When Wondy was Awesome, part 15 (The Swan, the Witch and the Warrior)
Back to the main Wondy title this time, where we've moved on from the Luke era into the Jimenez era. Generally, I'm not a big fan of Jimenez. He had the particular talent of being both spectacular and spectacularly bad within the space of a single panel, he was a slut for continuity porn to a point often detrimental to storytelling, and he expected his readers to be familiar with pre-Crisis Wondy and random Power Company bad guys and the Super Friends show and all kinds of random crap in order to make sense of half his secondary & tertiary characters. Also, he did a hack job on Polly and saddled us with the travesty that is Trevor Barnes.
However, he gave us some important storylines with some interesting ideas behind them, even when the execution wasn't totally on, and he does a reasonably good Cassie (although again, I don't really know how much of that is that he does a good Cassie and how much is that my standards for "good Cassie" have dropped significantly since YJ ended). So onward we go, with the sad tale of Circe, Diana, and Vanessa Kapatelis: Silver Swan II.
I haven't posted any of it - though I believe ebailey140 might yet do so - but the first Silver Swan (at least, the first post-Crisis Silver Swan) was a Perez rogue. Basically a battered woman metaphor, Valerie Beaudry was a mutant from birth, who, under the influence of the metagene bomb, developed a poor man's Canary Cry. Convinced she was hideous and unlovable, she fell under the influence of industrialist Henry Cobb Armbruster, who made her into a cyborg and a living weapon, focused on the destruction of Wonder Woman as the hateful, impossible idol that no woman could live up to. Diana helped save Val from Armbruster's manipulations, and she retired the Swan suit (although she dug it back out to help Diana once and ended up doing some brief work with the Suicide Squad).
Armbruster got what was coming to him, naturally, and four or five authors and a hundred and sixty-odd issues later, his technology found its way into the hands of one Sebastian Ballesteros.
The naked chick is Vanessa Kapatelis. You may recall her from the Perez run. If you don't, check back a few chapters (don't worry, I'll wait). See after Perez left, WML dropped Nessie like a hot sack of shit, and while Byrne brought her back here and there and made an effort to establish that they were still friends and still in contact, she was basically not a fixture in Diana's cast by the time Jimenez took over, and I imagine a lot of fans had no idea who she was at all. Jimenez decided there was a story hook in that.
Cassie: Showing early signs of jerkitude, but it's the kind that can also be interpreted as spunk, and she is at least not yet stupid.
The wreckage there, by the by, is from the Swan smashing the Sandsmark home earlier in the ish. Helena was at work, of course, and Cassie's at school, so the Swan hits the museum (Helena survives) and moves on to target Cassie's school.
I'm not entirely sure when Cassie's secret identity became public knowledge. I think it might be right here. I mean obviously Georgia knows, but the other students seem surprised that she's, y'know, holding up a wall and everything.
Look! Cassie fighting intelligently! Using strategy and tactics to turn battle in her favor and protect non-combatants! Anyway, notice that she recognizes her assailant here, though she seems surprised said assailant is... assailing.
Diana and Nessie have a little talk.
Okay, a quick nod to Cassie's snark there, and then I'll take a moment here to chat about my problems with this storyline.
Yes, Perez' Vanessa, when we first met her, was weak. That was her major character trait. She was jealous as hell of Diana, envied her effortless beauty and charisma, and hated the fact that she (Nessie) could never completely trust that her friends or boyfriends liked her for her and not for her houseguest. Yes, she wasn't the most emotionally balanced kid and she harbored a lot of resentment for Diana's periodic long absences.
But that was early Perez. Throughout his entire run, and repeatedly after he left, we see Vanessa's growth away from that. Her unyielding love and adoration for Diana and her exposure to Diana's battles and message make her stronger, to the point where she eventually singlehandedly breaks free of Dr Psycho's manipulations and gives him a minor stroke, over a distance of miles. In her sleep.
And finally and most important, Diana would never abandon her. Forget that she would always, always write back, we're talking a woman who can break Mach 5 without blinking, even when she doesn't have access to alien teleportation tech. It's not like keeping in touch with the Kapatelises would be a stretch for her, and there's no way freakin' Diana would forget her friends.
Was there probably a core there to work with? Sure. And is it, in a simple meta sense, an interesting idea to say "let's take this forgotten character and look at the ramifications of her being forgotten"? Oh, definitely. And was this an interesting story, and even outright fantastic once Rucka got his hands on it? Absolutely yes. But still, there's a fundamental level on which it simply doesn't fit. And that's what I mean when I say Jimenez is spectacular and spectacularly bad in the same instant.
Anyway. Diana, protecting Wonder Girl from psycho Silver Swan screams.
I wonder how one programs psychic control over birds. Also, it should probably be noted that, while Diana is struggling to free Vanessa, Sebastian Ballesteros is stealing the Cheetah spirit from Barbara Minerva by making a weird deal with the plant god. This isn't really relevant to anything but it explains the boy!Cheetah in this next bit here.
I must say it kind of cracks me up to hear someone call Diana a "little fool." She's like, six freakin feet tall and built like a truck. (Okay, not so much here, but when she's drawn properly she is). Barda could get away with that, maybe. Sebastian, not so much.
Regardless, some Our Worlds at War stuff intrudes here, and Circe shows up, takes credit for Sebastian and Vanessa's transformations, and vanishes the three of them for a couple of issues while Themyscira gets shredded and Polly gets kakked. We pick up our story again in New York, four issues later, where Starfire, Jade and Kyle are trying to calm people in the OW@W aftermath.
Okay, I'm not going to post a huge pile of this bit, because it's all very silly. But basically Circe recruits every female baddie in the DCU, takes over New York and turns every male hero and villain she can get her paws on into an animal, for the sole purpose of fucking with Diana. (Remember, she's a goddess, she can do shit like that.) So Diana has Oracle round up every single female hero in the DCU and they all go in and fight it out.
Oh, and there's a nice moment here with Artemis.
I say this for Jimenez. I vastly prefer the way he draws Artemis early in his run to any other rendition I've ever seen - even apart from the cool outfit, he always makes her look properly Egyptian - and he gave us my favorite interpretation of her relationship with Diana. She's the batman (no, the other kind), the Huntress to Diana's Oracle or Sam to her Frodo - she knows she's not the hero of the piece, and she's perfectly satisfied with that, because it's Diana, and Artemis will do anything she needs or asks. Not incidentally, this is also when those two are at their most slashy, and I like that, because Diana deserves a mate who doesn't suck, and Artemis would fit that bill quite nicely.
Back to New York. The heroes are gathering, and we get another nice Cassie moment.
Secret and Empress cameo!
Quick note on Dinah's inclusion here, and this plot in general. From the very first issue of Perez' run, people were writing into the lettercols to say "I'd love to see Wondy team up with X or Y female superhero." People wanted Power Girl and Supergirl and Zatanna and Oracle and a million others, but the one name that came up over and over again is Black Canary - probably because Diana's writers, from Perez to Jimenez, made a point of the fact that they were friends. And in the entirety of Volume 2, the fans got... this.
Apparently once "Rise of the Olympian" is over we'll be getting a nice two-issue team-up between Dinah and Diana, possibly the fruition of a pitch Gail made ages ago that somebody mentioned when I posted this at the old S_D. I can't say I'm not pretty ridiculously excited about that. It is a storyline a long, long time in coming.
Anyway, we're ostensibly here for the Swan stuff, so:
... Diana really does make that face a lot, doesn't she? It's a Perez throwback, one I'm not especially fond of. At some point in his run, Jimenez has Circe mock her for it, which is pretty stupid, frankly, because up until Jimenez, she hadn't done it in years. 's a bit like that thing where Black Panther tells Monica she needs to use her powers more intelligently.
Memo to Circe: Invest in a shirt.
So Diana goes after Circe and Vanessa intercepts her.
Diana's not actually as naive as she looks, here; remember, she's got an ear for the truth, and there's very much a part of Vanessa that means what she's saying here. Not the part in control, obviously, but enough that Diana's power would read it as sincere.
Of course, you can't have a mind control plot without forcing Wondy to duke it out with Supes, so he's around too.
Observe Vanessa's refusal to touch the lasso herself. It would break her programming, after all.
This is also the beginning of the strange repeated story meme of "Wondy fights someone on international television," used three times with Circe and once with Brother Eye. I think I'm going to be disappointed if Gail never gives us a global satellite TV hijack.
The Diana-Supes fight is long and cool, and involves her dislocating her shoulder and having to re-set it, but I will never see a scene about that that is as badass as when Xena did it, so we'll just skip right to the end and the part where we see Vanessa again.
The lasso breaks the spell, as it is wont to do. Elsewhere, Cassie is being cool again and taking down baddies. (We'll leave the Giganta rant for another time.)
Cassie Sandsmark: Loves Star Wars. Kon-El: Has eaten ants.
Meanwhile, there's some nonsense with Luthor and Gypsy defeating Circe aboard Air Force One, and so Circe flies the coop, of course, and takes Vanessa with her.
We're still immediately post-OW@W, here, so Supes is in a sad place. Fortunately he's got freakin Wonder Woman for a best friend, and people like Bats and Donna to watch his emotional back even in the middle of a disaster. I really like their friendship, Supes and Wondy.
Anyway, they get everything all cleaned up and go back to their lives, but Diana isn't real happy.
You know, I totally have that nightmare all the time.
Jimenez goes way, way, way overboard with his usage of the "Great Hera" and "Hera help me"s, but I do give him credit for some appropriate variety to Diana's oaths as well. She has a bad dream, she calls on Morpheus. She's trying to heal, she swears by Asclepius. I always appreciate a little mythological fidelity and depth like that.
The ladies get to the Kapatelis house, and after Cassie snarks that all of Diana's friends are rich and Julia acts out of character, they get down to the serious business of trying to help Vanessa.
Cassie being useful and clever, again! I can't get used to this!
Admittedly, Cassie is being kind of callous here, but several kids, including one of her closer friends, actually died in the Swan's attack on her school, so I can understand her venom.
Having picked up some useful intel, Diana goes back to the lavish mansion she shares with her sister, where she continues to have nightmares.
Diana armors up and heads off to Athens, presumably immediately, since it's daylight there, to confront Circe.
Ha! Virgin! Sometimes Jimenez just cracks my shit right up. First off, I'm skeptical that Diana would call someone "cheap trash" - it's veiled slut-shaming, which is not even, y'know, in Diana's orbit. Second, I find Jimenez' concept of Diana as a virgin completely ludicrous. Of course, I find the very concept of virginity completely ludicrous too, sexist and heterocentric nonsense that it is, so I suppose that's not too shocking, but come on, Phil. If nothing else, did you miss the thing with Rama? Do you not recall the several thousand Amazons who know her as half-celebrity, half-goddess, all gorgeous? Seriously, like Diana of freakin Themyscira has made it to thirty without ever having sex? It is to laugh. (Mostly so I don't weep, I mean Jesus.)
So Circe and Diana duke it out for a couple pages, with the typical taunting that happens in such fights. Circe takes Polly's shape, because she's a dick like that, and Diana offers to rip Circe's head off.
Like so many piss-poor Wondy authors, Circe can't wrap her brain around the idea that a peace-loving, Good-aligned warrior can be willing to kill without betraying her principles. And here's your second international battle broadcast in as many issues.
The little eyes there are Lyta, Circe's daughter, watching her be a psycho and get her ass kicked from the shadows.
Diana, at the last moment, realizes how incredibly pathetic Circe is, and refuses to be baited into murder. I am of mixed opinions about this. On the one hand, Circe's full of shit about the "lies" Diana lives with; killing Circe would be both just and practical, as she's a monster and a danger just as much as Phobos or a Hecatonchiries. There's no violation of code there, and no reason to let her make good on her threats against Diana's friends. And really, this is a bit of the Joker Problem poking in here - after everything Circe's done and will continue to do, there's no excuse for leaving her alive. On the other hand, if Diana killed Circe in that moment it would be... not wrong, but bad. She'd be acting out of hate and anger against a defeated opponent, and assisting the suicide of a miserable woman. Which would not be kosher.
That's kind of what makes it a great scene, though, Jimenez' off-kilter moralizing and weird interpretation of Diana's mission aside. You see some traces here of the old Donna Milton-Diana friendship in their willingness to confess to each other. You see the true depth of Circe's misery. You see Diana cut down and totally splatter an opponent physically and verbally, even as that opponent just as effectively drives her to the edge. Circe has successfully rigged this encounter so that Diana cannot win, although Circe can't either. I find that to be fairly impressive writing.
So after that, a lot of really bad art and Trevor Barnes bullshit happens, and eventually we meet up with Circe again on Themyscira.
They've pretty much buried her in moly, so she's helpless, which amuses me greatly for reasons I don't really understand. But even though she's defeated and totally at Amazon mercy, she's being a pissant and won't help Diana find Vanessa.
Eventually, though, tipped off by Angle Man as to the location of Ballesteros (long story), Diana, Donna and Cassie take the invisible plane (fucking why? All three of them can fly, and at sufficient speeds to negate the concern of stealth) to go take him out and Vanessa intercepts them.
Oh no, their plane has been hit. I wonder how they will survive the fall.
Oh yeah, they can ALL FLY. Also note that Cassie has not appreciably warmed to Vanessa. "Skank" is a bit uncalled-for, though. I mean, it's not OOC for Cassie the way the "cheap trash" bullshit is for Diana, but on top of that it starts to become a deeply vexing trend of Wonders using sexualized insults against other women.
I still wonder how you design a machine to psychically control birds.
This is, I think, pitch-perfect Diana. Negotiation has failed, the time for violence has come, and she will face it as a warrior, without pleading or regret. But that doesn't mean she's forgotten for a second that this is her sister and friend, and she won't let Cassie treat her without respect, or call this a victory. Even though the Swan is defeated, her master Circe is contained, Cassie is safe, and Vanessa will be healed, this is an ugly, somber end. (Also cool: when Diana finally does decide a beat-down is needed, she takes the Swan out with one smack. This is Diana, after all.)
And that pretty much wraps Jimenez. I seem to have done all my commentary and bitching between the scans this time around, so no wrap-up this time. I'll just leave you with a nice artistic spread of Jimenez' best contribution to the mythos: stunning, mythic Themyscira, built from powerful magic and impossibly futuristic tech in gorgeous harmony, all trace of primitive Bronze Age uselessness left definitively and beautifully behind.
All scans from Wonder Woman v2 #170 - 187.
Next time: The JLA indulges in petty bickering, a funny-looking alien calls Diana a whore, Major Disaster takes his life in his hands, and Manitou coins my favorite Wondy nickname of all time.