Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Rucka and Scott do it again in Wonder Woman #4!

Nicola Scott cover
SPOILERS—Just saying...

I'm just going to come out and say that Nicola Scott and Greg Rucka couldn't be better suited for Wonder Woman. I had been anticipating Wonder Woman Rebirth #4 ever since I finished #2, and this issue AGAIN brought the tears. I'm going to work through the book panel by panel, and page by page, because I see so much greatness in the Rucka/Scott paring. Here we go.

The first panel (with conversation from the Council of Themyscira text from Philippus overlaid on the images) shows the Amazons having shrouded the dead soldiers and other women taking parts of the plane from the sea. Next, we see an Amazon tending to Nick, Steve's friend, who died in the crash, and the woman is showing gentle compassion in preparing the body for the underworld. Even Nick's wedding ring sits on his chest, presumably to be wrapped with his body. For women who haven't seen men in many years, and considering the past the Amazons and men have shared, it would be difficult for some of them to deal with men again, even the deceased.

The third panel made me giggle with delight: the Purple Healing Ray is being used on Steve Trevor. Epione, the chief healer, tends to to his wounds using perhaps the best known piece of technomagic of the Amazons.

An interesting parallel in the last panel of the first page emerges when we see Amazon weapons against the wall, meticulously arranged, and Amazons are cataloguing the weapons and other belongings of the men—arranged in similar fashion, their faces showing curiosity. If these women harbor any resentment toward men, it's not apparent on this page. All I see is compassion and curiosity.

On this page, we also hear the Amazons refer to "Man's World" in a way that suggests they had never called it that before. Why would they have needed to, having been removed from it for so long? The term shows separation, not disdain. The voice also says that Steve Trevor should make a full recovery—these are not the New 52 Amazons who used men for breeding stock and killed them.
• • •
Frank Cho variant
The second page shows the aforementioned council (Catalia, Hippolyta, Philippus, an unnamed Amazon, and Areto, the Amazon who spoke to her sisters in #2 about the stars) trying to understand the men: they are warriors, armed with insignia. Areto demonstrates how a pistol works by shooting a vase. This is obviously weaponry they have never seen before. Again, their level of curiosity remains constant. They do not dismiss anything because it belongs to the men. Rather, they seek to learn and understand.

When Areto and Castalia discuss whether the men's intentions were malevolent or not, Hippolyta makes an interesting revelation: the eagle on the insignia has a bowed head, "the bearing of one who will meet battle does not seek it." This is a queen who pays attention to the finest of details. I love her.
• • •
The next page shows Diana seated in the window of a chamber watching the sleeping Steve recover. Her eyes show concern and inquiry. When Steve wakes up, she tries to soothe his mood and introduces herself, even though they don't speak the same language. Diana can tell from his words that he's concerned for his men, and the page ends with her consoling a crying soldier weeping for the loss of his men. One of the most touching scenes I've seen in comics, and a side of Steve I have never seen before: emotionally vulnerable. Well done, Greg.
• • •
In further discussion with the council, Castalia tries to convince the others that the gods have allowed this all to transpire, and that Diana's viper bite in issue #2 was "the gate," something we do not yet know. Again, curiosity dominates. No desire to cause Steve harm in any way has been mentioned.
• • •
Hippolyta then says that a contest must be held to determine an Amazon "armed with the perfect [lasso]" to bring Steve back to his world. She is sure that Steve is the key to whomever is the enemy of both Amazon and man. Areto comments that the Amazon who leaves would be "damn[ed]... to exile," she "can never return." Castalia finishes with "...the men of the world best beware, I should think" of an Amazon in a world of men. In other words, whoever goes, she would be one to be reckoned with. I loved this entire scene—calm, decisive, and strategic.
• • •
Atop the next page, we learn that the Amazons have the means to teach Steve's plane to return to its home. Whether that involves science or sorcery, we have yet to learn. At the bottom of the page, Philippus and Hippolyta stand forehead to forehead, and Philippus comments that "She may not win, Lyta." This certainly shows a level of love between the two that goes beyond sisters. especially calling the queen by a derivative of her name, a "pet name," as it were. So sweet.
• • •
Diana and Hippolyta speak, and Diana sees how Steve thought of his brothers (as she comes to learn the word) with great fondness, much like the Amazons think of one another as sisters. This parallel was made plain in #2, and I love seeing how Rucka makes Steve this soldier but also someone who cares deeply for those in his regiment. We haven't seen a Steve like this before. Also, the sweetness between mother and daughter is comforting, even though Hippolyta refers to Diana as "Princess" instead of daughter, and Diana uses "Queen" instead of mother. The formality of the situation makes sense here.
• • •
The following page changes how Diana's sojourn into the world of man happens. In most stories, Diana wants to participate in the tournament to select the champion, but Hippolyta vehemently refuses, saying she doesn't want to lose her daughter. This later prompts Diana to enter the contest disguised. Here, however, the queen says, "You are still recovering from your illness, Diana. No one would think less of you if you stood down." Hippolyta expected Diana to participate, and she held no apprehension toward it. WOW. This was usually a moment of great tension in the tale of Diana, but now, it shows Hippolyta has resolved that her daughter could participate.

Diana's response is priceless. "I would think less of me. I could not profoundly call myself your daughter if I did not try, Mother." We started the scene with a formal greeting, and now we have a more familial one. Diana's concern is not feeling worthy of being the daughter of Hippolyta if she didn't try. The queen responds, "You always make me proud, daughter." We start with a royal connection and end the scene with a softer, more heartfelt one. What a stunning transition.
• • •
The next page shows Amazons forging the armor that will be worn by their champion: the eagle/=w= breastplate, the insignia, the leather skirt, cuirass, and boots. Steve's plane is being fitted with what looks like fish scales. Hippolyta's voice over talks of encouraging her people to rise up and support this new venture, how this one woman will be their ambassador in Man's World and a "protector of all who dwell beyond [their] shores." Hippolyta knows that Diana will be the compassionate and strong Amazon who will defend others, even those she does not know. Castalia retrieves the lasso from the statue (as seen in issue #2), and Steve is summoned. The contest is about to begin.
• • •
The next two pages show Diana on horseback, using a bow, competing with ropes, and engaged in swordplay. It's worth noting that Nicola Scott shows a closeup of an Amazon whose headband looks exactly like one used in the Wonder Woman TV show during this same contest. Clever. Three Amazons remain (unlike two in prior versions), but three is an important number in Greek myth: the Fates, the Graces, and even the Triple Goddess of Persephone, Demeter, and Hecate. Here, we also have Hippolyta, Philippus, and Castalia. Sofia, Io, and Diana are all who remain viable from the combatants. Hippolyta uses the handgun from the earlier scene (similar to George Perez's use of Diana Trevor's handgun in the 1980s series) to shoot at each woman, telling Epione to stand ready in case of injury, but telling her Amazons to "parry my shot."

Steve thinks that Hippolyta is going to kill the women, again showing compassion to total strangers. Sofia gets shot with the first bullet, Io deflects one before getting hit with the second, and Diana stands—arms crossed—ready. Hippolyta's eyes seem to show a sense of duty to finish this part of the contest, but she also knows it could wound or kill her daughter. All we see is Diana, wrists crossed, eyebrows furrowed... ready.
• • •
An assembly of Amazons and Steve stands by what looks like Steve's plane made invisible. Diana emerges, garbed in her new armor, with Castalia behind her, holding the golden lasso. Diana receives the lasso from her mother, and she tells her mother, "I shall use it with wisdom and love." No better words needed to be said. And, in a scene reminiscent from issue #2, again Hippolyta and Diana refer to one another as "Queen," "Princess," "Mother," and "My daughter." They embrace, in tears, at the bottom of the page.
• • •
Diana tells her mother she will return, but Hippolyta believes she will not be able to do so. In her parting, she tells Hippolyta, "I love you, Mother. I will make us proud." Us. Mother and daughter. Amazons.

The Amazons watch Diana fly off in the new invisible jet, and Hippolyta, Philippus, Castalia, and Io look hopeful as their sister departs for Man's World.

RESULTING THOUGHTS:

Again, I finished a Wonder Woman book in tears. These Amazons are thoughtful, loving, nurturing, and compassionate, not only for their sisters and princess, but also for the outside world. They hold no fear or resentment for one of their own venturing forth, except that Diana will lose her immortality and ability to return home. But, they have obviously made peace with that. Nicola Scott's art invigorates the story that Rucka tells, one that feels epic, like that of a Homeric tale. Romulo Fajardo, Jr.'s colors bring an exuberance to Scott's pencils, like a co-mingling of two creators who were meant to be together. 

The intricacies of the storytelling and the art show myriad connections to many concepts and little nuggets that people familiar to the story will smile at when they see them, and new readers will simply be awash with joy at this part of the origin story.
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