Wonder Woman, Pandora, and Gaea
In a couple of other threads, we discussed the potential of a conflict between Wonder Woman and Poison Ivy. They're both mystically connected to the Earth Mother. That's an aspect of Diana that hasn't been touched on in a while, so we'll revisit a story from the classic Perez run.
Perez used the classic Greek myths heavily during his Wonder Woman run. One myth he used tied in so perfectly to Diana's origins one would think Marston had to have had it in mind when he created her, except... He never mentioned a connection to Pandora.
Like many classic mythological figures, Pandora's stories have a lot of contradictions as the myths were modified over time. The version we're most familiar with is the woman molded from clay, gifted by the gods, and sent to Earth with a box... Or was it a jar?
However, an earlier version of the Pandora myth had her a nature goddess ("Pandora" translates to "all-giving") who embodied the fertility of the Earth, the giver of fruits and grains.
So, which version of the myths, in this series, was the true one? The answer, in true Perez fashion: Both.
In both those storylines, Diana had with her an amulet belonging to Harmonia. It was very useful in the conflict with Ares, and is what ultimately contained the Demon Plague.
We now move to the prologue of Perez's last storyline on the series, War of the Gods. Since this series was part of Karen Berger's line of books that eventually became Vertigo, it was different and more experimental than most mainstream comics of the time. Different artists handled different sections. Jill Thompson drew Harmonia's visit with the Fates, Cynthia Martin the section depicting the Pandora's Box story, and Colleen Doran the Pandora-Goddess section.
Harmonia visits the Fates. She's been having dreams about the talisman, and the Fates are feeling that there is a disruption in the natural order of things. They show her the end of Challenge of the Gods, where Diana captured the Demon Plague with the talisman and fed the Plague to Ares, and Ares's words: "Come to me, denizens of Pandora's Box. As clay-made-flesh did long ago free the first of your ilk, so now has clay-made-flesh freed your final number to inhabit the body of Ares!" They show her Hephaestus's words from that story that Diana would prevail if she was indeed one with the Earth Goddess, if she is "the living embodiment of all that is woman." That was back in issue 13, and we're now at issue 45, Perez doing his usual setting up something and following up on it years later. This was a series you committed to. Between it and Gaiman's Sandman, I developed a ridiculously high standard for long term story arcs. :)
It's those words, and the names Diana and Pandora, that have been haunting Harmonia in her dreams. So, the Fates show her a time long past, after the war between the Olympians and the Titans, which left the Earth Mother, Gaea, ravaged. Humans are living a cold, miserable, existence, and one man, Prometheus, does something about it. He steals fire from the gods, and brings it to humanity.
Zeus is outraged, and wants to take revenge, but the Pantheon speaks on Prometheus's behalf, admiring his heroism. Zeus relents... or does he?
"The living embodiment of all that is woman," Zeus calls her.
Prometheus refuses the gift. His brother, Epimetheus, is all too happy to accept in his brother's place, however. Zeus punishes Prometheus by chaining him to a mountain and having an eagle feed on his liver, which always grows back overnight, for thirty generations. In other words, if Zeus offers you a gift, you'd better take it.
Pandora and Epimetheus fare better, living a great life, young and in love. But, there's that gift of curiousity. She has to know what's in the box. The jewel on the box just happens to be what will become that amulet. She begs her husband to open it, and withholds sex until he does. He opens it... "And the world is changed, forever."
The world is beset by misfortune; war, disease, hatred, famine, etc. Pandora becomes an outcast, with only Hope, all that remained when the box was opened, to sustain her.
Harmonia wonders, since Diana returned the Demon Plague to where it came from, why the world is still troubled. She notes Diana's resemblance to Pandora, and wonders if that was a prank the goddesses set upon Zeus for his arrogance towards women. And, what happened to Pandora?
The Fates tell her that Pandora's story is unfinished, and show her a much earlier time.
We shift to the end of the Age of Titans, and the war with the Olympians that ravages the Earth. Zeus finds a talisman, a broken piece from a Jar of Plenty. He also takes the secret of combustion, the power of fire. Finally, he takes some clay, and returns to Olympus.
The Fates tell Harmonia that the gods have tried to forget all that happened before the Titans-Olympians War, and how Humanity has betrayed the Mother, and only believed evil of the Daughter. But, this doesn't fit Harmonia's dreams, in which Pandora is in physical agony. She then realizes it's Diana she's dreaming of, her destruction, followed by the destruction of the world, leading us into War of the Gods, where Circe has taken advantage of the gods' wanting to forget certain things, and turns the public against Diana, with, of course, the survival of the Universe at stake.
There are certain themes in myths that seem universal, that just keep recurring no matter the culture. Temptation and Fall from Grace is one common one. Pandora's story is echoed in Eve's in Hebrew myth. The Greek version of the Great Flood is mentioned in this story, which has variations all around the world, including Hebrew, Shinto, Hindu, and Native American myths. Scholors have long discussed how goddess figures changed as the status of women changed in cultures. Pandora is an example.
As our culture is slowly becoming more eco-friendly, more equal to women, more peace loving (Let me emphasise the word slowly), it's fitting that the Earth Mother Goddess figure has made a comeback. Some of her comics incarnations are gentle and loving (Diana), while others are... quite angry with us (Poison Ivy).
Oh, one other thing... All that story described above was packed into a single 22 page issue, Wonder Woman V2 #45. Picture that, today.