Expatriate

Issue #18, May '08: "That Wears the Crown" Gail Simone—writer; Bernard Chang—artist; Bernard Chang—cover; Matt Idelson—editor

Issue #19, June '08: "Lifeblood" Gail Simone—writer; Bernard Chang—penciller; Jon Holdridge & Chang—inkers; Bernard Chang—cover; Matt Idelson—editor


Darn it, I wanted to call this arc "Gotta Getta Khund."

We start this otherwise fairly interesting short story with a very strange if not baffling scene. A silent page shows us Wondie arriving at Montgomery General Hospital, where a receptionist (“I run the front desk at a major hospital,” she says; otherwise we’d think she was a nurse or doctor because she's dressed in scrubs) we’d soon know as Tamika (no last name) shows her to Tom Tresser’s room.

Diana brings flowers and announces that they need to talk. Tom, who is reading Through the Looking Glass while eating a rather large roll, has his head bandaged. Diana says she has something “perilous” to say, and asks if he’s currently of sound mind. They get in a Stygian killer hornets joke (there’s another one a few pages later), and Diana says that it’s good that Tom is scared, that she thinks “that’s part of [what she has to talk about].”

She gives him a nectarine pit and says it goes around his neck. “You mustn’t take it off, not even for a moment.... It signifies a bounty, hoped for but not yet achieved.” He agrees to wear it without her having given hint number one what it’s all about, and then she kisses the pit and says, “That thou art full of promise.”

She confirms that Tom is left-handed (his bow arm), and places around it a bracelet composed of thorns and ribbons. (“The blue represents hope, the red, danger. The gold is a request to Athena [remember she’s the virgin goddess] for her blessing.”) “That thou shall know the heart of another.”

Finally after Tom expresses his confusion, Diana says (get this) that “It’s all right,Tom. You deserve to know. I’m courting you in the manner of my people. This is the first stage. It’s not an engagement... It’s more-- Call it a bond of consideration. To determine compatibility. Our propensity.”

Wasn’t it nice of Diana to inform him of this AFTER she’d gone through the ceremony? When Tom asks if he has any say, she says he can refuse. Then she makes gentle fun of human courting traditions. Wonder how she’d have reacted if he’d done the same of hers?

It’s really quite an odd thing. The two hadn’t even kissed and it would be a LONG time before they did have their first kiss. Yet Diana’s considering him to be her husband? You have to go through all this just to go out for a cup of coffee with someone?

Guess this is where Diana’s rep of thinking herself superior to others come from, that she would treat someone this way. “It’s best if we don’t talk until you’ve considered my offer,” she tells him. The mewly Tom says, “Maybe... I’ve got a feeling it’s WORTH it.”

It also doesn’t help that we’ve never seen anything remotely like this in any of the courting sessions that we’ve witnessed with other Amazons, or even with Diana previously when she was in a romantic mood. Zippo. We also have no idea why Tom would sit still for such. Is he that whipped? Why would Diana treat him so much like a child? Presented in this fashion the ritual seems quite demeaning and controlling.

Whatever. Diana leaves him to find the hospital corridor filled with fans. Tamika shoos them off and drags Diana away just in time for Diana to excuse herself to confront a giant Khund spaceship that is hovering over the hospital’s drive.

The commander, Kharhi, advisor to the Khund emperor, beams down and announces that he has the emperor’s orders to use any means to wage war against Diana. Though a part of her loves the testing (she refers to it as one of her private amusements), there are innocents and wounded nearby so she must cut the battle short. She determines to teach them the “universal etiquette of combat” that Khunds are ignorant of.

Diana dispatches the army and its fearsome weapons rather quickly, finishing by lifting a female Khund whom she is about to bop into unconsciousness, when Kharhi says, “Cease.” He calls Diana “Avatar of Havoc, lord of pain... My people call you the Destroyer, Wonder Woman.”

Turns out the corporal Diana was about to slug (or kill), the woman who was taunting Diana to kill her, was Kho, Kharhi’s daughter. She is OTT enthusiastic, a fan of MTV who says things like “rad” and “I am SUCH a fan, pardon my gush, warrior... Oh, to die by your mighty HAND!” She tells Diana that her own “space handle” is “Neko.”

A quick trip to the Klingo-- I mean, Khund homeworld shows Diana that the cities are crumbling after an attack. Advisor Kharhi explains that it is the work of the Ichor, a mysterious race : “No one knows ANYTHING about them. We’ve never seven SEEN a live specimen. Only their SHIPS... They land, always in a major city, and burrow into the ground. There are no survivors. EVER.” Apparently the Ichor only attack the most hated of civilizations.

Khund statue of DIana shows her to be squat and Neanderthal-likeLet’s see, we’ve got a couple of setups here. Most of it is Kharhi explaining that a Khund’s idea of an honorable death is one that is deep in battle, and that the Ichor’s way of doing things forego battle. Diana comes upon a statue that was erected  out of respect for her, “one of many,” due to her involvement in the whatever it was huge Khund war that had occurred previously in the DCU that  saw their defeat (Invasion?). The Khunds felt it necessary to pretti-fy Diana’s statue because her real appearance is so “hideous.” They tell her that they believe she might be part Khund, but perhaps this is a way to butter her up.

From out of nowhere steps Etta Candy, whom the Khund have brought along to be a “trusted squire.” Etta may not like the Khund, but she’s “not standing by to watch them all BURN.” Diana then thinks, “That is why, as much as any Amazon, this woman is my SISTER.”

Without warning them of additional danger, the Khunds let Diana and Etta go to a small city that has been completely destroyed when an Ichor ship burrowed down through it. At the bottom of a huge crater they find a green layer of light. The Ichor supposedly have a way to “mute technology.” Diana muses that the term “Ichor” literally means the “lifeblood of the gods.”

(Every time I hear the term, I immediately think of Ursula LeGuin's attitude toward it. As absoluteastronomy.com says, "The term ichor is often misused in fantasy contexts by authors trying to find a different word for 'blood' or 'ooze', to the point that it has become cliché. Author Ursula LeGuin, in 'From Elfland to Poughkeepsie', calls the term 'the infallible touchstone of the seventh-rate.'" It's not good to flinch every time you encounter a term for a supposedly terrifying civilization when the reason you're flinching is not because they're so terrifying but rather that the great goddess LeGuin has ruled the term unusable.)

The Ichor shipDiana approaches the Ichor ship, which uses a bird or griffin motif.  She announces to it that she wishes to parlay for terms of immediate surrender. Otherwise, she will make them leave. As she commences with a countdown, a Green Lantern, Procanon Kaa of Space Sector 422, comes from out of nowhere to slug her and announce that the ship is under his protection.

Etta revamps her classic exclaimation to say, “Woo-@&#%ing-Woo.”

Meanwhile we get a gratuitous “Tom in the shower” scene as he bathes with other members of the DMA in a co-ed environment (your tax dollars at work) (if the taxpayers ever found out about this, it'd be the end of the DMA!). This was supposed to demonstrate that he’s so caught up in the idea of Diana that he doesn’t notice the hot nekkid chicks showering next to him and giving him the eye. Instead he carries on a conversation with James Yarborough about a raid they just completed on a Society plot and how it was a feint of some kind. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this job,” Tom says, “it’s that you should never trust evil GORILLAS.”

Tom dismisses the pit to James as a kooky herbal remedy his mother is making him wear. Then he goes to his office to muse about Diana and how he doesn’t deserve her. He thinks, “Everything about her from the inside OUT is about finding and uncovering the larger TRUTH. And YOU, sir-- are a liar to your very SOUL.”

We then get seven pages of battle between Diana and Kaa as we are privy to Diana’s tactical planning. With the GL down, she offers her hand to him but he calls her a “collaborator to genocide” “ally to murderers” and “friend to demons,” and uses his ring to construct giant armored fists to punch her.

Bloody, Diana still stands, still offers her hand. Kaa finally ceases battle and gives her his story. His sector includes much of the Khund Empire and has witnessed their utter rape of other worlds. His pacifistic daughter was killed in such a raid and now Kaa says that he is uncertain if he still believes in the GL's ideal of justice.

Diana cruelly and quite unjustly says that “if loss makes you doubt your belief in justice... then you never TRULY believed in justice at all.” Really?

Kaa tells her that the power of the Ichor is unimaginable, that all the Green Lanterns combined could probably not make them change their minds. “It is said that [the Ichor] are blood relatives of the gods of a hundred different worlds.”

Kho runs up to report that Diana and crew have to leave immediately, and Kaa (WHY do these people all have the same name??) says that it was Kharhi who ordered the destruction of his world. But Kho says that Kharhi is even now launching a suicide bomb that will destroy the hemisphere and thus all Khunds on the planet. Diana was used to distract the Green Lantern while Kharhi does his duty.

As Kharhi punches the "bombs away" button, he soliloquizes to his people, “May you slay the angels in the afterlife... Death before defeat. Only KHUND is fit to kill KHUND.” Diana tries to get Kaa to help. “Do you dishonor [Kaa’s people] by aiding the THEFT of life... or do you instead fight to PRESERVE it?”

Diana gets to Kharhi too late, but then encourages Kaa to contain and neutralize the weapon’s explosion. Meanwhile, Etta approaches the Ichor ship, introduces herself and tells it that “You can’t destroy a planet in the name of compassion... I know we can’t stop you--but haven’t you shed ENOUGH blood here?”

The Ichor answer: “A 'lieutenant colonel' must be a grand thing indeed, small one.” They tell her to tell Diana that she is now to be held personally responsible for any interplanetary crimes committed by the Khund Empire, and that they’d be back for Kaa.

Diana and Kaa return to find the Ichor ship gone. Diana then has Kaa take Kho to mentor in the hopes that she will fit into his life as did his daughter, and the last we see of Kho is her taking her own version of the Green Lantern oath for the first time:

“Against dishonor and traitor’s flight
I stand beside my clan to fight
With dying breath I claw and bite...
Beware my power... GREEN LANTERN’S LIGHT!

Kho seems a bit befuddled by her enthusiasm.

This was a fairly light tale with some reader confusion along the way involving the Nectarine Pit Ceremony as well as that strange co-ed shower. When I asked my co-workers about this scene they agreed with the impression I’d gotten: that something was wrong with Tom. Or that this indicated that he was very gay. A guy with a healthy hetero ‘tude will notice nekkid chicks anytime.

The Ichor were introduced in a suitably violent and powerful if disconnected way and we got setups for some stuff that would be coming down the pike. Diana gave a very powerful demonstration of her determination to avoid violence, and we also got to see her tactical skills. Other than that the story was a lightweight interlude before the next compelling arc.

Interesting tidbits:

Garlak scowls and threatens. He has Asian features and a little goatee and moustache.That Diana had the strength to stand up to the full power of a Green Lantern in hand-to-ring combat. Also that she EASILY put down the full force of a Khund warship. Really. Easily. Quickly. She didn't even break a sweat. I thought the Khund were supposed to be a force to be reckoned with?

FYI: the Khund were originally created by Jim Shooter back just a few months before Star Trek hit the air, first appearance: Adventure Comics #346 (July 1966). Here's our very first Khund, drawn by Jim himself: Warlord Garlak. (The 14-year-old Jim turned in scripts by drawing them out, though I think this was the only one whose pencils actually made it to print once a pro inker had worked on it.) Star Trek became a cult hit, the Khundish-looking, pre-lobster-foreheaded Klingons were fan favorites, and DC decided that the Khunds were their version of the Klingons and let them adopt a Klingon attitude. History lesson over. You're welcome.

 

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