The Once and Future Story

graphic novel, 1998

Trina Robbins—writer; Colleen Doran—penciller; Jackson Guice—inker; Doran & Guice—cover; Paul Kupperberg—editor

Once and Future StoryThis book has two stories: one a framing device with Wonder Woman in the present, and one being read off some stone tablets. Some VERY detailed stone tablets. It’s not the abbreviated kind of stuff one usually reads off stone tablets (“King Whatzis made war on Country X and took many slaves!”), but more like something that was written on some kind of parchment. Imagine, having to carve all this on stone! And only four stone tablets at that!

So how are we going to do this? Let’s present the stories separately and begin with the framing story.

On a farm outside Slago, Ireland, a brown-haired Julia Kapetelis, Drs. James and Moira Kennealy and some others await the arrival of an expert in Ancient Greek. In a cavern they’ve found stone tablets engraved with said Ancient Greek, alongside a skeleton. While investigating, the stone ceiling falls and traps people inside.

Luckily for them, Wonder Woman has arrived in her Invisible Jet and lifts the huge stone with one hand and no sweat.

Of course no one except Julia recognizes her by the name “Wonder Woman.” The farmer in residence says she’s “that WARRIOR Princess! I seen her on the TELLY!” James Kennealy apparently has zero knowledge of her and refers to her as “a CIRCUS STRONG WOMAN.”

Yes, it’s going to be that kind of story.

Anyway, Julia thinks the tablets show that an outpost of Themyscira once existed on the site. The well-preserved skeleton lying in the middle of the cave is dressed in a red tunic, star-spangled skirt, tiara and bracelets. Next to her is a bow “of ANCIENT GREEK design,” like the ones used by Themyscirans.

Diana carries the four stone tablets into a rough camp set up on the farmland (what, they couldn’t go into the nearby town?) and translates the story to everyone, tablet by tablet.

They get to the end of the first tablet and the farmer exclaims, “Wow! Olympic games, CENTURIES before the ones in ATHENS!” Being “just” a farmer, he doesn’t realize that no one has said thing one about Olympic games, and that the ancient Olympics weren’t held in Athens.

Julia and Diana leave for a hotel after only one tablet has been translated. They discuss the abrasive James and how badly he nags his wife and complains generally. Moira has a black eye that she claims to have gotten from running into a door the previous night.

In her room, Diana hears the Kennealys argue and that Moira has been hit. She bursts through the door to break it up, but Moira tells her to leave James alone, that it’s her fault. Julia knows the situation—they all know—but there’s nothing they can do without Moira asking for help.

The next day, after reading the second tablet, Diana breaks down in tears to hear of the trials of the women in the story. James gets upset because (is an explanatory word balloon missing?) he doesn’t believe the story actually happened.

The Kennealy’s daughter, a fan of WW, arrives from Dublin with her boyfriend. She ignores her father, mentions that he used to beat her because his father beat him as well, and tries to convince her mother to leave her father. Moira says that real abused women are uneducated, and thus she can’t be one. Her daughter corrects her.

At the end of the third tablet, the apparently Luddite doctors deem that it’s too dark to read any more. (Imagine! Diana must have been reading the entire day off the one stone tablet!) A female assistant gushes about the magnificence of Artemis. James invites two male assistants to the local pub. They hesitate but agree.

After a while, Moira becomes worried that James hasn’t come back. Though her daughter warns her, “You KNOW how he gets when he drinks,” she goes off to find him. Julia later receives a phone call reporting trouble at the pub, and Diana takes off.

The authorities (who readily recognize Wondie) are holding off because of a hostage situation. James has shot Moira. (Real-world note: Police will move in if a hostage taker shoots a gun.) “Din’ MEAN to hurt you, Sweetheart.” Now he puts the gun to his head, saying he doesn’t deserve to live.

Diana knocks the gun away and the bullet bounces off her bracelet. “I will not let you take the coward’s way out!” She flies Moira to the hospital and then reads the fourth tablet while everyone waits for word.

The younger Kennealy reports information from a women’s shelter. Then they find out that her mother is awake. Moira is now ready to go to a battered woman’s support group with her, and both thank Diana for her help.

Of Artemis and her people, Diana says before she flies away, “DESPITE some incredible similarities, the Ephesians were a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT tribe from the Themyscirans.”

How ironic! Choke! (If this were a Silver Age Superman story, someone would be saying just that at this point.)

The inside back cover contains information on domestic violence.

Official seal that tells us this story is not in continuity!The story on the 3000-year-old tablets:

Tablet I. The Amazon city of Ephesus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ephesus) has just been conquered by the Greek King (here just referred to as general) Theseus, who takes away their queen, Alcippe. Theseus doesn’t leave a force or governors behind; the city operates as it always had, but with a few more ruined statues lying about and a population that’s been a bit reduced.

The regent is now Alcippe’s sister, Oreithia, who counsels her niece, the 16-year-old Diana lookalike Artemis (no relation to the Bana or the goddess, but check this out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_of_Artemis . How cute.) to calm down.

The women of the city vote to hold a contest to send a champion to locate Alcippe in Athens. The champion will then signal the army and they’ll rescue her.

Do I really have to tell you? Artemis disguises herself, wins the contest, and is crowned champion. Literally. She gets a “champion’s crown,” which is a tiara, just one messenger pigeon, and a “battle tunic” with a blue, star-spangled skirt and red top. The stars represent the constellations of their goddess Cybele and other gods, and the red is for the blood spilled in the recent war.

Tablet II. Artemis strides into Athens and no one questions her. She joins some slaves from Erin/Ireland who have just been bought by Theseus. One of these is Etain, a not-too-subtle version of the Golden Age Etta Candy, enthusiastic (apparently she loves being a slave!) and constantly eating.

Artemis finds her mother cowed and bruised from beatings. She says that she tried to escape but was caught and almost killed by Theseus.

Theseus’ other wife, Phaedra, finds Artemis and assumes she’s a slave. Then what else? The jealous woman dresses her up like a slut and sends her to serve Theseus. Rebuffed, Theseus beats her and assumes she is dead.

Tablet III. Artemis dreams of Cybele taking care of her, when it is really the Irish slaves who hide and nurse her to health. They ask her to join them when she is well to slay Theseus and escape. They need a ship. They explain that their chief goddess is the Morrigan, who takes the shape of a raven. They also explain that the goddess is known by many names.

Slowly “crazy girl” Artemis heals and is able to regain her battle prowess. The Irish slaves hold a moonlit ceremony in which they spill Artemis’ blood and vow her to Morrigan. A raven appears, and one of the slaves channels the Morrigan, who calls Artemis “daughter.”

Though captured as slaves, the women have hidden a priceless gift their tribe had received from the Morrigan, a set of bracelets that “are the ONLY SHIELD you will need. WEAR them, and you will be endowed with the SWIFTNESS to DEFLECT Greek swords, spears and arrows… the swiftness of a raven’s wings.”

As Alcippe languishes, believing her daughter dead, Artemis sews herself another battle tunic, this one with a black raven emblazoned across the breast. (Note: the Irish say “NEEDLEWORK? That’s for ATHENIAN WIVES, not warriors.” Apparently they’ve never had to repair their clothing after battle, or provide garments for themselves or others. Why the dissing of traditional women's work? It is not valuable?)

Now (finally) Artemis looses her pigeon.

Artemis in her fighting tunic, a near replica of Wonder Woman's outfit. How ironic!Tablet IV. A ship from Ephesus arrives, full of Amazon warriors. The two combined forces strike the surprised Greeks and free Alcippe. Artemis is distracted by the death of one of her Irish friends, but a would-be fatal sword stroke from Theseus is halted when Alcippe clobbers him with a vase.

Alcippe prevents Artemis from killing Theseus because—get this—Alcippe is pregnant with his baby. So? What, she needs him alive for child support?

All the women sail away (supposedly sparing Theseus’ life for safe passage out of Greece, and also in exchange for their not remaining to be evidence of his defeat). From there, the Irish and Morrigan-pledged Artemis returned to Erin.

In continuity or out? I think the pure “oh my, it’s just like Diana!”-ishness of it would immediately point it to Out of Continuity-dom, but this story also contradicts/mirrors the history of the Banas. The Banas’ history also contains Theseus, Phaedra, an Amazon queen, and the son of said queen and Theseus.

While I think the Banas got a LOT of things wrong since their story was passed by word of mouth through 3000 years, I think it’s probably a lot more accurate than this story. And it doesn’t involve Diana clones.

Official seal that tells us this story is not in continuity!So I, with the Ultimate Power of My Website, proclaim this: out of continuity. Really, it’s just too goofy to consider a true part of the mythos.

If we must refer to it again (must we?) we can write it off as some kind of magical joke from someone who knows of Diana, the Bana, and their history. Perhaps the Keneally’s daughter even faked everything somehow to make a point to her mother.

Or not.

Other than that: I dislike being preached to, particularly when the sermon comes with a hard club to the head. I’ve also learned to sneer at all those Silver Age “tales of old Krypton” stories in which the lead character is an identical twin to Superman (how ironic! Choke!) and winds up wearing a near-identical suit.

I also despise the old “men are evil; women are good” theme that unfortunately pops up its head far too often in the WW mythos.

This story contains all of those things. There’s only five decent (very minor) males in the entire book. All women except one (and she’s on the fence) are good.

I’m a fan of Colleen Doran’s artwork, and I usually like Jackson Guice’s inks. On this book, however, something went wrong. The final art is fairly awful, and I'm afraid my finger will point in Guice's direction until someone tells me differently.

Since this issue is out of continuity, I'm not going to cross-reference this in the character indexes.

 

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