Thursday, June 18, 2015

Waiting for the Trade - Wonder Woman


Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

Wonder Woman: Contagion
by Gail Simone, Nicola Scott & Fernando Dagnino
collects Wonder Woman 40-44
 

Why I Bought This: A couple years ago I was having a really bad day and went to my favorite comic book store. This was in the discount bin and had a neat cover. Sometimes it is just that simple.
 

The Plot: Two separate stories here. First demon children are creating mischief in Washington DC. Then an alien invasion is led by Wonder Woman’s long lost aunt. It falls to Wonder Woman to deal with both threats.

(spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – Quetzalcoatl’s son eats a train but Wonder Woman gets him to cough it up. As he departs he revels he’d been lured to DC by an unseen force that drove him to insatiable hunger. In the aftermath a flock of male children in suits and construction hats strike up a conversation with the passengers in the train and get them to doubt Wonder Woman’s motives. Diana visits her friend Etta (who apparently married Diana’s old love interest Steve Trevor, and is herself a government agent) in the hospital as Etta was injured by a super-villain last issue. Meanwhile the demon children talk some dude into setting fire to a synagogue and then killing himself, after which they plant evidence of the crime on a black church. Power Girl arrives to put out the fire and the children hit her up for a chat as well. Diana’s hospital visit is interrupted by news reports of a full on race riot that is burning the city. When she goes to investigate she is attacked by Power Girl.

Chapter 2 – Achilles enters the real world, apparently at Diana’s earlier invitation in a prior trade. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman and Power Girl fight a lot while Simone gives both women a very well written internal monologue. Wonder Woman becomes aware of the demon children during the fight. She eventually takes Power Girl down using technique rather than strength and then helps free her mind. Meanwhile, one of the demon children tries to get Steve to shoot his wife but some white gorilla from Grood’s city saves Steve and Etta. Diana sends Power Girl to deal with the mob violence while she sees to the kids. Diana wraps herself in her magic lasso thus making her immune to mind control. She identifies them as the children of Ares and gives them a good spanking to end the threat.

Chapter 3 – A trio of Green Lanterns go to what is usually a primitive utopia planet only to find it turned into a wasteland. They find a child who tells of little worms that fell through the skies and devoured everyone as they grew into snakes. The snake swarm finds the Lanterns and eats through their force fields, though one Lantern escapes with the child. Later the snakes are gathered up by a space ship and the energy they have eaten is put into storage with GL Lantern energy particularly treasured. WW is cleaning up debris from a prior fight when the space ships arrive over DC. They begin indiscriminate bombing as WW takes up an air defense. We learn they have erected a GL force field over DC so the rest of the JLA cannot get in to help. This same energy protects their ship from WW’s attack. The head alien chick breeches the White House. She explains their fleet consumes the entire resources of a world when it encounters it. Any technology is assimilated into the fleet. In addition if the invading world surrenders it may send 20 citizens to the alien ship to become members of the collective (the rest of the population is food). Diana is making some headway until the aliens fire their primary laser cannon at her. As Diana crawls from the crater she is met by the head alien chick who reveals she is her maternal aunt.

Chapter 4 – A flashback shows how Queen Hippolyta (WW’s mom) designed her costume, before we rejoin the present wherein WW’s newly revealed Aunt remarks on Diana’s resemblance to her mother. She reiterates her Borg-like plans for the Earth and offers Diana a chance to be one of the 20 chosen. WW refuses the offer and goes to war using her headband as a boomerang. WW has the rank and file troops on the defensive so the invaders drop a giant metal snake on DC. WW realizes she can’t penetrate the troops GL-derived defenses so she wrests one of their weapons from them to turn against them. The white gorilla from chapter 2 and some government agents arrive to help save civilians; followed by Achilles on his flying elephant, who promptly destroys the robot snake monster. WW manages to lasso the lead alien and learns the truth: she really is her aunt, and her name is Astarte. Long ago the Citizenry (the name of this alien armada) used to only restock the supplies it needed along with 100 tributes (members of the host culture to be assimilated) instead of razing entire worlds. They were going to take baby Hippolyta but older sister Astarte had a Hunger Games moment and took her place. That was 3,000 years ago—most of the time since then was spent in barbaric slavery until Astarte rose to the top of the Citizenry through rite of combat. Auntie is furious to have relived this flashback and attacks Diana with all she has. It’s not enough to beat Diana’s defenses but she returns to her ship vowing vengeance on the planet for what Diana made her relive. She departs letting Diana know she is the one who set the new world-razing protocols for the Citizenry and she will not be returning to Paradise Island peacefully as Diana offers her. WW paid attention during the whole Lasso reveal and challenges Astarte to trial by combat for the fate of Earth. She agrees but WW must fight the Citizenry’s greatest warrior: Astarte’s daughter: Princess Theana.

Chapter 5 – Diana’s aunt tells a terrible tale of how she raised her daughter to kill other children if she wanted to be fed that day from the time she was two. Furthermore that was just the beginning to make Theana the Citizenry’s finest warrior. Diana chooses her Aunt’s lieutenant to be her second under the rules of trial by combat. She offers her cousin peace before the battle begins and receives a punch that sends her across the arena in response. Diana is taking a beating in there. During a brief respite Diana uses her lasso on her LT-second to get her to send a message to Achilles, whom is wrecking havoc on the aliens. He is soon joined by Steve Trevor piloting the Invisible Jet. Enter round 2 of the trail by combat and Wonder Woman uses her strength to plow through the floor of the arena into the bowels of the ship. The entire time she is talking to her cousin, trying to show her there is a better way to live than how she has been raised. Theana hesitates for a second, causing her mother to declare she must be killed. Meanwhile as Theana says she rejects compassion, Diana has used the moment to deadlock one of the Citizenry laser weapons into a sure kill shot. Diana asks Theana to surrender but before Theana can respond she is gunned down by her mother’s guards. Theana dies in Diana’s arms. Diana flies to in a rage and takes down Astarte’s guards. Meanwhile Achilles comes to the conclusion the battle is hopeless until he gets the LT’s message. He heads off on Diana’s mission. Unfortunately this leaves Steve alone, and he narrowly ejects in time to clear the destruction of the Invisible Jet. Astarte is running for her life but Diana is just tearing through all obstacles to get to her. Meanwhile the battle for DC is going poorly when suddenly the entire Amazon army materializes to help fight. Diana captures her Aunt and based on the Citizenry law is now the new Captain of the race. She then takes her aunt into custody, places the LT in charge and orders the Citizenry to never kill again and depart the Earth.  In the aftermath of the battle Diana celebrates with her sisters and the white Gorilla character is allowed to go home from his exile.

 
Critical Thoughts: I enjoyed the heck out of this book. Reading it at the time two years ago I remember really enjoying it but that could have been the result of no expectations. Rereading it for this review, this book absolutely holds up.

While I don’t have an extensive selection of Wonder Woman comics I can unequivocally say Gail Simone writes the best Wonder Woman I’ve ever read. The opening chapters with Wonder Woman fighting Power Girl show a real nuance for the character and what she represents. Simone has become known as the foremost writer of female superheroes and based just on this book you can see where that reputation came from. (Her later work on Batgirl in the New 52 also adds to her worthy reputation too).

While that first story is quite good, this trade really shines with that second story. Alien invasions in comic books are a dime-a-dozen but this alien invasion is one of the most compelling I’ve ever read. Even before Wonder Woman shows up and we get the big family connection reveal, this story really clicks. The opening episode on the utopia with the GL Corps is very suspenseful in its execution. Theana’s dire back-story is also effectively delivered to really pull at the imagination.
 

Grade A. While this trade does not have much historical significance (I’m assuming Astarte and Theana more or less ceased to exist after the back-to-back JMS and New 52 reboots that immediately followed Simone’s run) it does everything a comic book needs to do in terms of being an entertaining read with vivid characterization and intense action sequences.

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