The Many Faces of Barbara Minerva, part 4 (Phil Jimenez)
I actually lied when I started this series; Cheetah doesn't show up in every run of Wonder Woman. Luke never touches her (or any other Wondy rogue, barring his own obligatory reintroduction of a Golden Ager), so for our next take on Cheetah we jump ahead to Jimenez' run and a tale that can probably be most accurately summed up, both in its content and its absurdity, by two words: Boy Cheetah.
Now last time, I called this story "confusing," which isn't entirely true. Provided you know who Fury *is*, how her powers work and how she's involved with the Wonders, and are able to keep track of a story told in two-page installments over the course of twenty issues, it's actually pretty straightforward right up until the very end. And even then it's more plot-hole-y than genuinely hard to follow.
However, the fundamental point of it seems to have been "let's get rid of Barbara Minerva, Cheetah works so much better as a man," which... what? I mean, I'm the first to admit the woman's been a little inconsistent as a character but seriously, what?
And wow, I'd forgotten what a fumbling, weepy child Jimenez' Diana is. This is going to be painful. I'll do my best to restrain myself, but I apologize in advance for the inevitable frustrated bitching that will probably nevertheless result after reading several hundred sad, astonished "great Gaia"s in a row.
Now, before we get going with anything Cheetah, we're going to take a minor digression into an atrocious piece of writing from the President Luthor Secret Files and Origins special, which will seem totally random at first but is actually somewhat important. (Why, you ask, would something of such relevance to Diana that it belongs in a World of Wondy post be buried in an obscure-ass piece of Superman supporting text? BECAUSE JIMENEZ, THAT'S WHY.)
Lex Luthor has just taken his seat in the Oval Office. While there, he's visited by none other than Circe, a Wonder Woman foe notable for turning every male in New York, superheroes included, into animals with the wave of a hand, destabilizing and conquoring entire pantheons of gods in a massive crossover event, banishing an entire divinely-protected magical island into a hell dimension, and generally being as unstoppable as Mxyzptlk and many times more evil. On her way in, she turns Mercy and Hope into rats for trying to stop her, which is a slightly redeeming moment.
Go ahead, take a moment to let the mind-numbing stupidity of Circe debasing herself desperately to Lex, fearing his reprisals and being intimidated by the idea of the Justice League, and crying over his rejection wash over you. It's cool. I'll wait. The boggling may be painful at first, but it will pass with time.
Okay. Ready? Good. So, about that last panel. Who is this mysterious man who has come to comfort Circe in her time of "trial"? What interest does he have in her, and why has he sought her out? How did he know she would be there? How did he interrupt her teleportation, and how did he get himself into such a secure location in the first place?
Well, I can answer... one of those questions.
The guy's name is Sebastian Ballesteros, and he's a Sinister CEO type who we first see identified in WONDER WOMAN during Diana's confrontation with the second Silver Swan. Ballesteros, who is responsible for creating this version of the Swan, notes that the she isn't going to take Diana out on her own and steps away from the monitors for a moment.
Two things to note:
1) He's doing the ceremony by himself; no priest, no cheetah skin, no full-body anointment 2) He didn't make the kill for the sacrifice himself; he had one of his flunkies have the body waiting
I have no idea what's going on with his crotch there and I'm pretty sure I don't want to.
Anyway, Diana's stunned for a moment, all "WTF, you are neither Minerva nor even female," and then Circe shows up, claims that Vanessa and Sebastian are her new family, and lifts them all into the aether until OW@W is safely out of the way. At which point they immediately come right back, and the new Cheetah finally does something halfway interesting.
This is amazing, right here. A Wondy foe giving Supes a run for his money. I mean, duh, right? But this is the most respect the Cheetah will ever get, and it's not even the right Cheetah. le sigh. And okay, this is not exactly a "look at these titans go" sort of fight scene and Ballesteros gets Law of Inverse Ninja'd a few panels later, but in principle, I have to approve of Cheetah pwning Superman.
Nothing else really important happens here; Cheetah minions for Circe for the rest of the battle until J'onn punches him through a wall, and that's the last we see of Sebastian for a while. Now that we've established he's out there, our story moves to follow Donna Troy, as she wanders around the rebuilt Themyscira after the war.
I'm going to do a full-on Fury post soon, because the whole tangled mess puts Peej, Donna and Hawkman to shame and I do love a challenge, but here's the woman in a nutshell:
During WWII, there was a young girl named Helena Kosmatos, whose parents were killed by Axis folks, thanks to the assistance of her traitorous brother. She prayed for vengeance, and the Furies, greek deities of vengeance, answered her call. They gave Helena the power to become the avatar/human host/embodiment/whatever of Tisiphone, the Fury concerned with familial betrayal. She used that power to avenge her parents, then joined up with the Young All-Stars as a costumed crimefighter.
During this time, the All-Stars and JSA teamed a few times and Helena met Time-Travelling Wonder!Polly, who became a mentor to her, of a sort. Then Polly went home. As time passed and tragedies befell her and her family, Helena became more and more unhinged, probably no thanks to regularly channeling a god of madness; she eventually convinced herself that Polly is her *actual* mother, and attacked Diana in a fit of jealous insanity. Diana brought her home to try to heal her. Fury now knows on some level that Polly's not actually her mother, but it's a comfortable delusion, and sometimes that "family" connection is all that keeps her together, so the Wonders basically indulge it, even more so now that Polly is dead.
Even more nutshell: she's a batshit WWII hero with power comparable to the Cheetah and the mind of a child.
And while Donna is getting her butt handed to her by Starfire in the sparring session, Fury is having a bad day.
Man, there are just no ways in which that "blessing" by Aphrodite is ever a good thing.
So Donna (I just can't call her Troia... can we get the poor woman a proper hero name, please? Last time I posted this someone suggested Nike, which is cool, or hey, Aegis is good, that's not taken at DC, right?) gets knocked halfway across the island a bit.
You know, that is very nearly as annoying coming from Donna as it is from her sister.
Anyway, as you might imagine, having Tisiphone ripped from her by force is not the healthiest thing that's ever happened to Helena. And letting some unknown thief wander around with that power doesn't strike Donna as too clever, either. So she does a little research, both mystic and the computer kind, to find out what happened and get Fury's fury back. Turns out there's an artifact, once used for worship of the Erinyes, which is now in three pieces in various museums across Europe - two of which have been stolen. Donna heads to Italy to stake out the third.
Meet Angelo Bend, aka Angle Man - gentleman thief responsible for the loss of Helena's power. This is the only of Jimenez' several dozen reinventions/reintroductions of pre-Crisis Wondy rogues that's actually at all compelling, probably because unlike the Villainy Inc types, he was paced properly and given some depth and actual interaction with our viewpoint character. Even he takes a bit of investment to get interested in, though, mostly because his gimmick isn't particularly suited to Jimenez' art style.
See, he's got that triangle, and what it allows him to do is warp the geometry of reality around him - he points it at you and suddenly you're standing on the ceiling or aiming your gun at your buddy or the whole building has turned inside out. This is actually a crazy powerful trick, but Jimenez doesn't attach any visual effect to it and his detailed, small-panel style doesn't lend itself to Esheresque play, so it doesn't look nearly as cool as it should, and it takes a couple pages to figure out what the hell is going on (which is a problem in a backup that's only a couple pages a month to begin with).
And on another note, superheroes in heels will just never not annoy me. (Unless they are crossdressing for justice. There's always room for crossdressing for justice. But this is not that.)
A rather creative fight scene ensues, during which Angleo blinks Donna all over the place and quite effectively smashes her into stuff with her own momentum while she utterly fails to lay a hand on him. And just when she finally does start to figure out how to deal with him, Fury comes crashing right into the middle of the fight.
So Angelo is off to England with the third shard of the Erinyes, and we finally get around to the reason we're here in the first place.
There's our girl! And absolutely back in fine Perez form - hanging out in her posh palace, the world at her beck and call, orchestrating a power grab behind the scenes through use of a third party minion.
Anyway, apparently Angelo hangs out for a bit while Minerva gets her Tisiphone on, because shortly hereafter we see him wandering the halls. (Oh, and for those of you who like Chuma, take a good look, because this is the last time you'll ever see him. Not because anything happens to him, or anything - it seems clear here he gets away while Minerva stops to maul Angelo - he just sort of gets completely ignored and forgotten from here on out.)
Another pounce and fade to black! But unlike Mike Schorr, Angleo actually gets the treatment you'd expect from a rampaging avatar of the hunt.
Alright, so, as our intrepid trio of Wonders rushes off to Argentina to assault Ballesteros, let us take a moment to find out what the hell this guy's deal is, anyway, and just what makes him so cool he can gank the Cheetah right out from under Doctor Minerva.
... yes, that is the full extent of the explanation for how Ballesteros became the Cheetah.* He talked Urzkartaga into it. Nevermind that even Urzkartaga's *priests* are unable to communicate with the god effectively. Nevermind that the only living priest of Urzkartaga wouldn't give Sebastian the time of day, much less teach him the ceremony. Nevermind that the Cheetah is Urzkartaga's bride (even if the plant-god swings both ways, a marriage still explicitly excludes a male consort). Nevermind that Urzkartaga offers the Cheetah power as a protection for his followers and a way to obtain sacrifice, not for his own vicarious kicks (which incidentally, since when did Minerva!Cheetah not "hunt and feed"?). Nevermind that Sebastian doesn't follow the rules, neither making his own kills nor remaining sexually faithful to his patron. Nevermind the fact that it makes no sense whatsoever and is completely incompatible with all prior canon, he talked Urzkartaga into it, because of course a male god would prefer a male host for his female consort's female power.
* And that one panel of her face is the closest we'll ever get for an explanation of why he sought Circe as a lover, or why Urzkartaga tolerated that infidelity, or why Ballesteros had any interest in Diana or Vanessa before hooking up with her.
Okay, done eyerolling for now. Back to the plot. The Wonders are on their way, so Ballesteros sends the Silver Swan out to stall them and begins the Cheetah ritual.
I am hugely fond of the fact that Tisiphone!Minerva looks like a shadowy version of Cheetah!Minerva, and very little like Fury's manifestation of same. Barbara Minerva is the Cheetah is Barbara Minerva; you can steal the power but you can't change that the shape belongs to her. It's like a weird in-story repudiation of the whole point of the story itself.
Sebastian speaks a lot of his native Spanish, in addition to his very good English. Making him approximately one-twentieth as cool as Barbara, who's a polyglot and fluent in the obscure tongue of Chuma's tribe as well as the language of the Bana.
So apparently Jimenez is the one who started the "once-princess, once-goddess" thing that we'll never see again because Diana is inexplicably and impossibly a princess once more. Damn. I hate having to credit him for anything cool.
Nothing about this scene even begins to make sense. Ballasteros banging Circe certainly didn't interfere with his being the Cheetah in any way, shape or form, and Urzkartaga has never before this run demonstrated the least interest in being "rid of the female." This is facile battle-of-the-sexes nonsense on a level that would make Messner-Loebs cringe. Better still, in a moment we'll see this isn't even Urzkartaga anyway - it's apparently Psycho, for even more no reason whatsoever, which does at least explain why it's sentient, which Urzkartaga has never particularly seemed - so what's the point? What's the connection? What the hell is Donna going on about? Why am I even bothering to ask for any kind of reason in a story about Boy!Cheetah?
Okay, as I said, no idea what just happened here, where the white blazes Psycho came from or why he's impersonating Urzkartaga, what Angelo could possibly have done to break his illusion, or what the crap any of this is supposed to signify. I suppose it doesn't really matter, though. The only relevant things in this scene are a) some kind of Cheetah-related power source or something was just defeated or something, which will have an effect on Sebastian in a minute, and b) the last time Donna won one of her own damn battles, she was still wearing red, which is intensely depressing.
God, Diana, shut up. I'm trying to watch a righteous beat-down, here.
The Interrupting Over-Emoter there scolds them more about the power they've stolen, and hurls them into an empty trainyard where they can wale on each other without threatening civilians. No sooner do they land than the sudden and bizarre Missing Plant-God kicks in, weakening Sebastian.
Boom, crash, epilogue time. Incidentally, just for kicks, pay close attention to what Donna's about to say, here, and then compare it to what just happened in Sebastian's Rumpus Room and how it affected him on the battlefield.
See, if Urzkartaga's spirit was already infused in Ballesteros (THE CHEETAH DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY, JIMENEZ), then why, oh why, did disrupting Psycho or removing the plant god or whatever the fuck just happened in that room cause Ballesteros' connection to his power to break? Wait, am I asking for logic and sanity again? Whatever. Let's just wrap this monstrosity up.
The end! Barbara's clearly dead, since Fury's got Tisiphone back no muss no fuss. Sebastian, however, is still alive, and still in possession of the Cheetah spirit, as you can tell by his ominous cat eye in the rubble! The Cheetah is dead, long live the Cheetah!
No, really. The whole purpose of this storyline was apparently to replace Barbara Minerva with Sebastian Ballesteros, by Sebastian laying claim to the Cheetah power in battle and by the killing off of Minerva. She gets to go out with a fight, and a fight on very old-school Minerva terms, involving the theft of mystic artifacts and the use of intermediaries and excellent gamesmanship (what better to fight a godly avatar than another godly avatar?), but she goes out nonetheless; I can't see any other way that we're meant to read that final page, with Tisiphone free and Sebastian still cat-eyed. So, who is Jimenez' Cheetah? Jimenez' Cheetah is Sebastian Ballesteros, a Rich Bastard who apparently decided to be Diana's enemy for no reason whatsoever, and desires ever more power to protect himself from the destitution and privation of his childhood.
And thus, as it always is with Jimenez, we've got something very cool couched in something ridiculous and annoying. Because while his Cheetah is Sebastian Ballesteros, his Minerva is pure Perez. We're following right on the heels of Byrne's restoration job, here - this woman is a clever, scheming Adventure Archaeologist who will go to great and frequently amoral lengths to get what she wants, and will do it with both class and deadly competence. She may not be the Cheetah, but she actually hurts the Wonders here just as much as she ever did *as* the Cheetah, and she's just as dangerous. This is a reaffirmation of the idea that Diana's real enemy is Barbara Minerva, not the Cheetah; that while she can bring a physical fight on Diana's level, the real threat she poses is her ability to plan and manipulate and use the resources around her. That this is a woman, not an animal, and a very intelligent and powerful woman at that.
You know, right up until she dies, after failing to reclaim *her* power from the guy who stole it.
Now, we don't see a body, so it's always possible that Jimenez meant for her to survive - perhaps Ballesteros would keep the Cheetah spirit, and all the Bruiser Foe/animalistic baggage that comes with it, while Doctor Minerva would travel her own path, safely ensconced in the role of Mastermind Foe (as a mere human, what else could she be?). This is not an idea without merit. It would keep Minerva close to her roots, and add a character of color to Wondy's lily-white roster. (Though given the most recent issue of Wondy, he'd probably get turned aryan next time we saw him anyway...). Nevertheless, it would be a bad call on the whole. That she *has* that power to draw on, that physical prowess to back up her mind, is essential to Minerva's place as Diana's equal. The Cheetah isn't all of her, or even the most interesting or powerful part of her, but it's still a fundamental piece of who Barbara Minerva is. And having her *lose* to a Johnny-come-lately sort of cripples her as a menace. Especially a Johnny-come-lately cipher like Sebastian. What has he got against Diana? Dunno. Why did he create the Silver Swan? No clue. How did he get involved with Circe? Doesn't say. What is there to him besides the Cheetah? Uh..... And this is supposed to be as compelling to us as an Evil Indiana Jones who owes Diana her life?
Fortunately, subsequent authors treated the whole "Cheetah is a boy now" idea with exactly as much respect and attention as it deserved: ie, next we see this dealt with, Minerva guts Ballesteros off-panel and blows up his lab before feeding his rotting carcass to her plant. So that's alright.
Next time: Rucka and Johns compete over who can annoy me more. To no one's surprise, Johns wins handily.