Tag Archives: William Messner-Loebs Years

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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Taco Bell! Ares as a mob boss! Wonder Woman 73-87

Goodness, it’s been a year since I last wrote about my Wonder Woman reread; I think you can blame work on The Aliens Are Here for sucking up so much time and blog posts until I simply forgot. To set the stage: at the end of William Messner-Loebs’ first year, Wonder Woman returns from space to discover Themyscira has vanished, her room at Julia’s house has been rented out and the JLA have reported her as KIA so she can’t get her paychecks opened up. Where will she go? How will she support herself?

Would you believe working at Taco Bell — er, Taco Whiz?

Superheroes stuck working crap jobs in their secret identity is not new. The Silver Age Shield got jobs, then had to blow them so he could rush off and fight crime. Nova in the New Warriors was constantly working minimum wage to support himself. WML, however, puts a completely different spin on it. Instead of grumbling about living in wage-slave hell, Diana’s grateful. Her boss Hoppy has given her a chance to put a roof over her head — she’s going to be the best darn employee the company ever had! She’s in it to win it. It’s very true to the post-Crisis Diana.

Dark clouds are forming in Boston, however. Mob boss Ari “Ares” Buchanan isputting increasing numbers of increasingly powerful weapons on the street, to the point of causing dangerous instability and a looming mob war. Diana doesn’t know that Buchanan’s nickname isn’t idly chosen. When the Olympian gods left Earth during the Perez run, Ares couldn’t let go of his desire to spread chaos and war. By filling Ari, a loser low-life thug, with part of his essence — in the god’s phrasing, Ari is the potato, Ares is the chili-cheese stuffing — Ares will be able to keep sewing discord without technically violating Zeus’s decree.When Buchanan’s assassin Mayfly almost kills Diana, things ironically turn around. Donna Milton, an attorney with a tragic backstory (left homeless by boyfriend after she got pregnant, sexually assaulted by boss), strikes up a friendship with Diana. She gets Wonder Woman’s paychecks restored and together they help Hoppy collect back child support from her mob-muscle ex, even though he’s under the protection of the Antonio Sazia crime family (the story where they squeeze the cash out of him is delightful).

Alas, Donna is not what she seems. She’s a calculating, power-hungry woman who met and fell in love with Buchanan — the man is, after all, raw power — and its his baby she’s carrying. Her job is to lure Diana into Ares’ clutches. She does, but when she sees Diana helpless before him, facing death, it isn’t as satisfying as she thought. She’s totally not turning soft, nope; she doesn’t like other women, couldn’t stand her time with those saps Diana and Etta, would never give up her position as consort to a man of power … ah, crap, who’s she kidding? When she tries to win over Buchanan by telling him about the baby he shoots her and tries detonating a black hole-based weapon. He winds up dead; Diana and Donna, against all odds, survive the black hole, falling a hundred feet into an ice cold underground river and being buried under tons of debris. Diana even delivers Donna’s baby in the midst of all that.

So everything’s fine … well, except that with Buchanan gone, it’s open gang war on the streets of the city. They have high-tech weapons and some of them have magic: Randolph Asquith, the White Magician who sent Diana into space in the previous arc, throws inn with Paulie Longo, providing him with demonic muscle. Sazia buys it but his widow, Julia Sazia, promptly takes the helm.

And then, as we’ll see in my next WW post, the Amazons return …

This was a good, fun run, though Wonder Woman’s failure to confront the White Magician after learning he’s a villain never made much sense.

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

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Wonder Woman: The first year of William Messner-Loebs

Following the end of George Perez’ acclaimed run on Wonder Woman, William Messner-Loebs stepped in and wrote the book from #63 through 100. I remember this as a great stretch, and the first ten issues, through #72, live up to my memory. This run stays true to Perez version — ambassador of peace, warrior when necessary — but WML adds his own touches.

The run kicked off with a Special issue (cover by Jill Thompson), in which Diana learns the Cheetah has been taken prisoner by the sinister dictator of a small European nation. Never mind that Barbara Minerva’s a mortal enemy, when a woman’s in trouble, Wonder Woman’s going to act. She recruits Deathstroke and Indelicato (who grumbles throughout that he’s nothing but a fifth wheel next to them). It turns out the dictator is an occultist who likes sacrificing women to his dark lord, and Diana works just as well as Dr. Minerva.

While by-the-numbers at times (Wonder Woman locking horns with Deathstroke over his ends-justify-means approach), this was a fun kick off. Diana shows a greater sense of humor than during the Perez run and a love for excitement; she enjoys combat as part of that, but not as the enthusiastic killer she’s been written as more recently. For the first time since the reboot, she adopts Diana Prince as a secret identity, courtesy of Proteus: here he’s the spirit who provides the mortal avatars for the Olympians, who never really manifest here (“If they’d really stepped foot on Earth, it would be a cinder.”). Which is a good idea, but doesn’t at all fit the portrayal of the mythological gods in DC or Marvel.

Then comes a one-shot in which Diana goes looking for a little girl abducted by her father and taken into Boston’s most crime-ridden neighborhood. Indelicato thinks she’s just too naive to cope with the harshness of street-level violence, but he is, of course, wrong. Next WML launches the first big arc. Thomas Asquith, a Boston Brahmin once famous as the White Magician, offers to help Diana rescue Tasha, a Russian cosmonaut trapped in space. Asquith, however, has a hidden agenda and Diana winds up drifting in space with Tasha. She manages to jury-rig the engines of Tasha’s ship — she can’t get them home but she steers them to a distant planet, laughing in excitement as she holds the ship together (which makes her as much an adrenalin junkie as Doc Savage).

They end up shackled on a slave planet, as on Brian Bolland’s cover. Women of multiple different species and worlds are in chains with them; while Diana could break free and take Tasha with them, she’s not about to leave other women in that position. She carefully hides her power until she’s ready, then launches the resistance. Even that’s not enough — taking her fellow ex-slaves into space, she begins to wage war on the empire itself.

When everything is over, even if the peace is tenuous, Diana finds a way for herself and Tasha to make it home. Unfortunately after months away, everything’s changed. Julia’s rented out her room. Worse, the Amazons have once again vanished. This leads Diana to ponder the Amazons origin, with WML working a few changes on Perez’ reboot (cover again by Bolland). The Amazons are not the Amazons of myth — those are apparently just a myth — but took their name in kinship. Hercules captures the Amazons briefly and there’s no suggestion of rape as there was in Perez’ retelling. And rather than Hippolyta being pregnant when she died (he Amazons are the reincarnated spirits of women murdered by  men over the centuries), Diana’s spirit is that of Diana Trevor’s (Steve’s mother, who died fighting alongside the Amazons after crashing on Themyscira) unborn child — she and Steve are literally siblings.

With the Amazons gone, what happens next? Would you believe the world’s mightiest woman goes to work as a wage slave at Taco Bell? Details when I’ve read a few more.

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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