The Hiketeia

Cover of the Hiketeia: Wonder Woman's booted foot holds Batman's head down on the ground.Hardcover, ©2002, 90-odd pages, cover price $25.95.

Writer: Greg Rucka. Penciller: J.G. Jones. Inker: Wade von Grawbadger. Editor: Bob Schreck. Cover painter: J.G. Jones.

A riveting read full of angst and ancient Greek law that conflicts with that of the modern day. A true spotlight on Diana—so rare at DC, and almost unheard of when discussing graphic novels.

Tell you the truth? The highlight for me was the use of Diana in the Themysciran Embassy in New York. I loved it absolutely. I mean, you can't imagine how much I adored it. (Of course, the idea of Diana being the actual ambassador is kind of silly, as shown during the Phil Jimenez era, but I'll take it if it comes with the Embassy.)

But what brought this dramatic story, which should have been so absolutely GREAT (except that there was no comic relief), down to shrugging levels for me was that imho imho imho it used the wrong protagonist. The gist of the entire story is: will Diana shirk the holy vow she has made?

Diana? Shirk a vow? There's no question that she will stay true, no matter what. She is Diana of Themyscira. We've seen her history and attitude vis-à-vis duty.

Now, if it had been Donna of Themyscira, or just about anyone else—I can even see Hippolyta in the role if her nation's welfare had been at stake—the story would definitely have me on the edge of my seat asking: will she or won't she?

Also, there are a few other probs, but let's look at the story, shall we?

We begin looking back, seeing Diana after our story has taken place. She's in the NYC Themysciran embassy, and outside in the snow she sees the Erinyes, or Furies, dressed in cloaks, watching her though whatever it is we're going to witness has ended, and the Furies have "released" Diana. (Though it's not their duty to do so, as we shall see.)

We get a history lesson from ancient Greece (a culture that was not quite the same as that of the DCU Amazons, but whatever). A person—and here we see a man who is being stoned by a mob—can invoke hiketeia of a citizen. "Refusal—denial—is unthinkable," the narrative tells us, though later in the story Diana gives a precedent of one who does so, and she herself does so. But anyway, hiketeia is used to give up all worth and honor, while the one of whom hiketeia is asked assumes complete responsibilitiy for the supplicant. Their safety is now the solicited's duty. The only way out is for the supplicant to leave of their own accord. This explanation clearly tells us such. Keep that in mind as the story unfolds.

Should the solicited fail in their duty in any way, the Furies will come and tear them apart as punishment.

Skip to Gotham City, "three weeks ago." A young woman, referred to as a "kid," is attacked and winds up killing her attacker. Throwing down the knife she used, she says to the air, "I'm DONE, Melody..." But when this would-be victim gets on her motorcycle and takes off, she finds her way blocked by Batman, who declares, "That was your LAST murder." He mentions that she's killed "too many."

(This seemed rather self-defense to me, but whatever.)

The kid evades the g-d Batgod and takes off. When she crosses a bridge, Bats swings down, grabs her off her motorcycle, and then can't hold on to her. She plunges into the river and Batman scowls.

Sloppy. (And kind of murder, if you think about it. Luckily for Bats, the kid survives somehow.)

Now we come to NYC outside the Themysciran embassy, where our kid wtches Wonder Woman make her way through the crowds that wait for a sight of her. Diana sees her but does not notice her. Later that night she sees the kid camped out on the sidewalk and asks if she can be of assistance.

The kid introduces herself as Danielle Wellys from Missouri. She then begs hiketeia, using the ritual words (in English). (Note: it takes 3 pages for her to recite the lines.) As her plea is accepted and Danielle goes into the embassy, Diana notices the Furies standing across the street, watching.

Diana warms, feeds and clothes her supplicant. Danielle cannot see the Furies, though they are in plain sight to Diana. The princess gives up her room for Danielle (my first thought was: there's only one bedroom in the embassy?) and never insists on an explanation from her charge.

She goes to the Erinyes, who call her "Princess-ONCE-goddess." They demand respect of her, and set their snake hair upon her in mild attack. They inform Diana that they will be watching, ready to tear her flesh from her bones should she break her covenant. "Hiketeia is NEVER about the SUPPLICANT, Princess-once-goddess," they tell her, "but ALWAYS about the SUPPLICATED."

Now tell me, do you think there's a chance in hell that Diana will break her vow?

Diana now employs Danielle as an assistant, and Danielle quickly learns the extremely busy schedule and needed skills.

One night Batman comes calling. "You're HARBORING a FUGITIVE, Princess," he tells her, and says he's going to take Danielle back to Gotham. "She ESCAPED me TWICE... She doesn't get THREE." Did I say it before? He's sloppy. Not like the g-d Batgod at all.

Ignoring the fact that he's within a legitimate embassy and has no business taking anyone from it (why doesn't he come after Danielle when she's out and about with Diana?), Batman tries to get past Diana. He calls her an accessory to murder after the fact.

Now, in just about any other book he'd succeed. After all, he IS the g-d Batgod.

Batman sees Danielle and tells her that he knows she's murdered three men. He draws his Batarang with line attached, but Diana grabs it.

"You CAN'T go through me, Batman," she says. Like, duh! Though TPTB at DC so rarely see it that way.

With apologies, Diana socks Batman. This from an (at least) 2nd story balcony. He lands on the other side of the street.

Since when is Batman invulnerable? This should have killed him or at least severely injured him. There's no way we can say Diana pulled a punch. Batman falls within the group of Furies, whom he either doesn't see or whom he sees as old women.

As he rises (uninjured) from the pavement, Diana calls, "We will SPEAK of this again, LATER. Go away. NOW."

Diana reminds Danielle that the girl either has to release her or expect Diana to keep her vow. Danielle grabs Diana's lasso of truth and tells her her story:

Danielle's younger sister, Melody, traveled to Gotham to get into show business. Instead she found herself enslaved to evil pornographers who took all her possessions, made her pose for lewd pictures, and then drugged her to be raped in front of video cameras. Eventually she became an addict and prostitute, too weak to try to find help. When she died it was because she injected herself.

Danielle says that the Erinyes told her that Melody had to be avenged. You'd think that the Furies would thus be on Danielle's side, wouldn't you? She's obeying them; she's working their justice. Then why would they cause her problems? I don't get it. But Danielle has always been a Wonder fan, has learned ancient Greek, studied, etc. She obeyed the ancient laws.

That night the Furies come to tell Diana that Danielle has gone. (If you recall at the beginning of the story, that signalled the end of the hiketeia contract, right?) They give her a vague clue as to where Danielle has gone, and Diana flies off in chase.

By the river, Batman tracks her down as well and tells her to surrender. Though she thinks what she's done was justice, he says it wasn't for her to decide. Danielle manages to outrun Batman. Again.

Diana tackles Bats as, for some reason, the Furies gather. She says she doesn't have a choice to defend Danielle (though Danielle has broken contract), and the two actually battle hand to hand.

Diana stands with her foot on Batman's head. She says, "Dont. Get. Up."

Then we get to the memorable part of the story: Batman is down. Diana puts her foot on his head. "Don't. Get. Up." Batman surrenders: "You win." Then he recites the hiketeia plea to her. (Why? He doesn't need aid. He says it's to get her off his back, but that doesn't make much sense.)

Batman says, "All right."

Diana refuses, as he has abused the ritual. Besides, she has a right to deny him, as Achilles refused Lykaon in the Illiad.

Now Danielle can see the Furies, who stand around her and laugh. She is nearby and Diana goes after her. The Furies hinder Diana with their snakes, but Danielle is still very much in the air, diving toward the rocks of the river below her, when Diana breaks free.

Batman says, "You win."

Diana, who can fly faster than sound, who is less than a blur when traveling at full speed, cannot catch Danielle before she crashes on the rocks.

With her final words, Danielle releases Diana.

And then we are back on that snowy evening we began with, as Diana sees the Furies wander off into the darkness.

You can see where I might have a couple probs with this. Wrong protagonist. The terms of the hiketeia contract were unclear, as it was stated at the beginning of the story that if the supplicant ran off, the contract was voided. Danielle runs off. Then Diana suddenly doesn't appear to have super-speed when Danielle jumps.

And I don't get why the Furies didn't back Danielle. OR why they thought there was a chance in the world that Diana might back down. After all, as they tell us, they know how it all will end.

The stakes were too low. The conflict isn't quite there. Diana doesn't really get a Big Black Moment in her plotline.

Here we have a kid who is taking out vengeance for a grievous wrong done to her little sister. What if instead the kid were a hardened criminal with no way to justify her crimes? What if the kid were a man? A rapist?

What if Diana thought she was reforming that criminal, and took pride in how he is becoming a responsible human being—until he does something ghastly in the Embassy, something that shows that even Diana cannot improve him, something that she cannot forgive?

THAT would give us a BBM, I think, better than this premise. That would have given Diana a nightmare to face and a true conundrum. But it's all imho.

Nice atmosphere. Beautiful artwork. Great prose. And Batman gets taken down (after he's failed THREE TIMES to apprehend a simple kid). How I want to love this story!

But I do so love the embassy!

 

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