Poison, Claws and Death

Issue #94, Feb. '95: William Messner-Loebs—writer; Mike Deodato, Jr.—artist (special thanks to Mozart Couto for art assistance); Paul Kupperberg—editor. "Poison, Claws and Death, part 1."

Issue #95, Mar. '95: William Messner-Loebs—writer; Mike Deodato, Jr.—artist; Paul Kupperberg—editor. "Poison, Claws and Death, part 2."

Issue #96, Apr. '95: William Messner-Loebs—writer; Mike Deodato, Jr.—artist; Kupperberg—editor. "Joker's Holiday."

Issue #97, May '95: William Messner-Loebs—writer; Mike Deodato, Jr.—artist (art assist by Mozart Couto); Paul Kupperberg—editor. Untitled.

cover to issue #95: Cheetah, Poison Ivy and Cheshire are pouncing on Dianacover to issue #97: Diana  with green hair, white face, and a red-lipped Joker grin

Away from Paradise Island, the art veers ever so slightly away from pure T&A. Thank goodness!

A NYC bank CEO reads his morning paper, which headlines Artemis' debut there, that "NYC is her kind of town," and "Is Diana Washed Up?" Me, I want to know where the editors of that paper are that they'd allow such differing capitalization rules (and too many fonts!) in their paper.

Anyway, said CEO tells his lover about how the women at his office talk incessantly about Artemis and how heroic she is. Then he mentions that other WW, who "was something of a loser anyway..."

Unfortunately for him, his lover is Poison Ivy, who has just received an offer too good to refuse from one of the Boston crime families. With a final, poisonous kiss, she leaves her benefactor and his estate (while she expects to receive insurance) to go to Boston.

In jail in Florida, a bribed guard passes Jade, aka Cheshire, enough minor tools that the villainness can break out. The tools come with a check for half her usual fee, signed by J. Sazia.

In Rhode Island, Mrs. Sazia meets with Dr. Brewster, late of STAR Labs, who has studied the multiversial sub-dimensions. A gun in the ribs gives the final persuasion for Dr. Brewster to open a gateway to one, and a mysterious figure whom we'll soon identify as Cheetah, stands there, freed from her dimensional prison.

Meanwhile, Diana is carrying out her new duties. A woman is being stalked, and Diana grabs the stalker. She flies him high into the air and then drops him, lecturing him all the way. After a few more falls, she determines that her lesson might be getting through, so she flies him (very fast!) to Wyoming, where he has a job and therapist waiting. "If you try to return to Boston, or bother Janie, or refuse therapy, I will hear about it... and I will be angry."

Diana returns to her and Micah's new offices, which are located on Hillcrest Road, third floor of a brick building. All her friends are helping set up the place, but Micah is nostalgic for his booth at the back of his old bar.

Donna M. hands Diana some of the commissions that are pouring in: offers to put on strip shows with her starring, contracts for killing rotten spouses, dog recovery, and requests for her used underwear. Paulie Longo interrupts. He says he's not carrying a grudge for Diana's breaking his legs. Sazia's trying to have him killed, and he wants to hire Diana for protection.

Diana asks what happened to the White Magician, but Longo says he's not dependable (he's deserted him) and there are too many new, foreign guns in the city now. Still, he's proud of the protection he's got—

But Cheshire suddenly appears and takes out his bodyguards with ease. Diana saves Etta from Cheshire's poisoned talons, and then it's on between the two of them, culminating in Bullets & Bracelets. A poisoned gas fills the room, and Poison Ivy stands before Diana. In the onslaught, Diana falls. "She's got enough poision in her to kill a sequoia!" Ivy gloats.

But Diana grabs Ivy and crashes out the window. Longo stands on the ledge outside, urging Diana to kill her. When Cheshire is about to kill Longo, Diana throws Ivy at her and both villains drop to the ground.

Diana accepts Longo's check.

She leaps to the ground to find Ivy and Cheshire have gone. She's weak and dizzy from the poison, but tells a cloaked figure to leave the area for their own safety. The figures uncloaks and is revealed as: Cheetah!

Letters: Robert J. Tolleson, Travis MacKinnon, Andrew Capraro, Joanna Sandsmark.

Diana wakes, bound by ropes and surrounded by the three villains in Sazia's house. They are joined by the widow. Sazia wants to know where Longo is hiding, but before Cheetah can narrow her guess, they are distracted by the TV and a report about Artemis. At a women's shelter, Artie berates a mother for not defending herself from an abusive husband. The mother replies that he would have killed her and let her children starve.

"Good!" Artie says. "Better they starve than have a mother who is a parasite and a coward!"

Artie's male handlers advise her to lay off such talk, but they are interrupted by one of those behemoth guys, this one wrapped in big chains and calling himself "The Chauvinist." He's come with a group of men who want to "reclaim their wives, their property!" Artemis takes offense at this but has a hard time hitting him because (is this the only time this claim appears?) she hit with her left fist, and it is her right arm that wears the (singular) Gauntlet of Atlas. She switches fists and after three full pages of nothing but fisticuffs, defeats him.

One of the men of the mob objects, pulls out a gun, and shoots at Artemis, but the aforementioned mother throws herself in the line of fire, saving the new Wonder Woman. "Didn't want... you t'think... I was a... coward..." she groans as she dies.

Elsewhere in a field under a full moon, Paulie Longo begs for the White Magician to appear and help him. Longo isn't prepared to fight magic and super-villains who are out to kill him. "You promised t'help me!" he cries.

The Magician appears. "And I always keep my word... It makes me such an interesting villain."

Back at Sazia's, Diana is slightly poisoned, though not nearly as poisoned as Ivy thinks she is. Sazia has had one of her men weld Diana's bracelets together. (A neat trick. How does one weld such impervious metal? I've always wondered.) Sazia notes, "It's well known that if a male binds an Amazon, she loses her powers."

Ah, WML is having a great joke with the readers! For as Diana notes, "Don't believe everything you read," she breaks her bonds and starts takin' names. She manages to get out of the house, but then for some reason grabs Cheshire and lifts her high into the air. Why? Cheshire gets her to say that what Diana wants is not Longo's money, but a city that isn't ruled by terror. "I want to live in a place where people treat each other decently!" Cheshire laughs derisively at her.

Meanwhile, a giant stone golem appears on the grounds. Ivy throws some seeds on it, which grow at super-speed and crack it open. (Oh really; is Poison Ivy a cousin to Chlorophyll Kid? Since when?) Now Cheetah disappears.

Diana and Cheshire land (from doing what?) to discover an army of giant stone golems walking toward the Sazia compound. Diana quite stupidly turns her back on Cheshire, who lunges at her with a dagger, but is kayoed by Cheetah, who rightly chastises Diana.

Diana saved Cheetah's life back in issue #62. She wants to balance the scales between them. She didn't use the poison Ivy had given her, but had wanted to kill Longo to collect the million-dollar reward for him. They both wonder where Ivy's gone.

She's approached the heavily-armed mutant super-villain mob who wait at Sazia's gate, to take care of whatever the golems leave behind. Luckily for Ivy, the mob is male and straight, and she goes on a kissing spree while wearing her poison lipstick.

On the final page, Sazia instructs her driver to bring her car around, but instead of her driver, she turns to find the Joker. "Leaving so soon? But the party's just beginning!"

Letters: Kate Payne, Joanna Sandsmark, Geoff Todebush, Dominic Sheehan.

Joker has been attracted to Boston because of "the smell of blood" and offers his help to Sazia. Meanwhile, Diana and Cheetah defeat the golem army. For some reason Cheshire is "out of commission," and Ivy's long gone, having left a pile of dead bodies in her wake. Sazia escapes her compound, with Joker acting as her chauffeur.

Meanwhile, the White Magician meets with Longo. Longo complains that the Magician's monsters aren't as powerful as they used to be. The Magician responds, "You wouldn't want me stronger than I am, Paulie. A theurgist who allies himself too closely with the forces he seeks to control, loses his humanity." All that will remain is naked power.

Longo calls Cassie Arnold, the Magician's lover, a "bimbo" and "choice meat" to her face, expecting her to be pleased. She hears the Magician say that he merely requires her, but retorts that she and he have "a partnership based on mutual respect and trust." Right, hon.

Now Boston becomes the scene of new massacres. The police, including Isabelle Modini and Insp. Indelicato, discover a group of Longo's goons dead with Joker grins, and Diana saves Ed from one device. Together Ed and Diana watch a little girl's portable TV report Artemis breaking up a sweatshop by plowing through (5 1/2 pages!) a huge, hulking guy called "the Exploiter." (We'll see him later as well.) Note that Artie causes his gun to blow up in his hand and breaks his shoulder. As Artemis stands triumphant, the little girl turns to Diana and says, "I bet you wish you were the real Wonder Woman, huh?"

Diana spots the monstrous Geoff wandering around sans Moot. When she tosses him through a building, she comes upon Sazia. "We should talk," she says. Sazia assures her that she and Joker are willing partners, though Sazia is chained to her desk. Then Joker comes forward. His only response to Diana is to start counting down. As he nears "two," he opens his coat to reveal a vest made of explosives.

Letters: Gordon Sherman, Delmo (the Saint) Walters, Jr., Olav Beemer, Joey Marchese, Gloria D. Pitts, Chris Nawara.

Joker's vest merely squirts paralyzing liquid at Diana, who is caught, open-mouthed. Across town, Longo faces a crowd of mercenaries he has hired to take care of Sazia. Instead they all develop Joker grins and die. The White Magician concludes that Joker is playing with Longo.

In a South American rain forest, Artemis and some sort of official who's sent for her discover the remains of a massacre between forest poachers and the army that was supposed to have taken care of them. Artemis admits that all this is too complex an issue for one person to solve, but is interrupted when a new uber-guy, "Involute the Conqueror," kills the official and then comes after her. As they battle, Artemis praises Gaea, who owns people and not the other way around (?). She has been practicing with the lasso (at last! Someone who doesn't pick up the lasso and instantly use it like an expert! Hello, Cassie Sandsmark?), but when she lassos Involute with it, its power makes him realize that though he used to be a good person, he's done terrible things. He commits suicide by shooting himself.

As Joker tells Diana a stream of woman-centric jokes, Diana uses her trance power to visit Pan, "the embodiment of chaos." She gets him to teach her his "dance" in one very awkward page, and returns to consciousness in time to offer up the punchline to Joker's joke. Now it is Diana who rattles off joke after joke as she frees Sazia and then beats up Joker.

Diana throws herself at an "electric fixture," aka a ceiling light, and shorts it out, shocking Joker both physically and mentally. The lights go out but Joker blindly shoots as Diana taunts him from the darkness. She finally strikes a match, and Joker discovers that his explosive vest now has a very real fuse coming out of it—which Diana lights.

Outside, the Magician and Longo wait to finish them all off, but Cheetah pounces on the Magician just as he casts his spell, her final payment in the debt she owes Diana. They disappear. The building beside them explodes, and Longo begins to celebrate being the King of Boston's mobs. He spots Sazia's fancy car sitting on the street and jumps in, then sees her wobbling down the road. He aims for her, but she's able to jump out of the way. As he comes back for a second try, she mutters that she knows Longo all too well, and triggers a bomb that destroys the car and Longo.

Letters: Nicholas Baxter, Melissa Page, London Elliott, Bruce Williamson, Cesar Cuadra, Matthew Wilbur, Daddy Elvis, Josh Hamman.

Notes: We wouldn't have this many bloody bodies in a storyline until volume 3 came around. Whew! Lots of fairly good super-villain action with some extra layers of characterization given to Cheetah. Joker and Diana's face-off is one of the all-time unsung great fights. She should teach Batman a lesson or two. And finally, the Boston Mafia war is over, thanks to Diana's new trance power. (No, I don't like the trance power. It's too deus ex machina. But WML uses it consistently at least, so a few points are given for that. Besides, without it she and a bunch of others would be dead.)

Toning down the T&A is much appreciated, but this reader wishes that the artists would come up with new ways to depict all of the Magician's uber-macho villains. Then again, perhaps that's a consistent spell being used and I shouldn't be complaining. The use of the lasso to redeem a villain is much appreciated.

Once again Artemis' depiction bounces back and forth between her being a faithful Themie-type Amazon who is only interested in doing good, and being a complete Bana ass. No nuanced layers for her! Still at every point she learns that one person cannot possibly succeed at the mission she's been assigned, which reflects back on Diana's supposed ineptitude. Perhaps Diana was not so inept after all. We'll see more of this next ish as Artie's story here concludes.

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