JLA: A League of One

Cover of the book, depicting Diana brandishing her lasso at the dragon.2000. Writer, artist, and cover artist: Christopher Moeller. Hardcover; 112 pages or so. Cover price is $24.95 US.

Ask a Wonder Woman fan what the best WW stories were, and nine times out of ten this book will be on their list.

Beautifully illustrated and poetically written, the book is a true homage to Wonder Woman. Or at least the WW who is the embodiment of truth and whose lasso carries with it the power of command.

The book opens Dec. 3, 1348, as the world's last dragon, Drakul Karfang Serpente Draconis, is grievously injured by a Christian army and driven deep into the earth, where it is sealed up and hopefully left to die.

Moeller gives us a frightening image of dragonkind: that they must consume gold to rebuild themselves, but that gold carries with it the stench of mankind's shortcomings and thus, the more gold consumed, the more evil the dragon becomes.

Its breath can turn peaceful gnomes into slavering slaves; its mere presence can sour the human spirit and turn friend against friend.

As long as it keeps the red crystal that is its heart safe, it can recover from anything, given enough time.

Jump to present (2000) day as the JLA meets in their lunar Watchtower. Diana has just finished setting a "terrasphere" inside Mt. Vesuvius, to give warning in case it decides to erupt, which it apparently has in the recent past. Superman arrives with an obelisk from the Pope (!) to honor their actions at that past eruption. Diana jokingly comments that the final inscription, "Pax defensor," or "Defend the peace," was stolen from the Amazons.

Meanwhile near a tiny Alpine town in Switzerland, two gnomes, Elmen and Emrick, mope that there's nothing good for them to steal and no good reason to steal it anymore. In the good old days their kind served dragons.

Now they and their people discover the hiding place of Drakul Karfang and set about to awaken it. The gnomes from as far as Germany come bearing all kinds of gold they have stolen from humans.

Diana takes a couple days of vacation on Themyscira. There we discover her friends: Althea, a green wood nymph, and blue Zoë, youngest daughter of Nereus and a magical creature of the sea.

Diana purifies herself by wrapping the magic lasso around herself to judge herself. "She's seen what unchecked power can do, even to those with the best of intentions. Her single GREATEST fear, the thing that harries her across her dreams—is that SHE will one day TURN from the path of truth, and become a DESTROYER."

The nymphs invite her to play; Zoë even turns her temporarily into a mermaid (and makes reference to the many times they did this when Diana was a girl, hearkening back to the Mer-Boy/Wonder Family era of the early Sixties), but they let slip that there's a horrible prophecy about to be made that concerns Diana.

A League of One 2000Diana hies herself to Delphi. The nymphs allow her to sink below the surface, where the true Oracle of Delphi appears. She bears a message from the Fates:

"From the depths, the DRAGON rises, burning hope and love to cinders. From the sky, the League of Justice, DOWN from Luna's face come riding. TRUMPET sounds and scabbard rings, the war to rule the world begins. This is what the Fates decree. This is what the one eye sees. Ancient serpent, broiught to bay, DIES upon a golden spear. Brave hearts riding unto death SAVE the living world from fear. In victory the heroes FALL. Dragon, SLAYING as she's slain. GOOD and evil, joined in death. Hades' gates admit the TWAIN."

Meaning: the JLA will slay the dragon but be slain in doing so.

Having gathered a small mountain of gold, the gnomes awaken the dragon. In rising, it eats some of them, and its breath turns the others into drakunomes, monstrous slaves. Emrick is transformed, but Elmen runs fast and escapes.

At a JLA meeting, Diana concentrates more on what she needs to do than on her JLA duty. Members have missions assigned; Batman notices WW's inattention. In what is probably the wildest stretch of credulity in the entire dragon-breathing book, Batman finds a thread of wool left in her chair. Through this he manages to come up with Diana's trip to Delphi and a dragon threat. (::shakes head::) (there'll be more of this; after all, he's the g-d Batgod)

Diana's plan is to become the only JLA member to face the dragon, who has begun terrorizing Switzerland. Diana uses the JLA teleporter to send J'Onn J'Onzz into the (convenient) Vesuvius terrasphere, where he's surrounded (but not harmed by) his one weakness of fire.

Diana tricks GL Kyle Raynor into standing close, while she steals his ring from his finger (shouldn't the ring have some kind of failsafe to keep people from doing that?) and then gives him a head-butt that leaves the imprint of her tiara star on his mask.

She helps Aquaman in his mission by hefting a stranded tanker and tossing it off the rocks it had grounded upon. Then she picks up Aquaman and tosses him into the whirlpool of Charybdis.

She gets her wood nymph friend to trip Flash as he runs trough the Amazon forest, then kicks him to render him unconscious. At this stop after Diana leaves, Flash's mission-mate, Batman, apprehends Althea with a little (convenient) Agent Orange and forces her to tell him what is going on. He then confronts Diana on the moon, goading her to mindlessly attack him, though she doesn't take the bait. It takes nine full pages (and a whack on the head with a piece of the obelisk) for Diana—Wonder Woman—to fell Batman.

Through all these attacks, Diana purposefully lies to cover up her scheme.

Each of these men (except J'Onn) she places in escape space capsules that she aims for the asteroid belt, with only 12 hours of oxygen supply. She berates herself for betraying her friends, and she mourns the fact that soon she'll be dead.

When Superman returns from his own JLA mission, Diana summons him to Australia's Gibson Desert, where she proceeds to knock him about (and be knocked back) for 4 pages before she tells him what she's done to the others. She knew she could not defeat him, but could distract him. He cannot help her with the dragon if he wants to save their teammates. Reluctantly, Superman takes off.

While all this has been happening, the dragon has been wreaking havoc on Switzerland: incinerating cities, devouring herds of cattle, causing humans to go mad with violence, making deals with them for safety only to have those deals revealed as lies as the dragon massacres them instead.

Some fans say this is why they don't like the story. The dragon's rampage does go on for some time without anyone stepping up to answer it. But imho Diana does what she has to do to prevent worse from taking place. We have been told that, left unchecked, this dragon will destroy the entire world.

The dragon tries to incinerate Diana.Diana faces the dragon, tells it of the prophecy, and the dragon twists her words, making her doubt herself. Elmen catches up to Diana and the nymphs, and informs her of how dragons operate. Diana tricks the dragon into returning to its heart. It tries to incinerate her. The dragon does not succeed because of her (almost) perfect soul.

Because she believes in truth and compassion, she offers her own deal so that she does not have to destroy the beast. "Give me your HEART. I will HOLD it in pledge of your good behavior."

The dragon agrees in order to gain time to swat Diana away while it flees with its heart. Diana throws her lasso at it as it breathes on her. The lasso burns the dragon, but the breath poisons Diana.

There is nothing left but her warrior's heart, which tends to its mission. Even as she dies, she smashes the dragon's heart, which shatters the dragon and sends what's left of Diana plunging into the ocean.

Dead.

Superman grabs her and performs CPR until she starts to breathe again. By now the JLA has assembled to watch as she recovers. Superman walks away from Diana, and Batman goads her to follow.

It's quite a touching scene. Superman says she broke faith with him, a friend, and deceived them all without remorse. He says that if he had been in her place, he would have died at her side. But he finally admits that perhaps she was right to do what she did.

"But you broke my heart, Diana. NEVER Force such a choice upon me again. PROMISE me!" he says.

"The League is my FAMILY, Superman. I'll do what I MUST to protect it," she replies. With a kiss on his cheek, she tells him that that's the best promise she can give him.

We get 5 pages of Moeller's sketchbook and notes for the book.

This is a powerful story, showing Diana to best effect. We get science, but we also get different kinds of magic at work as well. Batman's part goes on far too long (but it's amusing at the end when he goads the two friends into making up).

I don't get into Diana being all truth. This ties into little girls being told that they have to tell the truth at all times (therefore they can be more easily controlled), while adults chuckle over the lies little boys tell. To have this incorporated into a feminist symbol like Diana always irritates me. But it's needed in this story.

I'm also not keen on Diana being all perfection. I think she's willfully heading toward perfection, but has quite a ways to go and is still very much in the human category, albeit the one that holds to high ethical standards.

Also, the story has great moments of light comedy. The nymphs and gnomes are playful, and Diana is more than willing to join in with the nymphs' play.

Minutiae: It's interesting that the lasso gets its command abilities back for this story, and that Diana is running around with a Silver Age style tiara and a Lynda Carter cut of her briefs.

Is the story in continuity or out? ::shrug:: Just enjoy it.

 

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