The life and death of Artemis, the new Wonder Woman

As I wrote last week, the death of Ares Buchanan plunged Boston into a gang war as Longo and the widow Sazia both vie for control of the mobs. Longo forms an alliance with the corrupt White Magician; Sazia starts recruiting supervillains. Meanwhile, however, Wonder Woman finds the Amazons.

In a dreadful two parter by guest writer James Owsley (later known as Christopher Priest), Circe reveals that she transported Themyscira away, just to be mean. Outside of his later work on Black Panther, Owsley was a dreadful writer and this is a dreadful couple of issues. Circe’s just a laughing maniac with no discernible connection to the woman Wonder Woman fought before.

However the Amazons are back. Initially, Diana couldn’t be happier. When she lands on Themyscira, though, she discovers the Amazons are shell shocked from what for them has been long years in a nightmare dimension. The Bana-Mighdal Amazons have returned to the fold, but there’s definitely a caste system: the Themysciran Amazons look down on their barbarian cousins. Annoyingly, Mike Deodato depicts the outsider Amazons — dark-skinned in their original appearance, having interbred with Arab men — as lily white, and very much in the 1990s Boobs and Butts style.

When Diana meets her mother, Hippolyta eagerly asks for a performance appraisal: Has her daughter ended patriarchy? Freed oppressed women somewhere? Anywhere? When Diana admits that nothing has changed, her mother proclaims a trial where Diana will compete with the other Amazons to prove she still deserves the title and costume of Wonder Woman (not the first time Wonder Woman’s had to retest).

Diana is hurt by her mother’s disdain. Visiting an Amazon shrine, she also starts receiving visions of her mother’s past. In the visions, contrary to the official story, Hippolyta can’t bring herself to turn against Hercules even after he captures the Amazons and enslaves them. It’s Antiope who takes the lead in freeing them; because she believes Hippolyta will be the better leader, she gives her the credit, then heads off into the world. The idea her mother submitted to Hercules and betrayed her sisters horrifies Diana, as does the implication in the visions that she’s Hercules’ daughter.

Despite freak events, like a whirlpool that only traps Diana, it’s Artemis and Diana neck and neck at the climax. At the last minute, Diana stumbles and Artemis crosses the finish line first. To me it looks like Diana’s angry and threw the race, but it could be the freak events just took too much out of her (Hippolyta’s later confession implies they were her way of ensuring Diana didn’t win). Either way, Artemis heads back to Patriarch’s World in Wonder Woman’s costume.

I’ll pause here and note DC was doing this a lot in the 1990s. After Superman’s death fighting Doomsday, several new heroes came forward claiming to be Superman resurrected. Sales boomed. Before long Bruce Wayne had his back broken, after which a guy named Azrael stepped in to replace him in the suit; and Kyle Rainer replaced the now insane Hal Jordan as Green Lantern. Artemis fit right into this mode.

To Hippolyta’s surprise, Diana refuses to stay on Themyscira, instead returning to Bosto, adopting a new costume (again rather boob-revealing) and working to clean up the town. Things heat up with villains including the Joker, Poison Ivy and Cheshire coming to town; fortunately Diana has an ally in the Cheetah, who goes to work for Sazia but secretly saves Diana (who rescued her in an earlier issue).

Artemis meanwhile takes a hard-core approach to toxic masculinity. She has no qualms beating up sweatshop owners, abusive husbands and rain-forest polluters, unaware it’s all for show: her enemies are actors hired to distract her and defeating them doesn’t improve things at all. This appears to be the White Magician’s work, though I can’t figure out why he’d care — did the big money hire him to deal with her?

Diana has a sense things are moving to a climax but before facing it, she returns to Themyscira to ask her mother about what she saw in the vision. Mom confirms that yes, she did submit to Hercules, though Diana is not his child, and Antiope saved her. She also reveals that she had a vision of her own, that Wonder Woman’s death was inevitable. The contest was her way to cheat fate, by appointing one of the unwanted Bana-Migdhal warriors as Wonder Woman long enough to die. Horrified, Diana flies back to the US to save her sister.

After an encounter with Circe, she realizes the sorceress isn’t herself (a commentary on the Owlsey issues?) and figures out why. As part of her plan to revenge herself on Diana (how she returned after War of the Gods remains unexplained), she turned herself into a sleeper agent, one who could get close to Ares Buchanan and then strike at Diana. Trouble was, she had to erase her memories to avoid Ares detecting her; Donna Milton was now a complete person, one capable of becoming Diana’s friend. When Diana reveals this, Donna freaks out.

Finally it’s time for a showdown with Randolph Asquith, the White Magician. Artemis, having learned he’s been tricking her, attacks first, but Asquith has upped his game. Pacts with hell have made him physically into a major demon, plus he’s turned the Cheetah and his former lover into slave warriors to fight for him. Even after Diana joins the battle, things go badly. Donna, arriving with half of her memories of magic recovered, teleports Barbara Minerva and Asquith’s lover away, evening the odds against Diana (“You’re my only friend.”). Asquith is still nigh unstoppable and deals Artemis a lethal blow. She gives Diana one of her weapons, the gauntlet of Atlas, which  multiples the wearer’s strength by ten; that didn’t make Artemis strong enough to stop Asquith but Diana’s already super-strong. Donna, arriving with half of her memories of magic recovered, teleports Barbara Minerva and Artemis away; Diana, Wonder Woman again, takes Asquith down.

Despite the loose ends it’s an epic end to Messner-Loebs’ run, and with typical touches such as Diana even being able to turn Circe to the light side. John Byrne took over with #101 but as I’m not a fan of his writing I never bought any of that run. I didn’t like the writers who followed him either until Phil Jimenez’ excellent run that started with #164. Now that I have the DC streaming app I can easily read all those issues, but that would amount to a year of stuff (reading at a rate of one issue a week) I don’t particularly care for. So maybe I’ll jump to Jimenez after Messner-Loeb’s spin-off series, Artemis: Requiem.

You’ll find out in my next Wonder Woman blog post.

#SFWApro. Covers by Brian Bolland, all rights to images remain with current holder.

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Filed under Comics, Reading, Wonder Woman

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