Ends of the Earth

Issue #20, July '08: "An Unreasoning Frost" Gail Simone—author; Aaron Lopresti—penciller; Matt Ryan—inker; Lopresti (and Ryan?)—cover; Matt Idelson—editor

Issue #21, Aug. '08: "The Edge of Insanity" Gail Simone—author; Aaron Lopresti—penciller; Matt Ryan—inker; Lopresti & Sinc?—cover; Matt Idelson—editor

Issue #22, Sept. '08: "A Cooperation of Killers" Gail Simone—author; Aaron Lopresti—penciller; Matt Ryan—inker; Lopresti—cover; Matt Idelson—editor

Issue #23, Oct '08: "Ends of the Earth Finale" Gail Simone—writer; Aaron Lopresti—penciller; Matt Ryan—inker; Lopresti (and Ryan?)—cover; Matt Idelson—editor


A dynamic shot of red-eyed and clawed Diana rising from the broken earth, declaring, "My lasso has returned to me!"Yet another fabulous arc, made more so because of the focus Gail kept on the main plot. There was only one (humorous) subplot, with the merest glimpse of another. And yes, there were a couple of questions raised that were never answered, but perhaps we can overlook those.

For whatever reason, Gail showcased three stars from DC Comics' S&S series published back in the 1970s, all of them beginning in 1975. (Thank goodness she skipped the gosh-awful Starfire, who premiered in 1976.)

With this arc Aaron Lopresti's art revealed itself with magic and magnificence. Panels were encased in frames made of scrolls, swords, and the magic lasso. Some pieces were shot from pencils to differentiate the atmosphere from the inked scenes. He also must have had a ball designing all those costume variants!

I'm sorry I never mention the colors or colorists, but we were getting great stuff on the book, adding to the experience. A wonderful time to be a Wondie fan!

Let's smooth things out into linear fashion, all right? Timewise, the story begins when Director Steel calls Diana Prince into his office. He wants to know how she survived the attack by Capt. Nazi, etc. She replies that she did so by training, skill and luck, and reminds Steel that it is against the law to smoke in a government building, though he does.

Steel orders her to assemble an elite team of six from a group he's chosen. Etta grabs her as soon as she's out the door, we get a reiteration that Diana is a vegetarian in this era, Diana muses that Steel is "jousting" with her, and then tells Etta that the reason she took this DMA job was to know "your" (meaning ??) society. Many WW readers would wonder why an odd place like the DMA would be WW's choice for such. (Simone is obviously trying to deal with the cards she'd been dealt from previous runs.) (Unfortunately in doing so she brings up AA instead of ignoring that travesty.)

Etta says, "Just promise me you won't go back to slinging nachos at that fast food joint." A Taco Whiz mention! Aieee! I love it. And when Diana says that the DMA's uniforms are better than Taco Whiz's, Etta says she liked the TW hat, and Diana admits, "Hats are good." Now, that's bonding!

But when they go into Diana's office they find Stalker, dressed in modern clothes as he was in the Circle arc. Etta pulls her gun: "Hands up, SCUZZBALL!" and Stalker cuts the gun in half with his sword. This is not physically possible, so it must be Undefined Magick, oh boy. When Stalker threatens Etta, Diana shoves him against the wall. She keeps his sword, which he wants back, and he tells her that he has never had a name since he was a child.

He tells her, "I want you to save this world. And still others, yet unknown to you." He tells her to use her lasso (he knows she's WW) to get the truth from him, but as soon as the lasso touches him she goes into a trance. (At this point, Stalker takes back his sword, the stinker.)

Long ago Stalker sold his soul to a demon god, Dgrth. (Sometimes spelled "D'Grth." Guess it depends on how much you cough before the "g.") His soullessness has trapped Diana within an endless void within the lasso (or something), and all Diana can focus on is the emptiness and something she calls "the Black Horizon."

Etta keeps trying to contact Diana and though Diana can sense her there, she is more concerned with the emptiness. At one point Etta says, "I got her out," for we see Etta within the lasso as well, urging Diana back to reality. But even "out," Diana lays mumbling on the couch in her office. And there we leave her, in her own office dressed up as WW, with Etta and Stalker.

SOMEHOW in some unexplained way Diana comes out of her funk, loses her powers, and winds up walking across a wintry landscape in another dimension. Stalker has a shard he calls the Soul or Stone Heart of the Rock of Eternity (there is one in every dimension, every plane of existence) that allows him to transverse dimensions, but we don't know why he's not traveling with Diana. (It may be that he's still in the office with Etta at this point and that Diana exists in two places at once, so what happened to her Earth self during this story?) We may assume it is he who tells Diana where to go in this mystic world to get her job done.

Along the way she encounters a pack of rabid wolves. It is a very touching scene as Diana uses her remaining power of being able to communicate with animals to discover that they know they're sick and that they want to die before they turn on each other. She soothes and entrances them before slitting their throats. "May yours be the last innocent blood shed today," she tells them.

Diana enters a mead hall, where the inkeeper orders her to leave, not wanting "her kind" there. It is the first of a running "trollop" joke, but in this case he probably means that she's not a follower of Grendel.

Soon Diana's target, the legendary Beowulf, appears, looking for the demon Grendel. He's got a mad on and Diana attracts his anger. As they fight, Diana realizes that the cold she felt within the lasso has settled into her heart. Now she desires to kill her enemies. As the story goes on we'll see that her heart grows even colder and she finds it increasingly hard to remember the qualities of compassion, mercy and love.

Here, though, the two fighters quickly discover that they must work together against the Grendel worshippers. The odds are 20:1, made worse as sorcery changes their attackers into demonic beings. When one cuts Diana, she goes berserk and will not leave the tavern, now engulfed in flames. Beowulf has to pull her outside. For a moment she thinks he has betrayed her, but then her reason kicks in and she wonders how she could have thought that.

They steal some horses but no one follows. Diana thanks Beowulf for preventing her from killing the demon, whom she had "merely" dismembered and would probably die from infection and bloodloss if the fire didn't get him (and everyone else) first. Diana prays to Kane Milohai to be able to complete her task before her soul is gone.

When Beowulf hears how she has changed gods, he calls her "fickle," and says "A woman who abandons her GODS might similarly be faithless to her COMPANIONS." He then says "How interesting" when she tells him that there is debate as to whether he is Christian or pagan.

When Beowulf grabs her by the arm, Diana reaches for her sword but catches sight of Cassiopeia in the sky, the constellation that she considers her own as it was prominent the night she was born. She deems it a comforting sign from Kane, and stays her hand.

Let's switch out to the major subplot of the story, shall we? Meanwhile, back at the DMA... Steel asks a lot of "Do you love your country?" questions to Tom Tresser as Steel practices at the firing range (seemingly a perfect shot). At one point, Steel points his gun at Tom. Steel says that even without his disguises, Tom is "sneaky as all hell.... I need a bastard, Tom. I need someone who would give up his own mother to serve the mission." Then he says that the nation's highest governmental agencies are being infiltrated by Amazons. Steel believes that Etta and Diana are Amazon sleeper agents, and wants Tom to watch them "before we get Amazons Attack, the SEQUEL." (ARRRRRGGGH!!! Gail mentioned THAT!) He gives Tom complete authority to complete the mission, starting with Prince.

On stakeout, Tom (discreetly dressed in full DMA uniform) sits in his car musing on how he should have turned down Steel. "'Please BITE me, Director,' I should have said." Then he spots who he thinks is Gorilla Grodd through Diana's apartment's windows and sends an immediate request for all-out backup. Tom does not think Diana is involved with Grodd, but this may be a case of "blackmail or kidnapping or WORSE. And I'm not letting you be tortured by that animal while I wait around for BACKUP." (So at this point at least Tom does not know Diana is WW. I believe this situation changes by the end of the story.)

Tom knocks down the front door. "FREEZE, YOU *&?&?% FUZZBALL!" he shouts only to discover 5 super gorillas (The Gorilla Knights) standing about with their laser spears powered up. Tom shoots one and then is able to escape from the others upstairs to try to track down Diana as he mutters a litany: "NICE monkey. GOOD monkey. Bad monkey! Bad monkey!" He winds up in the bathroom, where he finds no make-up drawer. He does find an unopened bottle of perfume. By the time the mega-super apes (with their sensistive sense of smell) get the bathroom door open (since when does it take a mega-super ape a lot of time to accomplish that?), Tom has disguised himself as a similar ape and throws the perfume at the one closest to him, the surprise of which somehow sends the whole pack tumbling down the stairs.

Tom pulls out two grenades and tosses them after them--BLAMMO--whereupon Donna Troy floats angrily in front of him as the debris settles. "Excuse me," she says directly to him, "but if it's not too much TROUBLE--could someone PLEASE tell me what the hell is going on here?"

After a mere moment's hesitation, Tom blabs his ultra-top-secret mission to Donna. She asks if he believes that Diana and Etta are "Amazon SPOOKS," and he says it's possible. "Maybe before the attacks on D.C. I wouldn't have believed it, but..." (AGAIN WITH AA!!!)

Now we get a wonderful sequence in that it shows us that Donna and Diana have had a lot of off-panel sister talk about lots of things. Donna shows Tom her bracelets and says that Bullets and Bracelets are "just the fireworks. Their MEANING is another thing ENTIRELY." Whereupon she kneels at his feet, crossing her bracelets in the Amazon way, and vows "as second child of Themyscira" that she means no harm to him and will not allow harm to come to him. (I wonder how long that vow is good for?)

"Man, what is it with you people and making me feel like a grade-A chump all the time?" Tom asks. Donna assures Tom that he will get answers, but that they're not hers to give. Then we get a great bit:

Donna says, "I know she's taken a fancy to you, Tom. I was just telling Nightwing that she DESPERATELY needs to get--"

"Wait. Wait," Tom says quickly, "we haven't DONE anything yet...!"

Donna continues, "--a boyfriend. She needs to get a boyfriend, is what I was saying."

DMA forces suddenly show up outside and Tom has to tell them it was a false alarm.

Tolifhar tells Donna, "He isn't suitable for the princess. He takes NOTHING seriously."

To which Donna replies, "He takes everything INCREDIBLY seriously. And he carries that weight ALONE." Afterward as Tom frets about his job status, Donna makes him tea. "Oh, well, that solves everything," he says. Rhanda grooms him as a way of showing acceptance, which irritates Tom.

Donna asks Tom if he loves Diana, and he tells her that that's between Diana and him. So Donna gives her approval and says, "For my sister's sake, I hold you in my heart. Be brave for the trials ahead." Then she gets in more lip-action with Tom than he's had yet with Diana (what--no nectarine pit?): she kisses him on the cheek. "And whatever you do," she adds, "DON'T upset HIPPOLYTA!" So again we get a "perilous" warning connected with this ritualistic romance.

Tom reports to Steel that he'd accidentally set off a grenade and suffered momentary shell shock. Then we see Steel alone at his computer, into which he types uncoordinated phrases about conspiracies and American traitors, lists of superhero women, "Trust no one!" and "Tom Tresser is working with them!!!" which pretty much declares openly that Dr. Psycho is gaining more control over Steel's mind.

Whew. Let's get back to the main plot now, right? Whoops, one minor point to cover: two pages of Hippolyta, who wanders the beach of Paradise, wondering if Alkyone yet lives. She refers to her as "Queensguard" and "My captain. My protector."

Then Hippy sees a gnawed wooden tiara in the sand. She had destroyed one, so this is new. When the queen demands that Alky show herself, she comes upon the remains of a megalodon or gigantor shark, who seemingly has been ripped apart from the inside. "She lives. She lives," Hippy moans. "The sun sets on Themyscira. Oh, gods... what have I created?"

NOW we get back to the main plot. Diana and Beowulf were in the wintry countryside and Diana says she's come to ask Beowulf's aid, when Stalker rides up. This mission, he says, is "for the lives of all the people of all the known worlds."

Stalker tells his tale: that when he'd been a hungry, stupid child he'd bargained away his soul to Dgrth for skills, and was then betrayed. Finally he went to an oracle in order to get his soul back. She tells him that the only way Dgrth can be killed is "on the stone altar at the end of the world," and that Stalker will need three other swordbearers to help him accomplish the job.

The Oracle is obviously Gail's homage to Barbara Gordon, aka Oracle of Gail's long-running ex-series, Birds of Prey. Oracle's partner, Black Canary, would guest in issues #34-35. This Oracle also has problems with her legs, but that's because they've been amputated. She says she was a "greedy fool" who made a poor bargain with Dgrth. It is the magics of this oracle that adapt Diana's garb and speech as she dimension-hops. She also has given Stalker the Rock of Eternity chip that, along with Diana's shell ship, lets them move from dimension to dimension.

Stalker says of Oracle, "As far as I have seen, she remains a constant. A presence like her exists on every plane." She tells Stalker that Diana would help but she'd regret ever laying eyes on him for the rest of her days.

Beowulf agrees to come. As Diana muses, "He regards his will to help the defenseless as a burden he can't avoid. I might call it by a DIFFERENT name. Nobility." And Beowulf is quite the cutey too, Di. Tom who?

Their next stop/dimension is with Claw the Unconquered, a Conan lookalike with a demon hand he keeps covered by a gauntlet. As he and Diana fight in a stream ("I've AGAIN somehow managed to offend," Diana thinks.) Diana pulls out her lasso only to find it has rejected her and won't work. Diana knocks out Claw with a right-handed punch, only to discover that hand has now transformed into a demonic form that matches his own hand.

Like Stalker, Diana now begins to experience waking dreams. She sees herself as the all-powerful, unquestioned, eternal ruler of whatever world she wants. She could take the Soul of Eternity from Stalker and force the world to become a better place. ("They will be TAUGHT to love me, those that survive.") She pictures her enemies' heads on spikes, potential love interests (Aquaman, Tom, Superman & Batman) bowing before her, and her own mother serving her at her imperial throne. Even Artemis meekly does her bidding.

But Hippolyta begs permission to speak and falls to weep at Diana's feet. She says, "I fear you will lose yourself and everything that is Diana...I warn you, through veil of dream and time... DO NOT TRUST THE RED-EYED MAN!"

Dream-Stalker appears before her and tempts her with the Heart of Eternity and the ability "to right ancient wrongs, and free captives of antiquity." She emerges from the dream and the real Stalker tells her that this is how the change begins, with waking dreams. While Beowulf tries to tell Claw why he should care enough about things to help them, Diana asks Stalker what the "Black Horizon" is. He refuses to say because if he does, "you will lack the courage to help me FACE it." He tells her that her lasso won't work because "it simply cannot FIND you in the dark."

Diana invokes her royal rights and grants the name "Elpis" ("Hope") to Stalker so that he will no longer be nameless. Despite his soulless self, he is touched. Together they find this world's Oracle, a blind, tattooed woman who hints at a future Ichor plotline by saying that the gods in a flying ship are looking for Diana. She also tells them that they're all doomed in this coming battle against Dgrth. Oddly enough, Simone has her say off-panel and not on that the group would be betrayed.

One more dimension change and they come upon the world of the Black Horizon, Stalker's world. It is a flat earth that reminds Diana of Apokolips. Without her lasso, Diana cannot test to see who the betrayer is. She does not believe Beowulf's heart would be that untrue. Claw is a possibility, as is Stalker. But worst of all, Diana wonders if the "shadow on her soul" has eaten her conscience enough that she could betray them all.

On the way to the end of the world, they encounter Grendel, Beowulf's arch-enemy, who is a servant of Dgrth. He distracts Beowulf from Dgrth, but Diana saves him. Then Stalker hurls his sword at Diana's back, but Beowulf throws himself in front of her, catching it mid-chest. It sure looks fatal, but he'll get over it quickly; you know how these mythic guys are.

Stalker has made a deal with Dgrth concerning Diana, Beowulf and Claw's souls plus the Soul of Eternity. Dgrth returns Stalker's soul to him, and he revels in the pain of the beating Diana supplies him. He loves feeling regret and guilt. He loves feeling anything after so long.

During the fight, Diana steals the Soul of Eternity, thus negating Stalker's contract with Dgrth. To make things worse, she informs Stalker that "Elpis" is a girl's name. (So is "Nemesis," Diana.) Oh no! Cooties!

Diana hurls herself at Dgrth using her gauntlet as an insulator, and together they plummet... into the reflecting pool in front of the Washington Memorial. She has the home advantage. Her powers have returned. Diana arises, her eyes glowing red. She vows that Dgrth will never see another dawn.

Diana sums up her predicament: "I have been dragged through every forsaken dimension and locality. My body has been invaded and altered to make me more fit for the grotesque duty I have been chosen to accomplish. My soul has been stolen and diminished, my affinity for my own lasso abolished because of it. And most annoyingly, every swordlackey and would-be assassin on three worlds has called me whatever the local slang is for 'strumpet.'"

Diana has to rescue a traffic helicopter caught in Dgrth's clutches. Dgrth offers Diana the world and more if she will be his vassal. Diana recalls the wolves and asks "Why should it be that they, who lived only as instinct and honor commanded, die cold, in the snow...WHILE A MURDERING SON-OF-A-JACKAL LIKE YOU LIVES ON?" She wallops him, sending him crashing to the ground, but she is grievously burned on her left arm. She uses her scarf to bind herself as Dgrth vows violent revenge on the world.

Again and again Diana uses the inspiration of the wolves to strike at Dgrth, but he catches her and burns her. She rises again and announces that her lasso has returned to her. Using it like a bullwhip, she snaps Dgrth's hand off. Then as a joyous surprise to her readers, she uses her Invisible Jet to ram straight through Dgrth's gut.

In the meantime Stalker staves off Claw's punches by presenting Oracle, now standing on cloven hooves, as his partner in intrigue, as if she's about to deliver awful violence to the remaining group. ("Let us discuss your fiery DEATHS, shall we?") But for some reason she doesn't. Huh?

Thus the next we see, Diana is dragging the head of Dgrth (who promises all kinds of rewards to her) to the Black Horizon. There Oracle waits, telling them all that there is little time for the ceremony to be accomplished or Dgrth will regenerate. "It seems you won't NEED to be martyrs after all."

Stalker will not do it. If Dgrth dies, he will lose his soul again for all eternity. Diana reminds him that the soul through which he now feels is not his; it is hers. It was a gift to her mother and to her. She is sorry, but she cannot let him have it.

Oracle reminds Stalker that what she has done, she has done for revenge. That is not true of Stalker. He has done many cold-hearted things but never has been a thief.

"This is the worst thing I've ever had to do to another human being," Diana thinks. "Murder would be a misdemeanor in comparison. Torture would be a loving embrace." The Oracle had said that Diana would regret ever laying eyes on Stalker for the rest of her days. Indeed, Diana does.

Stalker returns Diana's soul to her.

Together the four stab Dgrth at the same time, "And THAT I regret not at ALL."

Stalker and the Oracle depart after the Oracle returns Diana to normality. Diana forgave Stalker because he had led such a bleak life. She rebandages Beowulf's wounds. "You'll live," she tells him. Don't know how, what with that swords strike. Ah, comics.

He gives her his sword. "I don't meet equals very often," he says. "It is... agreeable." Oh baby, take him now, Diana! Darnit that there are no fruit pits lying around!

Grendel has disappeared. Diana takes both remaining men, worthy of being Amazons, to their respective homes.

Interesting tidbits:

That Diana is a great swordswoman and fighter even without her powers. That being without her powers still allows her to communicate with animals, hmm.

That her lasso can be used against her, as Stalker uses it to trap and immobilize her. That when Diana's personality takes such a black change the lasso can stop recognizing and working for her. This and the upcoming Genocide arc concentrates on the partnership between Diana and her lasso and how one affects the other.

That Diana is quite comfortable working in an S&S genre. (As if Sekowsky didn't show us that long ago!)

This had to be the ish in which Tom realized (again) that Diana was Wondie. I mean... anyone would after all that. It was great that Tom rushed in to Diana's aid even though he knew he should wait for backup. He's loyal. (Plus it was interesting to contrast the way "Steel" saw him through his record vs what we've seen him in the pages of WW, quite different from his previous DCU outings.)

It was good to see Tom use his powers. The Diana-Tom coupling for some reason had Tom not utilzing his power much at all. It was like she was dating Superman and he never changed out of his Clark Kent persona. I think it has something to do with whoever Diana's dating as being shown to be extremely less equal than she, because any worthy male would surely outshine a female, even if she was Wonder Woman.

Well, it's just a theory I've had for years. Maybe decades. It almost always makes me feel sorry for the guy she happens to be with. Which reminds me:

Beowulf would make a great honey for Wondie, especially if her powers were reduced to more enjoyable levels. Which reminds me again:

Wondie's powers should be reduced. Too much power is boring (and difficult to be consistent with) and see? She can function extremely well at even the lowest of levels (though she shouldn't be at the lowest of levels. She should be mid-level.)

And it was WONDERFUL to not only see Donna again, but to know that the bond she has with her sister is so close. Wish it was shown on-panel. And I'll ask again: how long does that vow she made last? Do I see a situation in the near future when Tom might have to invoke it as he stares down Diana's wrath?

What is it with all the "perilous" talk concerning the relationship anyway? When will we ever see what was meant by all this?

 

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