Sunday, July 14, 2024

Wonder Woman delves into self-sacrifice in “Heart of the Amazon”

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Wonder Woman’s current story arc has meandered quite a bit over the past three issues, jumping between stories of pseudo-personal vendettas and large bounty hunter gauntlets. It started with the bombing of the wedding of Etta Candy’s brother, and from there lead to medical experiments being performed on Diana and at least one attempt to artificially duplicate her powers.

Issue #29, part 4 of “Heart of the Amazon”, starts to explain how these seemingly unconnected elements all fit together, and leads up to what will presumably be the Big Reveal next issue.

What faced Wonder Woman and Etta Candy at the close of issue #28


The Gauntlet

The issue picks up where issue #28 had left off, with Wonder Woman and Etta Candy confronted by a host of bounty hunters outside of Etta’s apartment.  These include Cheshire and Plastique, who have a long history in comics and a combined body count that I frankly don’t even want to think about.  They might not quite be in Wonder Woman’s league, but I at least give them credit as a challenge.  Others in the group (Abolith, Baundo, and Cat Eye) were created for this appearance, and so obviously do not engender much of an impact.

The fight itself is interesting, and I appreciate the way they weave Etta Candy in and out of the action.  Etta is a trained and experienced combat veteran, but she is also only a normal human without any super powers or abilities, and she is recovering from a grievous injury to boot.  It wouldn’t make sense to have her sit the whole fight out, and it also wouldn’t make sense to have her trading blows with a cyborg.  As such, she focuses on taking out Cat Eye, who apart from having Laser Eyes seems to have only normal human strength and speed, while Wonder Woman slugs it out with the metahumans and Super Assassins.

My only real critique of this fight, and this is solidly in the area of a Nerd Frustration, is the way Cheshire’s plan seems to be to scratch Wonder Woman with an Amazon-strength sedative (Presumably the same sedative Dr. Crawford used earlier in the arc). This makes sense at first glance, since Cheshire is a poisoner and also one of the world’s finest martial artists, but it falls apart when you really think about it.

Cheshire is smart enough and experienced enough to know not to get in close with Wonder Woman.  If she was trying to take her down with a drug, Chesire would have delivered the sedative before ever making her presence known.  That’s how she has operated in the past, and how other super powered and super-skilled beings have been taken down unawares.  But that’s a minor point, and generally speaking I like the way the foes are worked through (Particularly the way Wonder Woman takes out Plastique by literally hitting her with Cheshire).

At the end of it all, Diana uses the Lasso of Truth to get information out of Plastique, and then Steve Trevor rides up on a motorcycle in perfect Action Hero mode.  Really, this is some Grade-A Action Staging with the way he skids the bike and poses, only to have missed the fight completely as Etta tells him that he is a “little late”.

The Assessment

Once the fighting is over they all return back to the Picket, which is still under an exterminator’s tent because of the recent ant infestation. As an aside, I am still confused at the way the arc began with talk of how their offices were closed due to an ant problem. I honestly can’t tell if this was supposed to be a joke, or if it was a touch of “realism” by saying that things like bugs and everyday maintenance is still an issue in a world with superheroes.

Anyway, Sasha Bordeaux has returned to head the Picket, and we get the first real reference to the end of Greg Rucka’s run on the series, where Etta and Diana had had a rather significant falling out. They started this arc as best friends again, and now Sasha asks Etta about how their relationship was patched up. Etta explains that regarding Diana as an enemy put her in bad company, and she chose to make her peace.

Together with Steve and the still-unnamed general (I just checked on-line, I still have no idea who he is), they all figure out that the reason Diana is being targeted is an extension of what Dr. Crawford wanted at the beginning of the arc: Medicinal cures extrapolated from her powers and DNA.

The bounty was placed by a powerful pharmaceutical company owned by Hamilton Revere, who hopes to use Diana’s blood to make all sorts of remedies, and the Picket plans to storm in and wreck up the place to put a stop to their plans.  Diana, however, puts a stop to this and decides to voluntarily go see the head of the company.  Since what she wants most in the world is to help people, including the millions of people across the globe suffering from chronic and terminal illnesses, Diana considers offering herself up to assist with his research.  This would do more than any amount of villains punched, and could continue to help people for years even after she was gone.

The rest of the Picket is of course opposed to the idea, but they all know that none of them can stop her, so at the end of the issue she flies to their headquarters.  She tells Revere that she is there to see if he can really help people, but warns him not to try anything because the government knows where she is.

Hamilton Revere’s mocking reply is to look around, since they are the government.



The ending

We’re gonna jump right to the end of this issue, because that last panel and “twist” does not make any sense.

First off, why is Diana warning them about retaliation by the Picket if she is mistreated? She’s Wonder Woman. She just effortlessly took down the cadre of bounty hunters this place sent after her, one of whom has previously killed a country (Seriously, Cheshire is bad news). If they had been implied to have hidden powers or abilities to outmatch her own then it might make sense, but so far they have only offered an inconvenience, and a minor one at that. So the warning of “if you hurt me, my friends will avenge me” is unnecessary, and serves only to set up that last line. Then we get to the reveal itself that Revere “is” the government, and there is absolutely no impact to this line. Nor is there any meaning.

The “look around” instruction does not make sense, because nothing that is present visually indicates the government in any way.  With that line you expect to see US Army soldiers in full uniform, or police officers holding their badges, or Federal insignias on the wall.  Something to identify either a specific government agency, or at least to imply the connection.  There aren’t even generic CIA/FBI/NSA/ABC guys in suits with sunglasses.  All we have here are “soldiers” wearing cargo pants, t-shirts, and holding machine guns.  The only connection I can think of is just his name coming from Alexander Hamilton and Paul Revere.

Even if they were “the government” (Whatever that means)…so what? As was repeated several times in this issue, Diana does not report to or work for the government, even though she often cooperates with them. She also does not have a blind faith in the US government that will be shattered by this betrayal, she has plenty of experience with malevolence from authority. Her narration at a point earlier in the issue even had her reflect on the fact that she cannot trust her own Patrons, so why would she be surprised or saddened or shocked to find that she can’t trust the government?

This is supposed to be a Big Moment, and instead it’s just…eh.

Diana’s decision to voluntarily go visit Revere is lacking its own kind of sense as well. I agree that she would want to see if her abilities really could help cure disease, but she would never chose to put herself under his power in order to do so. This is the man who helped bomb a wedding and sent mercenaries after her, and all without first even asking for her cooperation.  He is not a noble man forced to extremes, he dove into Extreme Measures as soon as he could. What Diana would do, what common sense dictates she do, is have him arrested for the crimes he has committed just in this arc (Terrorism, attempted murder, attempted kidnapping, etc.), collect his research, and have the Picket’s own scientists take a look at it to see if there’s worth.

However, with the recognition that this closing fumbles the ball—hard—let’s rewind and discuss the rest of the issue, where they manage to get most of the bits right.

The beginning

The very first page of the issue, before we actually got to the fight scene, is Steve Trevor storming out of a debriefing when he learns that Diana is in danger. The general follows him, explaining why they didn’t recall him from Greece sooner and telling Steve that he hasn’t been dismissed, and so Steve hops onto his motorcycle (Grade-A Action Staging), turns around, and asks for permission to leave. To which the general gives him permission as he is riding away. I love this scene for both in-universe and out-of-universe reasoning.

In-universe, it’s obvious that Steve is going to go no matter what the general says, and he knows that Steve is going to go, so he gives him permission instead of shouting and hollering “Come back here!  That’s an order!”. It’s one of the basic rules of command that you never give an order you know won’t be obeyed, since it undermines your own authority and forces you to enact punishment afterwards. Steve Trevor is a decorated war hero, and is a critical part of the Picket operation, so unless this general is an out-and-out moron he’s not going to want to back himself into a corner by ordering him to not go help rescue Diana. Acquiescing is both the right thing to do, and also the smart thing to do.

The out-of-universe reason I love this scene is because it is the first part of the issue with Steve’s Grade-A Action Staging, and at the end of the day none of it amounts to anything. He rides his motorcycle dramatically (No helmet of course), and he’s rushing to the rescue of his lady Love with panels of him bypassing major national monuments, and when he gets there he dramatically skids to a stop as he cries out to Diana….and she and Etta Candy have already dealt with everything. It’s the perfect subversion of the archetype of a woman being rescued by her boyfriend because it lays on Action Hero Steve so heavily, and it doesn’t even need to pull the rug out from under him. By the time he gets there she’s already rolled up the rug and thrown it out.

There was also this perfect pointed comment on the sexism & misogyny of fandom, as Diana reflected on the way people on the internet are constantly fixated on her appearance and endlessly debate the size and shape of her body. As though she was a commodity created solely for their consumption and entertainment.  This would’t need to change a single word to apply to the real-world message boards that spend hours arguing and haranguing on the same subjects.

The relationships

Where the issue shines, and I mean really shines, is in the portrayal of Diana and Etta’s relationship.  Their strong friendship and….I’m honestly not sure if I can bring myself to say it, but…maybe more than friendship?

Because the bond between Diana and Etta is so strong, so firm, and so expressive, that if I didn’t know that Steve and Diana were in a steady relationship together I’d think that the three of them were in an ongoing love-triangle with Diana at the center.  Or, dare I say it, maybe they’re all in the same relationship.  The three of them are so in-synch that a polyamorous finality is not beyond thought.  To those familiar with the history of Wonder Woman it’s not unreasonable, as her creator, William Moulton Marston, and two of her inspirations, Elizabeth Holloway Marston & Olive Byrne, were all three married together.

Knowing both the comic industry and media in general I’m 99.9% sure it won’t go that way, but still….right here, in this issue, these three people love each other.  Etta even gets the last word when Diana says goodbye.

The background

Now I’m going to start getting into supposition and theories, but I think that this is the first issue of this arc which was written after the conclusion of Greg Rucka’s run on the series. As I said back in my review of the first issue of the arc, it started with a relatively minor but distinct disconnect from what had come before. Diana and Etta’s relationship, which had been sundered pretty severely, was repaired without an explanation. There was no mention at all of Barbara Ann Minerva, Etta Candy’s girlfriend.  These points all spoke to a story that had been written without knowing what precisely had happened in the preceding issue.

Here we get the first references and attempts to explain how things changed. Nothing to retcon either Greg Rucka’s issues or this arc, but characters saying “I thought you…” and being told enough to fill in some of the gaps for us. I am assuming that Shea Fontana was not privy to Greg Rucka’s plans as he was finishing out his run, and when she was asked to write the follow-up she had to make her best guess. Now that we are four issues into her run, her writing timeline has probably caught up to the publication of Rucka’s finale and she had a chance to read the story herself.

I’m a little iffy in both directions on this line. One the one hand, I absolutely adore Diana and Etta’s friendship and I’m happy to see it continue, particularly with the way Shea Fontana is writing it in this issue. On the other hand, I would have liked to have seen the two of them rebuild their relationship, and deal with the issues between them and come out stronger at the other end.

Oh, well. At least we’re not getting into direct retcons.

Wonder Woman #29 and all images courtesy of DC Comics

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