if he knew nobody at the Pentagon would back him then why would he still play the role when it will just make things worse for him?  Before the cops put him into a car he is intercepted by two EMTs who say they need to check him over, only to be revealed as two of his soldiers who abscond with him so that he can give them powers again.

Diana, meanwhile, is recuperating at Etta Candy’s apartment with Steve and Destiny, Etta’s niece that Diana had bonded with at the beginning of the arc.  They talk, laugh, and love, and that brings us to a close.

I’m not gonna lie: I really want to try some of Steve’s cookies

Review

Let’s get this out of the way: The Villain in this issue just torpedoes any attempt at drama or complexity that the story tries to offer up.  From any perspective the Evil Plan makes no sense, and is actually self-defeating.

The Evil Plan

The first problem is the premise that this is an official government operation and not a rogue operation aiming for Revere’s personal wealth or advancement.  I’m not saying that I have a problem with a story concept of the government running unethical medical experiments to try and bring about superpowers (That kind of thing happens in real life, Project MKULTRA being the one that first springs to mind), but I do have a problem with them deliberately  shooting themselves in the foot like this by.  Diana is already willfully working with them, so why are they trying to force her compliance at gunpoint?  Why not just say “We think studying your blood can give us cures for diseases, will you agree to a regular blood draw once a month for research and application?”  They obviously considered that point and they believed it would work, since that is the lie they use to lure her in, so why not just do it?

Then there’s the fact that the soldiers they’ve recruited are deliberately all personal fans of Wonder Woman.  One of them talks about how Diana inspired her to believe that a woman could accomplish great things despite being opposed by the patriarchy, and another says her life was personally saved during combat in Iraq.  Since Revere lied to them about Diana being a willing test subject, indicating that he knew that they wouldn’t go along with attacking their hero, why didn’t he get soldiers drawn at random?  Or even people with a grudge against Wonder Woman?  There’s got to be plenty of soldiers who are envious of her powers, or resent the fact that she hasn’t gone into all of the combat zones and single-handedly taken out all of the enemy combatants.  Why surround himself with people that he specifically knew would have moral oppositions to his plan?

BTW: She isn’t the one decides to help Wonder Woman. Interesting fact, that.

This all means that Wonder Woman is going to fight against him instead of politely acquiescing, and she is going to have help from his own side once they realize that she is there under duress (Only one of the soldiers actually does change sides, but still).

A lot of this could have been avoided with the simple reveal that Revere had gone rogue and was operating outside of his orders.  That would cover why he has to steal Diana’s blood, because he’s going to use it for his own ends and not the government’s.  It would also explain why his underlings are all Diana fanboys, since he had to work within a structure that honestly thought it was helping Diana.  “Rogue government agency” isn’t exactly a new or unique plot, in fact it’s been done a half-a-dozen times with Wonder Woman herself, but at least it would make internal sense.  As it is, I spent the entire issue shaking my head.

The Rest of the Comic

Okay, leaving aside the villain’s plan, the rest of the comic is…well, it’s “okay”.  Not groundbreaking, but not horrible.

They finally named the as-yet-unnamed General that has been hanging around the Picket.  It’s nice to finally attach a name to the face, especially with the way he had been introduced at the start of the arc as a Reasonable and Benevolent leader before being ordered to obstruct Steve and Etta here.

Even though she wasn’t involved in the fight itself, they managed to include Sasha Bordeaux in the narrative by having her help Etta and Steve sneak out.  By having her state that she picked her side, a direct quote of what Etta had said to her in the previous issue, it manages to include why she is helping them without bogging the action down in a page of dialogue.

Etta explains why she chose to renew her friendship with Diana in Issue #29

It’s brief, but there was also a very quick panel of might-have-been flirtation between Etta and Amelia Medina, the one soldier who turned against Revere and assisted them.  It’s a lightning fast exchange, just a single panel of Etta telling Amelia that she can call her by her first name instead of “Commander Candy”, but I’m going to grab onto that and hold tight.  Ever since they introduced ‘Marc’ in the first issue of the arc, combined with the complete lack of any mention of Barbara Ann Minerva, I’ve been dreading the day when this new creative team might try to introduce a boyfriend for Etta.  The inclusion of her flirting, no matter how small, is a little reassurance that the new creative team hasn’t forgotten that she is a lesbian, even if they haven’t shown what happened to her girlfriend.

The one thing I don’t get is the continued inclusion of ants at the Picket.  This has been an ongoing event since the first issue of the arc, with references to the building being fumigated and renting temporary office space.  I keep expecting it to become a critical plot-point (Are they alien ants?  Mind-control ants?  Spy ants?  Demon ants?), but they keep just being ants.

If those are superintelligent ants, I’m guessing they’ll hold a grudge

What’s the story here?


Wonder Woman #30 and all images courtesy of DC Comics

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