Wonder Woman’s issue #26, part one of “Heart of the Amazon”, starts a new chapter in Diana’s Rebirth arc, both literally and figuratively. Obviously, as Part One of the story it is the beginning of a new adventure, but it is also the first issue of the series not written by Greg Rucka.
Rucka, who wrapped up his tenure on the series in issue #25, wrote two adventures at once that simultaneously chronicled how Diana left Themyscira and entered Man’s World, and also how those early days built to a confrontation ten years in the making. It introduced new or revitalized versions of Wonder Woman’s supporting cast, and addressed many, let’s say “questionable” issues of the New 52. But now, as must happen with all things, its time has passed and Shea Fontana (writer) and Mirka Andolfo (artist) are here for the next step.
Let’s see where they go.
It begings with an unexpected choice for the first shot of the new arc: a UN refugee camp in Attica, Greece. I say “unexpected” because the issue makes it clear that this refugee camp is sheltering Arab families, and it’s not set in Qurac or Bialya or Kahndaq — three fictional Middle Eastern countries within the DC universe which are usually used for stand-ins when it comes to the region. We don’t get any specific details as to where these people are from (Syria? Iraq? Somewhere else in Europe?) but putting the camp in an identified real-world locale implicitly says that they are refugees from a real-world event. They’re not here because the Four Dread Horsemen of Apokolips were operating from Bialya or because Black Adam is ruling Kahndaq, they’re here because Real Life is happening. And that’s enough to upset lives even without tossing gods or superheroes into the mix.
I’m not saying this issue is trying to make any kind of political point. Like I said, we don’t even know where these refugees are from or why. What I’m saying is that it’s not trying to deliberately dodge the issue. I gave the last issue points for naming an actual town in the Western Sahara (Imlili) instead of just saying “Somewhere in Africa”, and I’m giving this one points for not trying to say “We’re going to mention the refugee crisis, but we’ll make it about aliens just to be safe.”
Anyway, whatever the background happens to be, this camp is apparently under attack by “radicals”, with Wonder Woman arriving in the nick of time to save a woman and her son. (Why are the radicals speaking English? If they’re domestic nationalists, shouldn’t they be speaking Greek?) She is particularly piqued because a refugee camp is specifically a place for people to get away from danger, and to see them attacked even here is an extra affront.
She manages to save that particular family, but as the narration boxes explicitly spell out — and which Diana has unfortunately learned time and time again — she cannot save everybody. As she runs towards a flaming section of the camp calling for a young boy’s grandmother, she is interrupted by a giant explosion which leaves her standing over a lost and battered toy doll.
This is admittedly a cliche image, the use of a damaged toy to imply the suffering of children, but the reason things become cliches in the first place is because they work. This scene could have benefited from more background for the camp and established goals for the attackers, but as it is we still feel Diana’s pain as she (presumably) sees children caught in this horrible explosion. We feel her anger at the way a sanctuary becomes another source of pain for the victims, and we-the-reader understand why it knocks the comic into a flashback.
We come upon a child Diana as Hippolyta is trying to get her to go to bed, even though “‘Gapie” (Her doll) wants to stay up for the rest of the feast (Wasn’t baby Diana just the cutest?). Hippolyta eventually gets her to settle down, but then Diana climbs right back out of bed because she wants a drink of water (Wasn’t she just the cutest?). While reaching for the pitcher, however, young Diana overhears her mother and Phillipus arguing about whether or not Diana is being raised too soft, playing with dolls instead of weapons.
Other Amazons had been talking, saying Diana should already be being trained as a warrior. Hippolyta wonders if maybe they have a point. Phillipus points out that it is none of their business how Hippolyta raises her daughter, and these talkers have no experience raising children of their own (Good ol’ Phillipus, you can always count on her for some common-sense advice). Hippolyta, however, reflects that none of them have ever been mothers before, so she is unsure if her way is the right way.
The critical point comes when Hippolyta says that she has never seen a warrior with a doll, and a crying Diana runs back to her room, locks ‘Gapie away in a chest, and literally throws away the key. She insists to herself that she is strong, she is a warrior, and she is an AMAZON.
This is a good scene, with two concerned but inexperienced mothers unsure of what is best for their daughter and fearing leading her down the wrong path….except…I honestly don’t know why they felt the need to include “I have never seen a warrior with a doll”. Apart from the fact that the association of dolls with being “weak” can be traced pretty exclusively back to the sexism inherent in society through the association of dolls with girls, and the assumption that girls are inherently weaker than boys and unfit to be warriors.
It is also a relatively new phenomenon. Dolls have been toys for millennia, but they have also held religious significance, cultural significance, and yes, even martial significance in different cultures. This exchange might make story-sense if Diana is a boy and one of the parents is obsessed with western gender norms and heteronormativity, but not in a culture that doesn’t have our own burden of misogyny and historical sexism.
But I digress. The point is that Diana made a decision to abandon her ‘weakness’ to show that she is a warrior. We cut back to the present in the aftermath of the camp attack. She is being debriefed by an unnamed General at Mega-Ultatech, an office building in Arlington, VA that they are operating out of while The Picket is being fumigated. There is apparently an ant infestation at The Picket (Normal ants, not hyper-intelligent space-ants or anything) and so they rented offices here in the meantime.
Seriously. I honestly can’t tell if some of this is some sort of brilliant satire, or just a weird.
In what feels like it must be a first for comics, this General apparently isn’t a jackass or evil (Or rather, they haven’t yet revealed when and/or how he is going to turn evil). He recognizes that Diana is obviously carrying the weight from so much fighting, and he offers to talk with her about it. Not debrief, but talk. He acknowledges that even though she has seen more combat than he ever will, he can still offer a sympathetic ear.
They’re interrupted by James from Mega-Ultatech, who came by to invite the tech start-up Covert Apps (Groan) to a building-wide picnic and softball game (I know I’m the one writing this review, but I feel like I need to question myself if I’m actually being serious here). He excitedly freaks out at seeing Wonder Woman and runs off. Then Etta Candy rides the elevator up to the office talking about how she saw him tweeting madly in the lobby about meeting Wonder Woman.
Here is where we get the first unexplained break from the story that Greg Rucka had written in the Wonder Woman series before this. Though still hopefully friends, issue #25 ended with Etta and Diana’s relationship undeniably strained given all that had happened recently. Etta blamed Diana for the way that her girlfriend, Barbara Ann Minerva, had once again been cursed and transformed into the Cheetah, and Diana did not believe that Etta was completely wrong. They were definitely on the outs, and Etta even asked that she not work with Wonder Woman anymore.
Just how they managed to repair their relationship is not mentioned here, and I can only assume that this issue was written before the previous story conclusion had been finalized and submitted. If that was what happened then the new team simply did not know they would need to explain the reconciliation. I’ve seen this before, sometimes much more dramatically, where the new creative team isn’t warned about a cliffhanger or major twist, so they write a story that they don’t realize won’t mesh.
Here, Diana and Etta are still great friends with one another. Etta even invites Diana to accompany her to her brother’s wedding instead of letting Diana spend time all alone in her empty house. When Diana protests, saying that the wedding should be for family, Etta points out that Diana is family (Awww). Diana agrees to the wedding date, then goes to an after-action medical checkup.
As I have mentioned several times in past reviews, I love when fiction of any type shows a scene like this, the practical and mundane followup after any kind of Event. Even if you’re Super, there’s always the chance that Something Could Happen, and in real-life things are often double- and -triple checked Just In Case. Bulletproof or no, it makes sense that they check her over to make sure that there weren’t Magic Bullets involved. I also like that the scene again gives us a glimpse of Diana just talking to another person, making conversation, and the comic showing that people care about her and how she feels. To my knowledge this doctor (Dr. Crawford) is not some key figure from the Wonder Woman mythos. This is the first time we ever see her, but we know that she’s friendly and she thinks about Diana’s physical and emotional well-being.
Then we meet Dr. Jensen, and this is obviously set-up for whatever is going to come in the next issue, but I will admit that I’m not sure how. Just before Jensen walks into the examination room, Dr. Crawford begins to get sick. Coughing and dropping things and generally being unwell. Allergies, she says. Except that (Warning: Continuity Alert) Raymond Maxwell Jensen was the real name of the Parasite in Pre-Crisis continuity, the first supervillain of the name. He could absorb thoughts and abilities of people through touch, and would often leave them weak or seemingly-sick afterwards.
Is this Dr. Jensen a new iteration of the Parasite? Are his powers proximity-based now, explaining how Crawford began to get sick without him ever touching her? What is the “priority bloodwork” he mentioned to Crawford, which he needs done by tomorrow morning?
For these questions I have absolutely no answers, since we leave Crawford and Jensen behind after this scene and do not come back to them. I guess we need to read the next issue to see if my theories pan out.
Then comes the wedding, and it is adorable, cheesy fun. Etta tears up during the vows and is the first person to stand up and cheer after her brother and his wife kiss. The guy who comes over to ask her to dance winds up quoting the traditional Vulcan greeting when he couldn’t think of anything more original to say.
There is only one problem here, and that’s the fact that Etta goes off to dance with ‘Marc” with nary a mention of Barbara Ann Minerva, and that troubles me. This might not mean anything. Men and women can dance together without it being romantic/sexual, but combined with the way the story skipped over the Etta/Diana friendship problems, I am scared that they are wiping away Etta and Barbara Ann’s relationship. And oh would that be an ever-loving problem. I don’t want to get angry too soon when nothing supports it, but if they’re just erasing that relationship and simultaneously erasing Etta’s sexuality….oh boy.
Well, until the comic actually says it’s doing that let’s try for happy thoughts: The rest of the comic is Diana playing with Destiny, the adorable little girl who was sitting in front of her at the ceremony and has lost a shoe while playing hide-and-seek.
Since Wonder Woman knows a real emergency when she sees one, she decides to help Destiny reclaim her lost shoe, and the two bond as only destined friends can. They talk about clothing and accessories. Destiny likes Diana’s bracelets of course, and Diana agrees that Destiny would be very strong if she did not cry when she got her ears pierced. Then Destiny complains that there are no other children at the wedding. That makes Diana wonder about just who she was playing hide-and-seek with, and then Destiny begins to read the numbers off of the surprise that the woman she was playing with had left…
I have to say, for the first issue of both a new arc and a new creative team, Wonder Woman #26 manages to deliver on almost all levels. Some things don’t work perfectly. Why the heck is The Picket working out of rented office-space, with semi-slapstick like the General bumping into lighting fixtures? Where is Barbara Ann? Why would a society composed solely of warriors regard anything as un-warrior-ish?. But it seeds out enough material for the following issues to work with. Its tone does not conflict too heavily with the preceding series, and provided they don’t mess up Etta Candy then nothing has changed the continuity.
It gives us the caring, helpful Wonder Woman that the character has always embodied, and which Greg Rucka spent nearly thirty issues trying to rehabilitate from bizarre character decisions in the New 52. We see that she cares for people, and we see that people care for her, so it all makes sense.
I’m curious enough to see what comes next, and entertained enough to want what comes next.
…they just better not mess up Etta Candy.
Seriously. Don’t do it.