When Wondy was Awesome, part 14 (Golden Perfect)
Thus far, I've mostly been showing Diana at her best; her defining moments of triumph and growth and victory. Diana being who she is, that is most of the picture; heroes are heroes because they get it right, unlike the rest of us. But even Diana fucks up sometimes, and, like Clark or Hal or Babs or anyone with that kind of crazy power, her fuck-ups can be catastrophic.
So, let us observe one of these fuck-ups, by moving into the year 2002 and the Kelly era of JLA vol 3. It seems to me that Joe Kelly is very fond of Diana; he writes her in the forefront of the team and generally pretty well, with the exception of the idiotic Bruce/Diana romance (which is not only inappropriate on its own terms, but often causes him to diminish her for the sake of Bruce's masculinity). That comes later in his run, though, and we're here to look at his fabulous first arc, "Golden Perfect."
The timing here is pretty much immediately after "Our Worlds at War," although Diana's not being drawn with the Cheetah scar over her eye, so we're presumably post-Circe's battle of the sexes. Our story begins in an Athenean Women's Shelter, or a Wonder Woman Foundation home, or a Mindy Mayer building or whatever the hell they're calling them at that particular moment. This one is being run by actual amazons, and a woman speaking an unidentifiable language has come with her son, seeking sanctuary.
She has been chased.
We then jump to California, where Diana is helping J'onn face some inner demons with the lasso.
J'onn and Diana: they have a bond, folks. Also, I talked about this in more depth in re: her herself in the League of One post and will get around to it in terms of other people more fully with the Max stuff, but notice here yet another example of Diana neither fearing nor judging the most ugly and frightening inner, secret impulses of those around her.
Look! Diana has a sense of humor! And also, has Polly on the brain. A fair number of them got cut for space, but for those with the trade who're playing along at home, take a shot every time Diana says "Mother" in this arc and you'll get pretty damn drunk.
Um, yes, Plas. The correct answer is yes. (Kelly is not, particularly, fair to Plas, I think, but we're not here for him.)
The message, of course, is about the fight at the shelter, and the woman who was being protected there. The amazons failed to keep the monster from taking her son, and the JLA is debating getting involved.
Note Diana used the lasso on Ailani and knows her story is accurate. It is absolutely beyond question that Ailani's life in Jarhanpur was hell, and her child is a prisoner. That will be important in a minute.
So off they all go to the magic city Jarhanpur, only to discover that it is, apparently, a paradise. The people are happy, the architecture is glorious, and there's nary a whiff of brimstone nor a weeping child in sight. Diana, knowing from the lasso that this can't be taken at face value, is skeptical. Agressively so.
Diana calls for an instantaneous mental conference. Once again, I love these scenes for what they say about our heroes' self-perception. Diana's is totally beautiful, but I'm also a particular fan of Clark's Farmboy-in-a-cape.
Even though virtually no time at all has passed in the real world, Rama Khan is aware of their conference and, in fury at their "conniving," has forcibly expelled the lot of them from Jarhanpur.
Naturally, this results in a big fight. Diana is dead set on not leaving without the child, even though Rama Khan calls on the very earth to kind of whomp the whole League, badly. So she falls back on her old standby of using the lasso to force a powerful opponent to see the truth.
Ailani is right. Rama Khan is right. Diana is paralyzed.
The lasso, the unbreakable magic lasso, dissolves to shreds in her hands.
Minor digression here. J'onn and Supes both suffer from power glut. I don't mean in the sense that they're too powerful; it's that they have too *many* powers. Supes especially has so many powers that his powers have powers, and many of them are random and not easily connected by his theme as a hero. And I'm not even talking pre-Crisis here. This is true to the point that many of those powers don't see use for an entire author's run because he simply forgets the heroes in question even have them.
Diana, though, has it even worse than either of them. Her communion with animals and her immunity to fire are kind of off-beat and frequently forgotten, her resistance to and ability to sense magic is almost always forgotten; but I'd say her absolute most confused and underutilized gift is her at-will plane shift, the ability to wander freely around other planes of existence. Along with visiting Olympus whenever she likes, she's poached in the fields of the sun for healing golden fleece to restore a man to health, communed with Pan to understand insanity and save herself from Joker venom, and hunted for her mother's spirit in the realm of myth and metaphor. You can see why this doesn't get much play; it's too powerful and too ill-defined (try keeping someone in prison who can shift sideways off to another dimension with a thought). But it's nevertheless an established ability, and I give Kelly great credit for using it here and using it well.
Diana's being kind of childish here, but I can sympathize. The thing that is the very center of everything she is and has ever believed in has suddenly stopped making sense, and she's gone on an astral walkabout to find the Moirae and ask them what the hell is going on before she snaps completely. I would kind of want my friends to leave me to my self-hatred too.
Hmn. Here's your Runaways Skrull problem, right here. J'onn says he's asexual, and given that he's a shapeshifter, I'd like to believe him, but considering his behavior in everything else I've ever seen him in, he certainly seems to identify strongly as male, so... yeah, not so much.
That aside, the point of this is mostly that Diana needs a hug.
Meanwhile, in the non-astral planes where the rest of us have to live, weird shit is happening.
Funny, we are the center of the multiverse. I think the center of the universe would require time travel, though.
Incidentally, Rama Khan is still an asshole.
Note the general trend here - Earth as the center of the universe, women falling prey to a nusery rhyme. Truth has become subjective. Here, I'll let Atom explain it.
Gee, anyone have any ideas about whose fault this is?
Diana finally makes her way to the top of her astral mountain and finds the Fates waiting... covered in bugs and accusing her of rank arrogance.
Diana then disappears off the map completely; the League can't find her and J'onn can't touch her mind, and they're too busy for an exhaustive search because they're fighting the collective subjective consciousness of all humanity. The moon turns to cheese. The South really does start to rise again. Gods show up in ways that signal impending armageddon. And Batman fails to figure out the Riddler's riddles.
Batman does figure out what happened with Diana, sort of, and that she's gone to the obvious place.
J'onn makes a very good point here (also, I like how he says "we" even though this is all on Diana - it's a nice note of solidarity). The politics, particularly the race politics, of this arc are fairly troubling on some levels. But I give Kelly props for acknowledging that, and for the fact that the entire point of this story is that this decision isn't a binary right-or-wrong call. Still, this is a very dangerously white JLA to be telling this story with.
Oh, yeah, and as you might have figured, GL is Hal there because most of the world still thinks of Hal, not Kyle, as the League's "real" Green Lantern. I love this story. It hits like, two thirds of my literary kinks all at once.
Let's go back to Diana, shall we?
She's standing around in Jarhanpur, covered in the centipedes and other icky bugs that were crawling on the Moirae before, which are apparently lies given form. She's totally sanguine about this, which I have to say I admire. I would very much not be.
Rama Khan is still an asshole, by the way.
I like that Diana, of all of them, remains unaffected by outside perceptions. Yes, she's the epicenter and all, but I like to think it's really just a matter of Diana being Diana. Perhaps that's meta leaking in; I'm very comfortable with the idea that no matter how inaccurately some idiots may see her, not even years of bad writing reality breaking around her can change who Diana actually is - she's just too elementally Truthful for that.
Anyway, Diana's still not quite getting why the League has come and the fact that if it's her fight, it's everyone's fight. Because Diana has a really keen sense of responsibility, and would never assume anyone else should be responsible for cleaning up her mess. But she's happy they've come, or at least as much as she can be happy while she's going out of her mind with guilt and indecision.
Oh, Diana's face there gives me chills.
What is amazing about this scene? Diana surrenders her pride without surrendering her dignity. She gives a sincere, heartfelt apology, freely admits to her wrongdoing, and humbly seeks to make amends, and this in no way diminishes her. If anything, it makes her greater. That is a hell of a trick, particularly with a female character.
An even better trick: Diana figures it out. Notice Bruce and J'onn tell her what's going on and how to fix it... and they're completely wrong. That's incredibly important. Diana made this mess, singlehandedly; it's crucial that she be the one to clean it up, that she be the one who best understands how her weapon, her world, and her very calling actually operate. It's what makes her apology work, it's what makes this whole story work, that this is not Diana fucking up and the League bailing her out, but rather Diana fucking up and then making it right while the League supports her. Considering she isn't even always accorded that respect in her own title ::coughHeinbootcough::, to see it happen in JLA is astounding.
In other news, Rama Khan: still an asshole.
Diplomacy: Not always effective.
Jarhanpur: Not interested in being strongarmed.
Diana: Grateful for her friends.
I love how Diana has a sense of perspective about this. That sort of self-depreciating "I mangled reality because I want my mommy back" tells you just how aware she is of what a colossal fuck-up she was here. She's not a hypocrite and doesn't condemn Rama Khan for his blindness or pride. But neither does she absolve him of blame, and while she isn't happy about this disaster, she is satisfied that she, and the League, did the best they could in the end, and there is no place nor purpose here for guilt or recrimination.
Further key insight to her character can be seen in that, after almost destroying the universe because self-doubt in the avatar of Truth and highly magical nexus points don't mix: - She calmly accepts that she screwed up and resolves to do better. - She goes to work the next day. - She finds her own answers. - She re-asserts her beliefs and her value system. - She remains confident in her decision once she's done what she feels to be the right thing. - She accepts and appreciates the support of her friends.
It's impressive enough already that she's so awesome on her good days; I find it beyond heroic that she can respond so maturely and with such grace and honesty and self-consistency on such a very, very, very bad day as well.
Scans from JLA v3, issues 62-64, also found in the conveniently-named JLA 10: Golden Perfect.
Next time: Nessie Kapatelis returns, like you've never seen her before! Cassie is cool, for possibly the second to last time, enjoy it while you can! Secret and Empress cameo! Kon bitches about being an armadillo! Not one panel of Trevor-Sue Barnes! And I try very hard to present a Jimenez arc and remain unbiased! Everything is better with exclamation points!