Wonder Woman: Contagion with a Diana conflicted over her warring identities, and ends it with a peace long-time readers thought they might never see. Contagion is a fitting conclusion to Simone's Wonder Woman stint, with a strong and exciting final chapter.
Gail Simone's Wonder Woman stories have very much been about war and peace. How can Diana be an ambassador of peace and still fight enemies willing to slaughter in their hate for her, Rise of the Olympian asked. What right does a warrior have to friends and loved ones (Olympian again). Can a warrior also be a lover, and have a family (this, from Warkiller)?
Diana's enemies in these pages have reflected difficult parts of Diana herself, like Alkyone, whose crazed loyalty to Diana's mother rivaled her own; Achilles, blindly faithful to the god Zeus when Diana's own faith rightly wavered; and Genocide, the single-minded killer born of Diana's own flesh. Simone used all of these to remind Diana and the reader of the incongruity of Diana's dual missions, peacekeeper and warrior.
At the beginning of Contagion, some of the wounds between Diana and the Amazons -- and between the Amazons and the rest of the world -- have healed, but the children of Ares still reveal some simmering resentments. It is only when Diana fights her own alien doppelganger for the fate of the world -- the entire world -- that she's able to combine her two sides. Not just Diana, but all of the Amazons join Diana in her mission of peace (even if at times through violence); when Diana sees the aliens' ultra-violent interpretation of the Amazon way, it gives her perspective on the blessings in her own life.
Contagion marks the end of Wonder Woman's life as we know it, essentially, with J. Michael Straczynski's new origin to follow and then the DC Comics relaunch. Simone smartly recognizes in the finale of Contagion that what needs resolution here is not Diana's relationship with Nemesis or the final dispensation of Genocide, but rather the larger rift that's existed between Diana and her heritage since Greg Rucka's run, at least, well before Infinite Crisis. Contagion's final scene of Diana, her mother Hippolyta, ally Artemis, plus Achilles and Steve and Etta (Candy) Trevor celebrating in the middle of the street is -- let's say it -- a wonder, the very thing that would have been unheard of when this book began. I sense, still, that these stories were abbreviated by DC's new line-wide plans, but the final scenes are eminently satisfying, with clear, joyful art by Nicola Scott.
The book does deal with a "contagion" of sorts, referring to the serpent plague through which the Citizenry aliens devour a planet's resources. "Contagion" is the title of the first part of the "Wrath of the Silver Serpent" story, which would have been a much better title in my opinion given "Silver Serpent"'s auditory similarity to long-time Wonder Woman villain Silver Swan. The actual silver serpent here is a lesser threat handled by Achilles and company, but I'd just as soon have seen the alien Theana join Diana's rogues gallery as the new Silver Serpent. Simone presents Theana's origins as a dark bastardization of Diana's own and it makes the character instantly compelling; that Simone parallels Theana's story with a retelling of the day young Diana left Themyscria (with great art, again, by Scott) only adds to the depth of it all. Mores the pity that Simone kills off Theana at the end of the book; I'd have liked to see Diana face the Silver Serpent again (DC Relaunch notwithstanding).
Part of the seeming quick wrap-up in this book that I mentioned earlier is evinced by the two-part "A Murder of Crows" story that begins Contagion. A driving theme in Simone's run has been love and family and children; Alkyone resents Diana, for instance, for the way her birth changed the character of the Amazons; Diana began a tricky romance with Nemesis with the intention that her children might preserve the Amazon way; men live for the first time among the Amazons. None of these stories end quite the way they seemed they would, but ultimately five Amazons emerge pregnant of Themyscria, all through immaculate conception, and give birth to demon sons of Ares.
Given all of this build-up, the "Murder of Crows" story that sees Diana fight Ares's demon children ought be fraught with meaning. Instead, the two issues balance the demons' horrific attacks with slapstick humor between Diana and guest-star Power Girl; Diana defeats the demons ultimately by spanking them. The tone is right for a Power Girl appearance, and indeed Diana's differing interactions with Justice League/Justice Society stalwarts Power Girl and Black Canary -- reflecting Diana's own aspects of brawn and brain -- is probably worth its own separate study. However, Power Girl's comedic presence entirely overshadows Diana's otherwise really very serious conflict with Ares -- and how these demons are part Amazon, how Ares can be gifted with children but Diana can't, and what children mean to Amazons and what they mean to Diana -- and there's significant material in the end that I think ultimately ends up not being addressed.
This is even letting alone that Contagion ends with no additional mention of Nemesis, the Ichor, or Zeus, among others, but again, my sense is that the end of Gail Simone's run on Wonder Woman was somewhat unexpected. That does not by any means overshadow the fact that Simone has given us five sound Wonder Woman collections that were as compelling (especially The Circle) as they were startling (Rise of the Olympian remains my top favorite). This is a different Wonder Woman than Greg Rucka brought us (less political, more superheroic), a different take but still a great one. Let's hope, when we visit Diana again post-DC Relaunch with Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, we might be able to say the same.
[Contains full covers]
But first -- for its ties to Justice League: Generation Lost and its lead-in to the new DC Universe, we'll follow Wonder Woman to its conclusion with J. Michael Straczynski's Odyssey. The Collected Editions review of volume one ... next!