The Circle

Issue #14, Jan. '08: "What You Do Not Yet Know" Gail Simone—writer; Terry Dodson—penciller; Rachel Dodson—inker; the Dodsons—cover; Matt Idelson—editor

Issue #15, Feb. '08: "Dead Heat" Gail Simone—writer; Terry Dodson—penciller; Rachel Dodson—inker; the Dodsons—cover; Matt Idelson—editor

Issue #16, Mar. '08: "The Wellspring of All Vengeance" Gail Simone—writer; Terry Dodson & Ron Randall—pencillers; Rachel Dodson & Randall—inkers; the Dodsons—cover; Matt Idelson—editor

Issue #17, Apr. '08: "A Time of Reckoning" Gail Simone—writer; Terry Dodson & Ron Randall—pencillers; Rachel Dodson & Randall—inkers; the Dodsons—cover; Matt Idelson—editor


This is possibly the best Wonder Woman story ever written. I certainly can’t think of one that bettered it. What a way to begin a new era!

Of course, it being Gail Simone writing, we have quite a few subplots and dozens of threads going on. Let’s see if we can tackle them in an organized way.

We not only get an adjusted “birth of Diana” story, we get a story behind the story, that of the Circle. These are four Amazons, Myrto, Charis, Philomela, and (cue ominous music) Alkyone, who were already known to be not quite in step with Amazon society.

At some point before Diana’s birth (not too distantly in the past) Hippolyta decided that she needed personal guards and appointed four. I believe she was just going by the old Amazon saying, “Keep your friends close; keep your nutcases closer.” Phillipus warns the queen that her new guards are “overzealous and brutal-minded.”

Philomena had been “guardian of the hunt, with duties as tanner and provider of meats. Some said she enjoyed the killing.” The four new guards are given god-made weapons, and Philomena carries a bow. “Myrto headed up the sea-croppers... The same Amazons who delighted in her harvest sniggered ungraciously about her lingering odor.” She is given a trident. “Charis, the wisest of us, was keeper of the Royal menagerie. She preferred the company of animals, and she spoke almost never. She shunned fine things, regarding them with suspicion and contempt.” So her weapon is a club. Sword-wielding Alkyone saw herself as “hard, unforgiving, unloved Alkyone, keeper of the armory. Defender of Themyscira, come death or dishonor.”

Alkyone refers to the four of them as “unlovely, impolite, unused to grace and diplomacy.” She is confused that the queen has placed them “above all others.”

The guard loved their queen beyond measure, and performed a mystic ceremony in which they vowed that “All of us, every one, will die before an enemy touches a lock of the queen’s hair... We trade unpredictability for a sure-footed position in even the worst of conditions.... Four points of the compass are we... surrounding her... In the darkest night shall we find our place in the circle.” They swear this upon a sword that draws and mingles their blood, and then dance around their campfire in ancient fashion.

A day arrives when the queen gives her guard a day’s liberty. By some twisted logic (perhaps to distract the guards from the coming night?), Magala tells Alkyone that the Amazon Gennes has a daughter, and the Circle go wild. They discover Gennes singing a lullaby to a mannequin baby and destroy it. Alkyone declares that Gennes has gone mad, and orders that no dolls resembling children be made on Paradise again. Then she orders the rest of the Circle to kill Gennes.

Charis tells Alkyone that rumors say the queen has pleaded with the gods for a child. Alkyone declares that such would destroy the Amazons. Many Amazons (including Alkyone) dream of having children, to the point where they whittle small infant-like figures, called “whittle-babies” to pretend with. Alkyone realizes that one Amazon with a real baby on Paradise would tear the Amazons apart. “It would be an INFECTION. A PLAGUE. Joy would turn to ENVY and ENVY to HATRED.”

Interestingly enough, Myrto’s take on this is, “She’ll ABANDON us. She’ll care only for the BABE,” which Alkyone agrees with. Alkyone crushes her own whittle-baby (which she has carried as a pendant all this time) as the Circle decide to do something. They cannot kill the queen, so they will kill the baby instead. They speak of the coming baby as a demon, but still weep for what they “must” do.

Of the actual birth of Diana, Hippolyta tells us, "It was not as dear as you have been told; sunny skies over deeply azure oceans of calm, and the smiles, and tears of joy. It was more like birth itself. An act of DESTRUCTION, as well as CREATION. There was DARKNESS. There was THUNDER. And yes. There was also BLOOD.”

Under a red hunter’s moon that appears in the midst of a raging thunderstorm (and after a battle that we are not yet privy to, as well as magical spilling of blood that we’ll see in a future story), Hippolyta sculpts the baby, who comes to life. She returns to her people, who gather around:

Hippolyta presents Diana to the Amazons

Hippolyta says, “I give you your PRINCESS. I give you our DAUGHTER!” She assures her people that Diana is the daughter of them all. The Circle watches from the shadows and call Diana “the dragon.” But a golden eagle, something never seen before on Paradise, watches them in turn and follows as the Circle arm themselves.

They attack Phillipus, who has been suspicious of their actions all along. Before Phillie can loose her sword, she is struck down with two arrows.

The Circle find the exhausted queen sleeping with the new child, and they pause at the beauty of the babe, even beginning to question themselves. But Alkyone raises her sword—and the eagle screams from outside the queen’s chambers, waking Hippolyta. The queen sleeps with a sword by her side. With one swipe she blinds Philomena and names Alkyone as having betrayed her. On this, her first night of life, Diana sits up in bed and Alkyone marvels at her calm.

But the injured Phillipus brings guards to stop the traitors and the Circle fights back. Amazingly, none of the Circle were killed that night.

Every year since then Hippolyta takes a lantern and goes into the dungeons at each cardinal point of Paradise, as she does now. (It appears that the inhabitants of the newly-arisen Paradise Island have survived all the chaos and destruction that the island has been through.) Myrto is in the north; Charis, the west; Philomena, the east; and Alkyone, the south. At each cell, Hippolyta asks, “Do you repent?” and the answer is “Never.”

This time, however, Alkyone has a gift for her queen, a wooden crown that she has gnawed into shape. She begs the queen to kill Diana and “make of us a TRIBE again!” Alkyone declares that Diana needs to know a mysterious “truth,” but Hippy refuses, saying, “tell her that which would break her heart AGAIN? Never.”

And ever-faithful Alkyone replies, “I’ll SAVE you, Hippolyta! I will MAKE US WHOLE AGAIN, I VOW IT!”

Elsewhere: In a jungle somewhere we find Diana fighting a band of genetically-enhanced gorillas from Gorilla City, specifically, Grodd’s elite squad of hyper-intelligent, impressionable youth. Their leader, Tolifhar, says that their mission is to take back the land that belonged to them and to slaughter humans. He says that they are the most extraordinary combat unit ever assembled on the planet, designed to kill Superman if necessary. Now they fight Wonder Woman as a test.

She sees them as bored kids whose discontent has been twisted to turn them into terrorists. They are armed with glowing sword-like weapons, are too strong for her to wrestle, and they are quite skilled. But she uses their anger against them, chooses the leader, and sends him toppling over a waterfall, then grabs him in a wrestler’s hold and holds his head underwater.

Then she lets go and offers her open hand of peace. She gives her word as an Amazon that she will try to end the atrocities toward the gorillas.

For their failure, Tolifhar is afraid the group will be punished by their people, but Diana tells him that she will speak to Solovar (head of Gorilla City) and his council on their behalf as soon as everyone has cooled down. Until then, she has Tolifhar swear for the group on her lasso that they won’t try to subjugate or devour any humans.

The gorillas come to live with Diana at her townhouse in Washington. She thinks, “They really have been delightful, if slightly EXHAUSTING, guests. Even so, I do have to admit... I could have done WITHOUT all the flinging.” The apes even clear out the place quickly when Tom Tresser bursts in, but when he and Diana leave, Rhanda says, “They will mate soon, if they haven’t already.” To which Tolifhar replies, “Their movement and scent confirm it.” We’ll get back to these wonderful apes later.

Office politics: Tom springs a birthday surprise on Diana. It turns out that she hasn’t changed her secret ID birth date from that of Wonder Woman. Anyway, Diana delights in cake, thinking that it excuses much of the problems of this society.

Sarge Steel wants none of it. He wants to know how Diana has discovered that Grodd is attempting to reactivate the Society cell based in Toronto (which Diana has to specify as being in Ontario). Steel sends her to find out more.

In returning to his office, Steel finds (ta dah!!!! Welcome back to the fold in full form, ETTA!) Lt. Col. Etta Candy waiting. She not only takes what he dishes, but dishes out some criticism of her own so that he squirms. She’s found lots of anxiety meds in his office that have been taken in large amounts, and points out that he has scotch on his breath when it’s still 11 AM. (These are our first hints that Dr. Psycho is attempting to take over Steel.) She says that these are the skills she’ll employ in checking out this mysterious Diana Prince for Steel.

When Diana and Tom break into Society HQ, they find it empty... except for Capt. Nazi, who claims that he and his group have killed any people who still remained in the building because they didn’t need them. (Not even to keep the bathrooms clean?)

Because Diana has no powers as a civilian, she tries to protect Tom but is pinned by Nazi. He tells her that he and his group wanted a country they could call their own. There is a large group of people who have been engineered to be like him. He calls them his “genealogical Wunderkind,” which might be a proper title, but I’ve got them under “neo-Nazis” in the index until they officially adopt a name.

Let’s stay with the Capt. Nazi fight. Tom’s been conveniently knocked out, and Nazi comes on a little to Diana before he tries to kill her, as he finds her lovely. Instead, Diana reverse-head-butts the cheap drywall behind her... REALLY cheap, cheaper than the stuff I have, because it caves in,  and she drags Nazi with her in a roll. She throws a wad of plastique at Nazi and detonates it so it explodes around his eyes.

This enables Diana to change to WW—a hugely dramatic sequence with darkness and the lasso. “You threatened my FAMILY,” she tells Nazi as she wallops him. “You’ll forgive me if I take OFFENSE.”

Nazi awakens in darkness, inside the lasso. “In this place, ONLY THE TRUTH SURVIVES,” Diana tells him. She wants to know about his invasion plans for Themyscira. She wants to know everything. What she discovers is his terrible childhood. Nazi literally cries for mercy, but reveals all.

Diana muses afterward, “He can’t help himself. And even for him, I follow the Amazon Code when facing a vanquished foe: punishment for the adult...” She puts her hand on his shoulder. “Empathy for the child. Even for him.”

Let’s break away to follow Etta here. At the Department of Metahuman Affairs, Director Steel reports that he assumes Diana is not returned to work because she has the flu. Etta claims the same goes for her and she leaves. Arriving at Diana’s apartment, she picks the lock and enters, gun ready, to find a red-eyed man sitting on Diana’s couch. This is the Stalker, though he’s dressed in contemporary clothing. We’ll join his story later in issue #21.

Meanwhile, the neo-Nazis or Wunderkind have landed on Themyscira’s shores. “Kill all you find!” is their order. Interestingly enough, they do it in the Society’s name and not their own.

Queen Hip has a magic mirror that shows her all this. She declares, “No more conquerors here,” and cuts her hair—a fact that will be forgotten (oops) immediately after this story. “The gods have rightly punished me with isolation for my mistakes, for the innocents killed and wounded by my actions. [Noooo! Don’t legitimize AA!] But tonight—that debt shall be paid with Amazon BLOOD.”

The queen arms herself and like an avenging demon, strikes the invaders from out of nowhere. She seems only to incapacitate them with her weapons, yet her actions clearly show that she could easily have killed them instead.

She frees some monsters from her menagerie just as the neo-Nazis are about to set off some grenades in the place. It is doubtful that the monsters have any compunctions about killing.

Hippy prays, “Athena...grant me the wisdom to avoid further bloodshed. Grant me the grace to forgive my enemies. But failing that, goddess...at least grant me the gift of good AIM.” (She also mentions that the Amazons have been around for 3200 years and not just the 3000 that has been established previously.)

“The gods have banned me from Themyscira,” Diana says, but in issue #13 she’d blamed the forcefield on something Hippy was doing. Still Diana tries to find a way to Themyscira. We get a bit of a plot hole in that the forcefield around the island seems only to apply to her and not to any number of others she could call for help. Whatever.

MEANwhile... Since she can’t appeal to the Olympians (who at this time are actually prisoners of, uh, Darkseid I think [this concerns Final Crisis, which I didn’t read, zzz] and the Athena who banned Diana was actually [get this] Granny Goodness anyway), Diana makes the rounds of various pantheons. Odin is sympathetic but does not want to go against Athena’s will. Doesn’t the all-seeing father know that it’s not Athena behind this? Humph. At the Celestial House of Thunder, Raijin says that the last time he fought other gods he was nearly destroyed. Diana should give up on her mother and be glad she has sisters left.

In Egypt Lady Bast is the first to call Diana “daughter of the hunter’s moon” and declares that she is fond of her, but she never really cared for Hippolyta. At the Rock of Eternity it is either Shazam or Billy Batson as the wizard (they were doing strange things over there in the Shazam book at the time, getting rid of all the interesting stuff) who tells Diana that he has no dominion in the gods’ affairs. Yeah, right.

But in Hawaii Kane Milohai, god of the sky and the heavens, receives Diana and almost turns her down. Quickly she falls to her knees and tells him that if he aids her she will pledge her allegiance to him. “No god will come before you in my eyes. When you are in need of a weapon, I shall BE your fiery sword. I give my life to you, of my own free will, if it shall help save my tribe and my mother.”

Kane is impressed. He gives her a red scarf, his standard (which artists often forgot to depict afterward), and tells her that she reminds him of what a daughter’s love means. He gives her a shell that will grow into a vessel and take her anywhere she needs to go. “Keep faith, trust to love, fight with honor, but fight to win,” he tells her.

And the WW message boards go crazy with how sexy the loinclothed Kane is.

Back on Themyscira the Nazis discover the cell of Alkyone, who tells (doesn’t beg) them that they will free her and her friends and that then the Circle will help them hunt Hippolyta down and slaughter her. (Which would seem a lie, as they are sworn never to allow harm to come to the queen.)

As the Nazis argue about burning the Amazons’ vast libraries and destroying their art (Nazi Tabitha is appalled at the idea), they point a gun to Alkyone’s head. “Oh, dear,” she says. “How FRIGHTFUL you are in your little black boots.”

They are interrupted as a man who has been shot with arrows stumbles in, delivering a message from Hippolyta. She has told him that this land will not accommodate the Nazis, and that he should deliver this message: “My daughter will come for me.”

By this time the Nazis’ radios have gone silent. Reports come in of a woman in a giant seashell approaching from the north. The Nazi leader begins to sweat.

Diana uses the rising sun behind her both for drama and to dazzle her enemy’s eyes. The heavily-armed superheroine tells them to surrender and shows that the numbers are not as uneven as they think, as her Gorilla Knights bound out of the shell behind her.

Diana mutters a long warrior’s prayer (that imho slows the action) as the battle commences. She is able to deflect a thrown grenade with an arrow. A golden eagle flies above the battle, and Diana quotes Kipling, which Tolifhar recognizes. (He’s better read than I!) The good guys retreat into the jungle to force their enemies into a situation that will be more favorable. “I’m coming, Mother,” Diana thinks.

In the meantime, the queen has mounted a pegasus to do battle, but the horse was killed and the queen badly wounded. Two Nazis report having witnessed the “body.”  Diana leaps out of the brush to take them down. The last she entangles in her lasso, and he screams the information she wants: her mother’s location. Diana finds her mother “pierced... but... unbowed.” Then she collapses into Diana’s arms.

When more Nazis, one named Carl, come to find the queen’s corpse, instead they discover Diana. She beats them all to a pulp. Anger takes over. “That’s how it happens. How the princess disappears in the mist. The healer, the scholar, the diplomat, all follow. Even the SOLDIER, the AMAZON is gone. Until only the mourning DAUGHTER remains. And her grief is VOLCANIC.”

One of the soldiers begins to beg and surrender. He says that they’re not real soldiers, so stop. Diana realizes that this does her mother no honor and so she gets the Nazis to gather their wounded and the rest of their forces and drop their weapons. (Hopefully not in that order.) She gives them the supplies they need (?) to leave the island immediately.

Tabitha tells her that with the Society’s help they found Themyscira and can do it again. Diana replies, “You could. I wouldn’t. The megalodons have your SCENT now, Nazi.” And we see monsters swimming in the waters around Themyscira.

But where Diana chose life for her enemies, the Circle members have throttled Nazis with their chains, snapped Nazi necks, and escaped. “It’s HER fault,” Alkyone says. “The DRAGON’S. DIANA. She should have PROTECTED the queen, in our STEAD.”

The moment the Nazis cast off, Philomela shoots Diana with two arrows. (“Philomela may have lost her eyes in battle the night this dragon was created. It would not OCCUR to her to complain.”) Diana is surprised at (1) arrows that can pierce her invulnerable (choke) flesh, and (2) that she didn’t see them coming. “They smell of wild MAGIC,” she muses.

Alkyone tells her that she has to take a certain ceremonial path filled with obstacles to her mother’s funeral pyre, or her mother will die and the island with her.

In an ominous rain, Diana fends off arrows as well as she can, though they are god-made. Myrto manages to catch her with her trident, and a few more arrows get her before she falls unconscious to Charis’ club. Surprisingly, the Circle members let her live; perhaps it has something to do with the “old way” of combat and honor that they espouse.

When Diana rises, she recalls Kane’s words of counsel, paints a “W” like warpaint across her face, and then proceeds to trash the three Circle members who stand in her way. Diana uses one god-forged weapon to break another: the trident breaks the bow. Then she beats the women into oblivion.

Alkyone asks Hippolyta, lying on her pyre, why she chose these four to guard her. Hippolyta the Wily replies, “Because...knew you loved me best.” And because they were ca-razy, too, hon. She probably thought she could return some sanity into their lives.

Diana throws what’s left of the god-weapons at Alkyone’s feet and demands that she lay down her sword, since she knows Alkyone is bluffing about the queen.

In a clever set of panels to counteract all the many, many “golem” stories we WW fans have had to endure through the years, Simone has Alkyone say, “You are nothing but a WHITTLE-BABY come to life!”

“Let’s get something STRAIGHT here, Captain,” Diana says. “I am not a DOLL nor a PUPPET, nor a TOTEM. I have a SOUL. Nor will I apologize for being BORN.”

Diana pounds Alkyone.

From her pyre, Hippolyta tells Alkyone that she couldn’t know; she was imprisoned all these years. But Diana was the daughter to all the Amazons; they were all her mother. “She SAVED us, Captain. She SAVED us ALL.”

Alkyone refuses to believe it, and asks Diana to kill her.

“I won’t. I forgive you. Come back to our tribe.”

Her head under Diana’s hand, Alkyone says, “You... You could have been mine.” Then she leaps up, strikes Diana a non-killing blow with her sword, and throws herself over the nearby cliff into the sea.

Diana searches for hours but finds only lots of blood. (cue more ominous music) The rest of the Circle are incarcerated again, proud of Alkyone's end. Some of the Gorilla Knights remain behind as the queen’s guard as Diana and the rest return home.

The story ends in Diana’s apartment where various members of the Justice League, plus Donna and Cassie... and ETTA... are throwing Wonder Woman a late birthday party. (Why haven't the gorillas been invited, huh? Elitism! Then again, maybe they were just out to get more ice.) We discover that Etta joined the DoMA as Diana's “unofficial ALIBI.” She and Diana leave for a moment, and Ettta mentions the strange guy in her apartment, but is more concerned with the “Holiday gal”’s (hah! Little in-joke there) condition.

Diana thinks there should be a reason for an Amazon’s death, and that she must find out the truth behind the matter someday. She and Etta admire the night’s moon... a perfect circle.

Interesting tidbits: Note how many people of equal power to Diana she confronts in this ish: the Gorilla Knights, the neo-Nazis, Capt. Nazi, and even the members of the Circle seem her equals in strength. (Superman had better watch out!)

We also discover that “god-forged” weapons can harm Diana. AND (surprising to me) that Diana is shocked when an arrow can penetrate her skin. There’s always a lot of discussion on the MBs as to why Diana needs Bullets & Bracelets as a skill when she’s so invulnerable, and people always say that pointed objects can harm her, though atomic blasts, molten metal, the vacuum, cold and radiation of space, etc. cannot. But she’s really surprised here that they can, until she surmises the god-forged part. Ergo, this era will portray her as invulnerable. (rrrr...)

Then why does she carry a shield here? Why the need for all these weapons she packs? Seems to me that such would merely slow her down, though it's all very showy. And of course her magic lasso kind of disappears until she or the writer recalls that she can use it.

This is Gail's first ish, and with it she brings in what will be a recurring scenario: "Let's see how badly we can hurt Diana." Diana gets the stuffing beaten out of her, but she goes through the same with the next arc and the next arc and the next arc. Apparently she's got quite a healing factor going on, but Gail introduces "god weapons" and "god power" which can hurt Diana more than ordinary weaponry and power, slowing or not being affected at all by her ability to heal. Sometimes it seems that Gail and/or the artist forgets to show Diana still injured from a recent battle when there's no explanation of how she healed so quickly. It's just something to keep an eye out for.

The lasso gets a lot of excellent play as a mind-weapon in this story, stripping people of the information they want to withhold. We see macho guys crying in terror of what it can do. Keen.

We get a few other magical things introduced that come with—get this—DEFINITIONS of what they are, what they can do, what their limits are. Yaaay!

There’s the merest hint here that Tom’s playing Identity games with Diana, which is fun, and the “smell” the gorillas pick up is also intriguing, especially when we keep in mind what comes down the line a few more arcs from now. The gorilla flinging is also hilarious.

The mystery of Diana’s birth is a welcome addition to the mythos. The birth is made much more powerful, more Major Magick, than it has ever been.

Hippolyta and Diana’s insistence on honor is something the book sorely needed, especially after the AA debacle. This made the vow to Kane even more shocking.

The art was fabulous, the dialogue terse and then sparkling, the humor really humorous, and fill-in artist Ron Randall, someone whose work I’ve never really appreciated, turned in imho the best stuff he’s ever done, and did the story justice.

Excellent all around!

 

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