When Wondy was Awesome, part 5 (Antiope's Legacy)
We're just about done with Perez at this point - not that we've more than scratched the surface of his incredible run, but there's just so much more to see that we have to move on eventually (and I'll admit to a certain fatigue with the effort involved in making these older comics *work* as scans, as well). But we'll take one last dip in his world before we go, because no catalogue of Perez' great contributions to the Wonder Woman mythos would be complete without a look at the Bana-Mighdall amazons. This splinter group is probably the best example possible of Perez' ability to take what looks like a huge pile of bad cliches and uncomfortable racial undertones and spin a diverse, interesting set of real, well-drawn characters out of it. Yes, the plot that adds the Bana-Mighdall to the DCU is a convoluted one, difficult to follow at times and intertwined with some seriously confusing Cheetah stuff and some very poorly supported one-off bad guys. But, hey, that's Perez for you, and seriously, they're a lost tribe of amazons. That shit is cool.
Photoshop warning: Perez' issues are all hand-lettered in a very tight script and can get incredibly indecipherable when scanned from even the most minor blurring or age damage. All the obviously computer font is me, making the pages actually legible. The content of the text is unaltered.
In our first installment, I mentioned that the amazons were exiled to Themyscira as punishment; guarding the gate of the underworld was their penance for flying off the handle and slaughtering Heracles' army.
Not all the amazons went, however. Polly's sister, Antiope, led a bloodthirsty splinter faction who split off from the main group before the exodus.
Antiope's people renounced the Greek gods and went out into the world, and so were never granted immortality. We never learn exactly what happened with Heracles' army, but they did manage to reclaim Hippolyte's girdle, and eventually, according to Circe, they ended up in Theseus' lands.
(Ariadne, if you're curious, is the daughter of King Minos, of minotaur fame; she gave Theseus the ball of string that let him survive the labyrinth, but when he left Crete he left her as well. Retellings vary on his motives for doing so - sometimes it's accident, sometimes it's forced by Dionysus, sometimes it's sheer dickery, and Perez offers no help as to what's canon for DC.)
The tale from there out is told to us by the descendants of the amazons involved. Phthia, who was basically Antiope's adopted daughter, finds the dead queen, and blames Theseus. He collects wives, it seems, and his new fling is this chick Phaedra, so there's motive to bump off the previous one (also it's his dagger.) Theseus, on the other hand, finds Phthia with his dead wife, and at first blames her.
It's not entirely clear how biased this account is; it seems more likely that Theseus somehow found out about Ariadne's guilt, and executed her fairly (he is, after all, one of the few Greek heroes who's both clever and usually a decent human being). All the same, the grief-maddened Phthia was clearly still a danger to him and I can understand him not wanting to release her, even without his son's Wormtongue routine. On the other hand, the presence of Melanippus in the first place would tend to indicate this is the sketchy rapist version of Theseus, so who knows?
The Antiope Amazons, having no way to know about Circe's involvement, pretty much come out of this with "Oh. Yay. Theseus is a treacherous bastard. How unusual." And pretty much swear off men completely and forever as a culture. Which, considering they're thrice bitten at this point, isn't frankly that unreasonable.
So what they do, is they run off into the desert and create their own sanctuary, and stay hidden from the world for three thousand years, much like their sisters on Themyscira, except they become a society of man-hating lesbian feminazi rapists.
... I should mention that I'm entirely serious when I say that. They're literally man-hating lesbian rapists. (Feminazi's not an objective term, so nevermind on that.) They honestly believe men are a lower form of life, but because they missed out on the immortality, they perpetuate their society by abducting men from the surrounding cultures for breeding purposes, while turning to each other for commitment and love. Not being especially agricultural, they survive in the hostile desert by hiring themselves and their high-quality modern weapons out to the local sheiks and fakirs in a mercenary capacity.
Diana's path into their lives is somewhat complicated. It starts with this lady, Barbara Minerva.
Barbara Minerva is sort of a morally bankrupt Lara Croft. She's stupidly wealthy and obsessed with the acquisition of ancient, valuable and unique artifacts, and goes on expeditions to collect them. On one such expedition, she ended up selling her soul to the plant god Urzkartaga (long story). Basically, she kills human beings in a sort of ritual hunter's sacrifice, and in doing so she gets to be the supernatural were-beast known as the Cheetah. Tragically for her, the whole soul-selling ritual is meant for virgins, so it didn't take quite right, and when she's not in cheetah form, she's in constant pain.
Also, she tries to steal Diana's lasso. Rather a lot. Because it's about as mystic artifact as mystic artifacts get. And on this particular occasion, she succeeds.
Good for her. She then runs off to Egypt to steal yet another mystical magic artifact thing. Diana, having a tendency to take the theft of her lariat kinda personal, chases after her.
Perez never explains why there's a storm protecting these amazons just as there is around Themyscira, but it seems to be related to the sacred Pyx (more on that later).
Anyway, Diana manages to bull her way through the storm, and lands in what appears to be a mosque.
(As Phthia is essentially Diana's cousin, it's not surprising that she knows the symbol, but let me tell you, when read in order such that we have no idea that Phthia is even a *name* at this point, that is one deeply confusing little dialog bubble.
And while we're on the subject of cousins, there's a somewhat subtle and incredibly sad story in her *other* cousin's name - Antiope named her son Hyppolytus, after her sister. We also learn later that Diana grew up to be the spitting image of her aunt. The story brushes over it so quickly, but there are still hints, here and there, of how much leaving each other just ripped the queens apart to do.)
Seems someone has killed some guards and stolen a sacred Bana artifact! And who better to take the blame than the unarmed, not-at-all bloody woman still standing there over the bodies, who clearly is not in possession of the artifact?
I love that Diana speaks six million languages. Half her dialogue through the Perez run is in brackets. Which figures, since it takes her about five days to learn a new one. I imagine she picks 'em up in her spare time as a hobby. "Hm, I really liked that chicken dish Kal brought to the League potluck last time, maybe I'll learn Cantonese this week so I can order my own."
Anyway, they fight for a few pages, and it's pretty much Diana kicking ass while Nehebka argues with Queen Anahid that maybe they're being a little too hasty about this hardline xenophobia thing.
Diana wakes in the breeding pens. Insert your own joke here.
*Gasp!* A sinister figure in the shadows! Could it be... an evil wizard adviser manipulating things from behind the throne?
How ever did you guess?
Diana pulls herself together and jumps the priestess, who is really not equipped to be throwing down with Wonder Woman, drugged or otherwise.
While she's running around the city, the Bana have formed a war party and attacked the nearby city of Syene Kesh, in search of the Cheetah and their stolen sacred goods.
The little guy there is Chuma, the Cheetah's servant and the only remaining priest of Urzkartaga. He's extremely cool. He's also apparently been eaten by the void, much to my distress - he's not dead (at least not at the moment he shouldn't be), but for whatever reason, we haven't seen him in years anyway. So enjoy him here while you can.
Outside the hotel, Diana has shown up to interfere with the carnage.
Green Arrow? Amateur.
Meanwhile, the Cheetah and Queen Anahid have been clawing at each other, and Anahid is not winning.
Diana defeats the Cheetah, but not in time to save Anahid's life. Anahid's last request, however, was to spare Diana (she apparently awards points for trying), so the Bana declare a truce, and everyone goes digging through the rubble for what Cheetah stole from them.
Dun dun DUN.
They all go back to Bana-Mighdall, because everyone still wants answers. Nehebka, the most reasonable and sympathetic of the Bana, is still pretty hostile to Diana, until they wander into Evil Wizard Behind the Throne Kadesha's office and discover evidence that she was an Evil Wizard Behind the Throne. The revelation that Diana actually is who she says she is mellows Nehebka somewhat, and she tells Diana the story of Phthia and Theseus, see above.
However Diana's claim that Theseus was right and Ariadne *did* kill Antiope does not go over well.
Faruka storms off to plot and scheme, and Nehebka proceeds to proudly tell Diana about how the Bana swore an oath of hatred and xenophobia and developed a long, profitable history of killing people for money. Diana is about as impressed as you'd expect.
And what is this whirling storm that interrupts their conversation? Why, it's none other than our old friend Hermes the Messenger God, punching through the mystic barrier and storming the city.
Diana gets everyone to calm down and asks Hermes what he's doing there. He actually explains most of it much later, but the basic gist is that when Diana came after the lasso (golden girdle of Gaea, Antiope remix) and thereby ended up handling the Bana's sacred pyx (golden girdle of Gaea, original Hippolyte version), Polly's girdle... "woke up" as it were, looked around, and said "fuck this noise, these people don't deserve me." So Gaia told Hermes to get his ass in there and get it back.
Also, remember Faruka? Still scheming.
I don't know why Nehebka didn't take her seriously as a threat. She's got an eyepatch for Mammitu's sake. What more warning do you need? EVIL!
Unaware of the fact that Faruka just rendered the whole point moot by stealing the thing, Diana and Hermes are still arguing the case with what remains of legitimate Bana authority that Hermes should be given the girdle. Unsurprisingly, the Bana are not enthusiastic about this concept.
Nehebka's not wrong, here, even a little tiny bit. But she has political issues to deal with, so they must shelve their conversation for a moment.
The warrior Faruka is heralding here is the Shim'tar (who actually kills poor Nehebka off-panel before attacking Hermes and Diana, thereby conveniently sidestepping any need for Diana to admit Nehebka's arguments trump hers). That's a relatively meaningless designation here - Perez simply uses "Shim'tar" as a cape name (it means Sword of Vengeance) for what's nothing more than a random amazon baddie - but subsequent authors will eventually define it as a leadership position of some kind, and probably the best resolution of the issue is that it's basically the Steward of Gondor. Ruler/war leader of the local folk, subordinate to the Queen of the wider nation - which after Anahid was nobody, until it was Polly.
Diana and Shim'tar proceed to smash each other and entire blocks of surrounding infrastructure, as battling mystic warriors are wont to do (except Genocide, for some reason >.>). Meanwhile, the local military, because of the raid on Syene Kesh, has launched fighters for an air strike, and the protective sandstorm is falling and raging out of control and bringing the city down around everyone's ears (or at least, what parts of the city aren't already being destroyed by Diana and Shim'tar).
I think we're supposed to infer from Hermes' concern that the sandstorm is connected to the Girdle, and now that the Girdle is "active" once again and rejecting its guardians, it's revoking that protection. This would absolve Diana of any wrongdoing in taking the Girdle, and make sense in the context of Perez' general writing style, but I'm still not totally clear on how the sandstorm is supposed to have started up in the first place. Maybe an early Bana sorcerer created the storm and drew on the power of the Girdle to sustain it.
Regardless, the magic finally fails enough that the planes become visible, and they start firing and the Bana fire back and it's all violence and chaos, and also Diana and Shim'tar manage to bury themselves under a ton or so of rubble.
Heh. Splash pages. Also, this is five or six issues after the fight with the Cheetah and Diana's still scratched and bloody. Nice.
First they hate you, then they like you, then they hate you, then they like you again. Man, it's a fricken' yo-yo every minute with these Bana.
Well, okay, not Faruka. She's pretty consistently hostile and nuts.
Shim'tar flips out and attacks the other Bana, and Diana tries to stop her by snaring her with her lariat.
With slightly unexpected results.
Filed under "questions never actually answered in two hundred and twenty-six issues": Everything Diana said in that fifth panel.
Lasso restored and Cheetah locked away in Arkham, Diana returns home to Themyscira.
As for the Bana? They were not completely destroyed; they next appear, scattered and disillusioned, as pawns of Circe during the War of the Gods crossover, and eventually move to Themyscira and join the other amazons proper as a single unified culture under the tenure of Messner-Loebs. Loebs' Polly is just as appalling as the Pfiefer/Picoult version, though, and the whole Artemis as Wonder Woman arc very much fails to meet my standards as Awesome, so I won't burden you all with Deodato's heinous mid-90s attempts at female clothing and anatomy. Suffice it to say that the Bana ended up rejoining the fold, and from among their number sprang Artemis, who is completely awesome (at least since Byrne got ahold of her). So, all in all, yay Bana.
Oh, and where, in all this, one of these mercenary, take-no-prisoners, outside-world-hating clanswomen managed to leave the city, travel all the way to America, and have a baby (a meta no less) who's in her twenties now (comics time, so roughly five or ten years before the events here), is... a question I'm afraid I just can't answer.
So not the world's best culture, at any rate, but again, I like the depth and the different political factions you can see here; they're bad guys but they're not all of a piece and they seem like a genuine, plausible culture. And when you think about it, they're really not doing anything worse than a lot of real-world cultures are; I see a basic moral parallel between their rape pens and FGM, for example. Which actually makes this story really problematic. Perez' Diana hates violence and doing harm to the point where she'd apologize for punching Darkseid... yet here is an entire society of very real, very human women with a rich and ancient culture who behave in rational ways and can be reasoned with, who don't accept megalomania or insanity as guiding principles, who are Diana's cousins, and they get completely obliterated, and Diana doesn't even blink. If the last Muslim city in the world were a tiny island of Taliban Afghanistan, and Diana were partly responsible for it getting blown off the map, you wouldn't think the fact that the Taliban are not nice people would make a real difference to how she'd respond. It's troubling how easily the Bana get written off here.
Nevertheless, it's an important story for the mythos, and an impressive piece of writing for the astounding depth and veracity Perez gives what could easily have been a cardboard city of hats. Also, I think it was smart of Perez to provide some *actual* strawfeminists and set them in opposition to the Themyscirans; it provides a bit of a buffer against Diana's people being used that way (obviously not enough of one, given later portrayals, but like Anahid, I feel compelled to offer points for trying all the same).
Scans from Wonder Woman #27-35, mostly, not collected in trade.
Next time: Comics that are actually more picture than dialogue! All new artist! All new writer! And Diana as a friggin space pirate! Really, what more do you need?