Operation: Cheetah

Wonder Woman Special #1, 1992: Part 1: William Messner-Loebs—writer; Jill Thompson—penciller; Jay Geldhof—inker; Thompson & Ordway—cover; Dan Thorsland—editor

Issue #63, June '92: Part 2: William Messner-Loebs—plot; Tom Peyer—script; Jill thompson—penciller; Romeo Tanghal—inker; Bolland—cover; Dan Thorsland—editor


the cover to issue #63: Diana holding her lasso and saying, "Miss me?" as a starburst shrieks, "She's back!"A new creative team brings with it a new era. Brian Bolland begins his spectacular run of covers. And William Messner-Loebs eases into shaping just who Diana is under his pen.

The story begins with a hunt for the Cheetah in deep, snowy mountain woods. Cheetah is confident she can escape her pursuers, since she'll hear them coming, but a small army descends upon her, cloaked in absolute silence, and captures her. Terrified, she is dragged before (not yet on panel) "the man with horns," as he is consistently referred to, even though our artist never once depicts him with horns during the course of the story. (Instead, they are pointed ears.)

Back in Boston, Diana rescues Nessie's new kitty, Archimedes, from a tree before Detective Ed Indelicato's entrance into the Kapetelis home. Out of earshot, Julia refers to him as "Inspector Clouseau." He's come to report that the Cheetah has been captured, but when he mentions which country holds her, Pan Balgravia, Julia is startled.

(Note: with this second scene, WML starts an irritating habit, that of introducing a new scenario without introducing who's who. If you hadn't been reading WW for a while, you'd have no idea who Julia and Nessie Kapatelis were. You'd think an editor would have insisted on clarifying characters both for new readers and for the old ones who, during the course of the run, could never rely on various artists to depict the same characters in the same, recognizable way.)

Indelicato gives us a quick history of Pan Belgravia: a former Soviet-style republic now run by a government that is rumored to be anti-semitic, utilize torture, and worship the devil. Julia and Nessie figure that Cheetah deserves her new circumstances, but Diana starts to pack. Our omniscient narrator explains: "They won't understand... BARBARA MINERVA is a woman. A SISTER to her. Whether she is a GOOD SISTER or an EVIL SISTER is... insignificant."

As we shall see, Diana is now quite powered down (to INTERESTING levels!!!) from what she once was—no explanation given—but WML gives her a kind of meditative power that she gets to use again and again during this run. Now she puts herself into an almost dreamlike state to travel deep under the ocean and confront Proteus, "son of Oceanus and Antibe, and god of 300 changes!"

Proteus greets DianaProteus looks like a giant Popeye who has eaten too much spinach and turned green. Diana flatters him to avoid being turned into a centipede, and he gives her a powerful mantra. "As long as she can RECALL it, hold it in a mortal brain not meant for such words, she will have the power!"

She uses this new power of disguise to come up with a new identity, "Diane Prince," complete with passport and "a persona that no amount of DIGGING can CRACK!" Pretty cool. (Who needs Batman to provide fake ID?) Ed doesn't like the idea of Diana going into such danger, and Julia is left with instructions that, if Diana isn't back in two weeks, she is to contact Hippolyta to tell her to find Diana's bones.

DeathstrokeIn search of an ally who knows the region and whom she won't have to protect, Diana finds Deathstroke [the Terminator], aka Slade Wilson, whom I always mix up with Punisher, since they're the same violent character, just operating within two different companies. In this story you can always count on Wilson having just discharged a gun fatally into not just one, but usually many people. Diana doesn't seem to question discovering him amidst what looks to be a massacre. When Wilson learns where the action is, he agrees to join her.

We never know why Pan Balgravia means so much to Wilson. It may be part of his history away from WW, but I don't keep up with him and wouldn't know. In this story he mentions that before the current president of Pan Balgravia was in that position, he knew him and didn't approve of him.

"Diane Prince," modeled with enthusiasm after Myndi Mayer, takes her seat on a plane ("Take good care of [my] coat. It's a genuine FAUX!" she tells the attendant.) only to find Ed Indelicato there to help her. He recognizes Wilson in civvies, and neither likes the other. Wilson refers to Indelicato as "Bobo the Cop," while the courtesy is reciprocated by Ed calling him a "slick, psycho hit man!" Diana/Diane informs Ed that he will play the part of her chauffeur when they arrive.

Meanwhile, deep in the dungeons of Pan Balgravian President von Nastraed's fortress, the president supervises the torture of Cheetah by a hulking human flunky named Drax. They wonder at what she's been able to withstand, and while Cheetah has no idea how long she's been held, she is astonished that she's already given up knowledge of her magic dagger, which was one of the things they were after with her. They find she is too weak to hold up to a mystic ceremony they had in store for her, so Drax is left to torture her as he will, just for fun. The Cheetah presence leaves Barbara Minerva's body ("My dear Drax. I'm afraid you BROKE her!") because she is too exhausted to hold it. The men leave her naked in a cage.

Diana and Wilson suit up to sneak into the fortress. Diana dispatches guards utilizing pressure points that render them unconscious, while Wilson stabs them to death. "This is not the time to argue with him. But she promises herself the time will come." Their progress seems to make things appear to be a trap, and sure enough, they are soon confronted with a mob of guards. Diana holds them off, sending Wilson back with a captive (whom she insists be kept alive for questioning). Wilson in turn gives Ed a mysterious package to deliver to a specific location in town.

Diana objects when she comes back to find Wilson has hung their captive over the side of a building in order to question him. Diana saves the man.

"I'd like to keep the illustion that there is a SHADE of moral difference between us and those we fight," she informs Wilson. Then she uses her lasso (which Wilson had forgotten about!) to get the information they need.

The president, who is now and through the end of the story referred to as "the Baron," often brings "special guests" to a hidden palace deep in the moutains of the country. There, bloody mystical ceremonies take place, and there is where the Cheetah has been taken.

The prisoner shouts out that "He's come for me! The JOYFUL one! The man with HORNS!" and his head explodes in green gore.

Ed arrives in time to break up a verbal fight between Wilson and Diana: "The last thing I need is your GLOATING... RATIONALIZING your stupid BRUTALITY."

"Some of us don't HAVE a magic rope!"

"Do you have even a BIT of human FEELING?"

"I can't AFFORD any! I have a JOB to do! Preen over your SUPERIOR MORALITY on your own time!"

Ed tells Wilson, "Wearing a mask doesn't make you any less a CHEAP gun thug!" But Diana gathers herself and reminds them that they... have to go to dinner.

At a fancy restaurant, Diana has the waiter give the baron a bottle of the place's best champagne. After "Diane" giggles at and teases the baron, he invites her to a soiree he's having the next night. The baron has put the rather obvious two and two together, though all mystic means of finding out if "Diane Prince" is "unusual" have turned up nothing. Proteus' spell holds.

On their way to the party, Wilson has Ed stop the car. He gets out and announces that he's going in from a different way, no arguments. Diana counters that she's not about to let him mess up her rescue of Cheetah. She wraps Wilson in her lasso to let him see the truth of what he is.

"Sorry, Princess. I'm immune. I know EXACTLY what I am." And then he slugs her. Diana is furious; Wilson is enraged. He may be able to utilize all parts of his brain to function as a fighting machine (do they still use this excuse, when science has disproved the ol' "we only use 10% of our brains" thing?) and has been physically enhanced.

But he's no Wonder Woman.

a fight sequence between Diana and Wilson. She eventually defeats him by kicking him where it hurts.

She notes his weaknesses and eventually takes the easy route by kneeing him in the, uh, nether regions. "I think I snapped a couple of his ribs. I didn't mean to," she admits to Ed as she tosses Wilson into the car trunk. Then she strips to her WW outfit and takes off to the palace.

There, amid gunfire and massacre of guests, the baron (now referred to for some reason as "Daemonstro") and Drax await "the bride," WW. She arrives, knowing again that it is all a trap. Sound disappears, and a team of "mystically strong" men attack and subdue Diana. Drax reveals himself to be a demon, in partnership with the baron.

Meanwhile, Wilson's package has produced a resistance team of locals who show up and free him, apparently none the worse for wear. Ed accompanies them in scaling the mountain to the palace, until Wilson decides he's not up to it and tells him to stay put. Ed fumes but stays.

Meanwhile, an apparently concussed (an illusion) Diana is put into the cage next to Barbara. Drax warns the baron that she'd better be strong enough for the coming marriage ceremony, for the Baron has bargained for a lot of Drax's power in the bargain. The males leave, and Diana breaks her bonds. The bars of her cage or "fortified by a terrible magic" but she manages to pull them apart.

Diana pries the bars of her prison open.Turns out Drax needs a powerful human host for his mate. Barbara explains as Diana DOESN'T free her.

The cerermony begins with Diana back in her prison. Cheetah's dagger, which previously had been taken from her, is used to draw the mystic symbols involved. Drax drags Diana to the site.

But Wilson is there and he blows a bazooka-sized hole into Drax's guts. Drax isn't impressed. The baron throws Cheetah's knife at Wilson, and it embeds into his shoulder, pinning him. "Feels like agony... of a lost soul," Wilson thinks of the blade.

A window to a demon dimension opens, revealing the tentacled demon who is Drax's mate, Barremargox. (She refers to him as her "mate-servant.") As tentacles wrap around Diana, the demon screams that this woman has no power. Barremargox retreats and the window begins to close. "Diana" is revealed to be Minerva as the real Diana leaps from the shadows to lasso Drax.

As the Resistence team starts setting explosions around the palace, Wilson pulls the knife from his shoulder. It lands, amid a spray of blood, next to Barbara, who lies helpless on the ground. Diana and Drax battle with Drax offering to marry her instead of Barremargox. "No woman in my plane would put up a better fight!" he drools at her.

A few levels above them, Ed has cornered the baron. Wilson instead flings the knife at the Baron, who dissolves into laughing mystic energy. "Nice STRATEGY, Schwartzkopf!" Ed berates Wilson.

But Barretc. still hovers near her window into this dimension. She senses the power that is Wonder Woman, and reminds Drax that he still belongs to her.

Cheetax manages to lick Wilson's blood. The power of it transforms her into Cheetah, "my TRUE SELF!"

Barretc. tells Drax to stop her, for if she crosses over to her dimension, she will lose the gateway. Diana calls Barbara back, but the Cheetah says, "I have spent a LIFETIME seeking ADVENTURE, Diana, and this will be the greatest adventure of ALL!" With that she flings herself into the window, which releases a great blast of energy. Drax is turned into a smoking skeletal mass, a "cold, empty husk."

Praying for Cheetah's soul, Diana mutters that she could have saved the both of them; there was no need for sacrifice.

Ed appears to urge Diana out. Back at their hotel, Ed muses that this was probably the only decent decision the Cheetah has ever made. As he dresses Diana's wounds, he also brings us up to date in that Wilson and the resistance have "cleaned house" after the baron's disappearance, and the two listen to the cheering, freed populace on the streets below.

Of note: WML has Diana give quick morals along the way: "Women are NOT 'meat'" and such. He also brings myth into the book with Proteus, coupled with regular comic book magic like the demons. He also has Diana kick Deathstroke in the balls, something that should be done often. That Diana would go after Cheetah because she considers her, like all women, her sister, will be a telling characteristic of this era. I wonder: if Cheetah were the male version, would Diana have tried a rescue? Hm.

No lettercol, but we do have a fake news story updating the reader about who Wondie is and where she is now, written by Anne Molinas.

 

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