When Wondy was Awesome, part 9 (From Hell to Olympus)
Time for another author switch! We've left WML behind with the 100-issue spectacular and the death of Artemis, and now Diana's out of the stupid black straptastic bra and out of Boston, and into the hands of John Byrne.
Byrne's run is... hard to pin down. The man wrote with an agenda; there were things he wanted to fix and things he wanted to change and that's what he did. And a lot of those things were good. He repaired most of the damage WML did toward the end of his run, both to Diana and, to some degree, to Polly. He built an actual Wonder Family out of Donna and Cassie and Artemis. He made a point of making Diana unique and ridiculously first-tier badass, firmly establishing how high she belonged in the DCU power hierarchy.
But he also made Hippolyta the Golden Age Wonder Woman, which, um, may honestly be the most damaging and least-well-thought-out decision in the history of post-Crisis Wondy (and I say that in a post-Shamazons/Heinboot world, people) and which even now, two Crises later, still hasn't gone away. Also, his execution could be really dubious (the Herc regression: stupid, bad for the mythos on a fundamental thematic level, and full of ugly gender bullshit), and the man cannot write Olympians to save his life.
Anyway the point I'm dancing around here, in my excessively verbose way, is that Byrne's best stories are also his worst stories, and this one is no exception: by its end, he's made Artemis awesome, restored Donna's powers and restored her place as an offshoot of Diana, and crystalized and made indisputable Diana's previously hinted at connection to Truth, capital T. But he's also completely subverted his own efforts by making Diana not the original Wonder Woman and reintroducing every piece of inconsistent, off-continuity, impossible and ridiculous crack that CoIE was supposed to fix (and yet still no kangas on Paradise Isle).
Still, there's enough awesome here to go around. So here we go.
As our story begins, Diana, Cassie and her mother are all hanging out with Jason Blood and his buddy Randu in the aftermath of an adventure, when Artemis smashes through the skylight and takes a whack at Jason.
(Artemis did die, but she came back to life and joined a demon-hunting organization called the Hellenders. And now I'm speaking of REQUIEM again and I said I wouldn't do that, so let's move on.)
Randu does the rhyme and Jason becomes Etrigan, who promptly tries to fry Artemis with hellfire. Why nobody expected this to be exactly what would happen is beyond me, but then I've never really understood the deal with Etrigan anyway.
So the demon and the amazon duke it out, Diana tries to stop them (clumsily, as Cassie points out), they all go flying out the window, and the fight continues on the street.
See the news crews? They're broadcasting this whole battle, allowing Donna Troy and Hippolyta to hear about the whole thing. Polly makes a cryptic remark about how some mistake she's made might cost Diana her life in this particular situation (dun dun DUN) and everyone goes rushing off to help.
Meanwhile, back at the battle, Cassie, who's just off Olympus with shiny new powers from Zeus, has joined the fray.
Etrigan attacks Artemis, giving a long rhyme-y speech about how he's been lying to them all along and the age of fire and death has come. Then a Mysterious Figure (tm) appears in a ball of flame and sucks them all down into hell. Bummer. I'll save you all the thirty days of non-suspense that Wondy readers at the time endured and just go ahead and tell you it was Neron.
Silly. Diana calls Artemis "little sister," not the other way around. Artemis is 24 at the oldest, Diana is somewhere between 29 and 32 by this part the timeline, and it can't be an affectionate pet name or an insult at this point, because Artemis has some time since acknowledged Diana as the superior of the two of them (in general, if not in combat).
Anyway, Diana's threats prove to be empty when she's unable to bend the bars of her cage, and Neron cheerfully tells them he's suppressed their powers and they're totally boned. He then proceeds to torture Diana and Helena.
I like that Artemis' hair apparently has the same infinite length properties as Diana's lasso. That is a handy trick.
Artemis doesn't want Cassie to come, claiming she's safer where she is. But Cassie really wants to help. She's got powers, after all.
The "Santa Claus" Cassie sees is Merlin, in a red robe, who's in an adjacent cage. He explains that Cassie still does have her powers, because it isn't Neron who's responsible for Diana's impotence - it's actually a spell Polly arranged. For info on that, we turn to Donna and Polly, who're climbing down into the hole Neron left in the street.
You see what I mean about Byrne cleaning up WML's messes? Here we have our explanation for how in the blue hell it would be possible for Diana to lose to Artemis in the Contest, and as a bonus, in a way that neatly eliminates WML's completely insane and unworkable "Diana's powers don't function on the island" nonsense. Good man.
While the rescue is, um, falling, Diana is talking Etrigan into fighting with Neron (there's that "making allies out of enemies" thing again). Neron gets annoyed and zaps Etrigan, separating him and Jason Blood.
They fight, but Neron zaps Diana with his best evil soul-shredding mojo and she goes down hard. Then Donna, Polly and the amazons show up, and Artemis joins the fray as well, and Neron's not doing so hot (no pun intended).
Meteor hammer! :D (Diana needs to use her lasso for that once in a while.)
It's a good hit and Neron's out of the fight, but before he goes -
She's actually not dead, exactly. He fried her soul, but her body's still kicking, so with Neron gone, they're able to get out of Hell and take her to a hospital. The docs are at a loss as to how to treat "perfectly healthy body, fried soul," though, so Diana's superhero friends start trying to come up with solutions. J'onn tries to make telepathic contact with her, frex, while Electric Blue Kool-Aid Supes starts studying medical books, hoping that his new powers might hold the key to saving her. (Oh nineties.)
(Oh, yeah, Jason's not doing too hot either. But this isn't "When Etrigan was Awesome," so ignore him for now. This won't be important again for another fifteen scans or so.)
Kyle and Donna have issues, of course, but this is coming right on the heels of Terry and spawn getting killed in a car crash, so things are extra awkward. I like that moment with Kyle and Diana, though; his relationship with her has, in the brief glimpses we've seen of it, always seemed to be pretty close to what Donna's relationship with her should have been all that time, which works especially well if you happen to be a Donna/Kyle shipper, because the appropriate sibling-in-law dynamic is already there.
Aw, Cassie. I remember when you were kind and thoughtful and wanted to live up to Diana more than anything in the world. Seriously, why is Johns allowed to write Wonders? Ever?
By the by, this right here is why I will always, always praise what Byrne did with Donna, completely regardless of any connotations to how he went about it or any continuity snarls that spiral from it. Because you should never ever have a Wonder Girl about whom it is remotely possible to say "I didn't know you and Diana were so close" with a straight face. I mean Christ, DC. Her name was fucking WONDER Girl. She was Diana before she was Donna. How do you get "meh, let's make them strangers" from that?
Oh, Bruce, you poor sweet emotionally crippled man-child. Admit that you are hurting to someone who's actually conscious! Tell Clark that you are sad and worried for your friend! He will hug you and tell you you are a big, scary, bat-god woobie and it's okay to cry, and you will feel a little better!
Anyway, Supes and J'onn rig this really weird plan to save Diana, which I won't bother trying to make sense of for you because it fails anyway. Then they all have to go off and wrassle with gods and shit at the Source Wall during the Genesis crossover, and when Polly and Donna get back they find that Dr. Zeul (later and better known to us as Giganta) has stolen Diana's body. So everyone goes tearing around the hospital to find it.
A little after, Diana's friends go looking for Polly in the chapel, where they find her kneeling at Hera's feet. (Must be nice to be Amazon royalty, with a direct freaking phone line to the gods.) Hera says some sort of promising things about Diana and clay and healing and shit, so they all run to the morgue...
They explain that Diana can no longer be Wonder Woman, because she's got a new job.
So really, we can all thank Byrne for the "Diana as living avatar of Truth" bit. Thanks John! And I mean that. I think it's pretty inspired. You look at Diana, power-wise, and what makes her special? Superstrength? Flight? Resilience? She needs that shit just to keep up. Speed? Less common, but she's not Flash, and really no one but a Flash should be. But one thing she does have that no one else does, the one thing she uses over and over to win the really catastrophic battles, is the lasso. The truth, the power to strip away lies and illusion and ignorance. So yes, please, by all means, emphasize that. Take that through-thread that's been there since the relaunch and make it the very core of her character. Diana, Goddess of Truth. What could possibly be more appropriate?
Up on Olympus, Athena shows Diana around her new digs.
I gotta admit, this makes me totally ship Athena/Diana. Only during this period, when Diana's a goddess and Byrne is writing Athena... not very Athenalike, but seriously, look at that. Truth! Wisdom! Quarters right next to each other! Athena's tender guidance and interest! It's a perfect match!
Ahem. Moving on. >.> Let's go back to Artemis and Donna and Cassie.
Cassie makes an interesting point here. If you look at it from an in-universe perspective, Diana's death should be as big a deal as Superman's. Maybe bigger, considering that Supes never had a Myndi Mayer publicity campaign. But that doesn't seem to have happened; there's certainly no comment on it in other books, not even in JLA, where Hippolyta just sort of seamlessly replaces Diana with hardly a flicker of dismay from any quarter. The closest we ever come is a couple panels of crowd scene outside the hospital during the coma, and that's very third-person and doesn't give you any visceral sense of the wider DCU freaking out. From a meta perspective, the reason is obvious - Byrne did it to power her up in her own book, of his own accord, and no one ever pretended it was a big deal or particularly permanent, not to mention that Diana herself didn't even spend half an issue dead before she showed up again. But the characters don't benefit from that kind of knowledge, so it really does come across as odd that none of the other heroes or NPCs are especially torn up. Even if the details of Diana's transfiguration are widely known, you'd think there'd be at least a little mourning.
Anyway, Georgia leads the girls to a fair, where none other than EGG FU is hanging out. This isn't the Egg Fu who tortured Sasha, though; he hasn't been thought up yet. This one is a giant gimmick robot made from Apokalyptian technology that's abducting every eleventh person who asks it a question. Meanwhile on Olympus...
"Great Hera." Cracks me up. Seriously, what does a *god* swear by?
As Diana watches, Artemis gets brain-whammied by Egg Fu; worried, our goddess goes to intervene.
So Diana... saves all of them. (Well, not her friends, they've got it under control, but the other stuff Athena showed her. Way to go, goddess of Wisdom.) Diana would make a very bad starship captain, but at least she'd get along with Spider-Man.
The other gods are not impressed, and take her to task.
That's Diana's wrist, there, as she sticks her nose in from offpanel. Turns out she had a part in making Polly into Wonder!Polly, having shown up to give her divine blessing to the endeavor. I don't know why the gods give a crap about that, since the amazons and the mantle of Wonder Woman would both fall under Diana's jurisdiction, but whatever. Greek gods are notoriously fickle, I suppose Diana's used to that by now.
There's some business here about Zeus being Jupiter as a result of the Genesis stuff, but that's not really important at the moment (or, actually, ever). What's important is that, at this point, following the various plot threads of Byrne's run gets really messy, since he's got about seven different things happening at once. Lucky for you you've got me, your handy-dandy indexer. There's some good character stuff here, especially with Cassie and Artemis, which I'd like to share, but for the sake of brevity, bandwidth, and sanity, I'm just going to bullet point the next couple bits for you.
Story arc 1
* A weird time paradox involving Jay Garrick prompts Hippolyta to go time travel back to WWII. * While in the past, Polly fights a witch named Dark Angel before returning to our time. * In the present, Donna has vanished. As in, from continuity the time stream. Only Polly and Wally West remember that she even existed. * Wally, Polly and Jay Garrick go looking for Donna. * They discover that Donna was originally a sort of magical clone of Diana, and is therefore functionally Polly's daughter. * They learn that Dark Angel has been making Donna live multiple lives, each one full of misery, as retribution for her encounter with Polly during WWII. * They confront Dark Angel, but she grabs Donna and runs off to Hell with her.
Story arc 2
* Helena Sandsmark, Cassie's mother, goes to Camelot with Merlin in an attempt to save Jason Blood's life. * Cassie, Artemis, and Mike discover Helena is missing and go after her. * The whole group of them get to Camelot and tussle with Morgaine leFay, who flees to Hell. In order to save Jason, they follow her.
Both arcs dovetail when everyone meets up in Hell and a big fight happens. Hell is, apparently, a very small place. This may help to explain what makes it Hell, since who wants to be packed in like sardines with the typical asshole who ends up there? Although you do have to wonder where everyone else is hiding in these scenes, in that case.
And that's where we come back in. Trust me, you're glad I didn't try to do all that with scans.
So here we are, with Diana watching everything that's happening in a reflecting pool, and talking to a random mortal guy who lives on Olympus (long story, but I do wonder how he copes with the gravity).
Lookit Artemis and Mike being all dramatic. Artemis is good for that kind of thing, really. Girl takes herself waaaaay too seriously.
However, she also punches people who manhandle her and fights half-naked, and I approve of that enough that I'll let the obnoxious stupidity of her swooning over Mike's manly hands go for the moment.
It turns out Donna can kill Dark Angel because her soul is so completely strong and pure. This is explained as a result of having lived so many lives, based on the "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" principle. Whatever, Byrne. And cut it out with the cheesecake already, no one turns their hips like that when they're fighting.
Meanwhile Artemis takes the fight to Morgaine.
A good 80% of my decision to post that particular scan is due to Artemis's state of dress. I make no apologies.
Killing Morgaine, conveniently, frees Etrigan and saves Jason.
Unfortunately, beating on Dark Angel damaged Donna badly, and now she's a lifeless husk. Who d'you suppose it happens to next time they have a Hell party? Hippolyta? Cassie?
Meanwhile, back on Olympus, the gods have found out that Diana did her little "inspiration" trick with Donna, and also that it's Diana's fault that Polly and Wally were able to remember Donna in the first place (makes sense, that is a matter of Truth after all). They're not pleased.
(This is a big ole continuity fail, considering Diana was always intended to leave the island and do battle with Ares, and in fact did so at Athena's prompting. Also, check out Hera trying to take credit for being one of the Patrons. Did I mention that Byrne is not, frankly, very good at the Olympians?)
As for Ares' comment here, it turns out he was the father of Polly's original body, making Diana a demigod by spiritual inheritance as well as practical physical makeup (and making Cassie Diana's great-aunt! o.O). So since they can't take away her godhood without killing her, and they can't kill family (this was Byrne's attempt at protecting the "Diana's a goddess" thing. It didn't work), they have to come up with another solution. Athena's like, "well, okay, I have an idea."
Cut to Diana, who walks in on her friends, busts out the lasso and uses it to restore Donna to the universe via Wally's memories of her. It's, um, not very cool, frankly, but not quite as bad as it sounds. And it does have the rather happy effect of restoring the at-the-time powerless Donna to her old-school Teen Titans strength. (Sort of. I don't know if it's ever been explicitly stated since what exactly she can do these days but it seems like she's mostly, like Cassie [well, Cassie pre-whateverthefuckMcKeever'sdonewithher], your basic flying brick, but with Diana's braclets-and-bullet-timing version of invulnerability).
"But what are you doing here?" her friends ask Diana. "Aren't you supposed to be on Olympus?"
And that's it for Byrne, for good and for ill.
Sorry, no closing on this one. Like I said, Byrne is hard to pin down; I don't really know what I could say or summarize from any of this. Scans from v2 #123-136, some of which is collected in the "Lifelines" TPB.
Next time: Diana teams up with Zauriel, has a romance with a guy who, miracle of miracles, is actually worth her time, and saves all of creation. And the art is wicked cool.