Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
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It’s been over three years since Wonder Woman killed Max Lord and Superman gaped in horror at the spectacle. That’s enough time for our tempers to cool enough to let us look at the context in a calm, rational fashion . . . right?
The plain implication of Superman’s reaction was that he had never seen his friend Diana kill a sentient being before, he had never heard of her killing a sentient being before, and he had never believed that she might start doing such a thing in the foreseeable future, no matter how viciously dangerous a particular villain appeared to be! The entire concept came as a complete shock to him!
When considered in the context of all the other Wonder Woman stories which had been published since her Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Reboot, did that “plain implication” actually make any sense? Let’s look at the record!
Timeline of Wonder Woman’s Killings, Post-Crisis (First Draft)
Note: All listings for relevant issues of “Wonder Woman” in this Timeline refer to stories from the second series to use that title; the one that began shortly after “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and ended during “Infinite Crisis.” Most of the time I refer to her as “Diana” for the sake of simplicity, since she hasn’t always used the name “Wonder Woman.” For instance, she didn’t introduce herself to people that way during the first few issues of her Post-COIE series; but someone in the media finally invented it as a good superhero name for her and it stuck! Several years later, Artemis of the Bana-Mighdall Amazons was the official “Wonder Woman” for a while.
1987. Wonder Woman #4. Written by Greg Potter. George Perez is listed as the co-plotter.
Diana fights Decay (a daughter of Medusa, we are told), who has been ravaging the city of Boston and causing some deaths. Diana kills Decay, thus ending that reign of terror. She makes no attempt to keep the details secret-in fact, she couldn’t even if she wanted to, because the entire thing is captured on film by various journalists, with at least one TV cameraman assuring her she’s on “national television” when they attempt to interview her right after Decay explodes. (Since Diana does not yet speak fluent English at this point, the attempt to interview her doesn’t get very far.)
1987. Wonder Woman #5. Written by Len Wein. Plotted by George Perez.
Diana finds it necessary to kill Deimos, one of the sons of Ares, in the course of preventing nuclear holocaust. No news crews are on the scene this time, but Steve Trevor, Matthew Michaelis, Etta Candy, and Julia Kapatelis are all witnesses. In the next few issues of this series, we will be assured that Diana and the other survivors (Col. Michaelis died in battle) do their level best to spread the full story of what had really been going on during the first five issues of this series. There’s no indication that they tried to withhold any details about the fate of Deimos.
1987. Wonder Woman #10. Written by Len Wein. Plotted by George Perez.
Diana kills a dark, evil creature called Cottus with a spear through the heart. Cottus was capable of speaking coherent sentences, so it evidently was a sentient, living creature. (On the other hand, in the next issue Diana kills a Hydra, but I don’t remember it saying anything, so I’m inclined to call it a “deadly animal” rather than a “person,” and not give it a separate listing on this Timeline.)
1994. Wonder Woman #92. Written by William Messner-Loebs.
Diana seems to kill at least two, maybe more, of a group of “Harpies” which attacks her during a race which is part of a lengthy contest to determine who will be Wonder Woman from now on. Later in this issue, she also fights a “Medusa” (apparently not the original Gorgon of that name from the days of myth). Two other Amazons have been turned to stone by the Medusa before Diana comes along to save the day, and after the Medusa falls off a cliff those two seem to have been automatically restored to their normal flesh-and-blood conditions, so it appears that Diana killed the Medusa by making it fall, and thus broke the spell.
Note: I don’t see the Harpies or the Medusa in this issue showing any language skills at all-and it was made clear to the reader that they were obstacles somehow placed along the course of the race by Diana’s mother, Queen Hippolyta, who wanted to ensure that her daughter lost this contest-so it’s possible that the monsters Diana fought were soulless magical constructs or some such thing, rather than “real persons.” Although even if they were soulless (which isn’t clear), I don’t think Diana knew that at the time she was fighting them in the heat of the moment. She didn’t seem too worried about it either.
1995. Wonder Woman #100. Written by William Messner-Loebs.
Diana kills Asquith Randolph, The White Magician, after he has mortally wounded Artemis (who has been the new Wonder Woman for the last several issues, ever since the end of that race I mentioned in the previous entry).
1996. Wonder Woman #112. Written by John Byrne.
Diana fights what she believes to be Doomsday, and finally decides to put on the Gauntlet of Atlas long enough to multiply her already-incredible strength by a factor of ten so she can hit Doomsday extra-hard. Doomsday shatters into dust as soon as Diana lands the first multiplied-tenfold punch on him. Superman arrives on the scene just in time to see that happen. He mentions being being impressed by the strength Diana has just exhibited, but doesn’t seem upset about the killing of “Doomsday” in the interval before he realizes the dust it became isn’t even organic. (It turned out the whole thing was a “virtual clone,” electronically created. Long story. For my purposes, the point is that Diana had no inkling of all that when she struck “Doomsday” with her normal super-strength magnified by a factor of ten.)
2000. Wonder Woman #163. Written by Ben Raab.
Diana kills Triton, a son of Poseidon, in retribution for the deaths of a boatful of young girls called “Wonder Scouts.” Triton didn’t kill them directly; he hired Black Manta to do it for him. Aquaman co-stars in this story; he convinces Diana not to kill a captive Black Manta, but he doesn’t seem to object when he sees her kill Triton several pages later. (Figure that out if you can!)
1999. Action Comics #761. Written by Joe Kelly.
This story is downright weird. If taken at face value, the following things occur: Wonder Woman and Superman are magically summoned to Valhalla to help the Norse Gods fight an evil demon horde collectively called the Vgrtsmyth. They fight side by side for a thousand years without any vacations. Diana kills enemies right and left. Superman steadfastly refuses to do so. (It is far from clear what happens to any demon warriors whom he knocks down without killing.) He also refuses to sleep with Diana even after a thousand years of being comrades in arms, when he figures his wife Lois is long dead anyway. After they’ve ended the war, Thor (who died and returned during all this) offers to grant each of them a wish in reward for their valiant service. Since the story ends with Superman back in Metropolis, kissing Lois, the implication is that he wished to be returned to the same day on Earth from which he had been yanked away (but we never actually saw how he worded his wish).
This story has always annoyed me, although I can see that Kelly was bound and determined to find a way to hit us over the head with the idea that Superman will always be faithful to his wife, no matter how long the separation or how great the temptation. I prefer to think of the Valhalla stuff as a mystical dream sequence, easily forgotten, which Kelly simply “forgot” to label as a dream sequence, rather than something which “really happened” to Superman for a full millennium “in continuity.” But if we take it at face value, then Superman spent a thousand years watching Diana kill demons practically nonstop, and he learned to live with it, and there is no dialogue in the last couple of pages of the story to indicate that those events were magically scrubbed from his memory before he returned home to Lois. (On the other hand, I’ve never actually seen or heard of any subsequent Superman story which explicitly referenced that thousand-year-war as something which he still remembered after it was over and done with, so maybe he did ask to have all that nonsense wiped out of his memory?)
2003. Wonder Woman #192. Written by Walt Simonson.
Diana (our Wonder Woman) fights Diana, the Roman Goddess, in Olympus. At the end of the fight, Diana (ours) knocks Diana (the other one) across the room and she slams into the base of a huge statue of Zeus, which then falls on Diana (the Roman Goddess) and causes her to quickly die of her injuries. Our Diana had not necessarily intended to kill her adversary, but it happened anyway, as a result of the powerful blow she struck. Most people would call that “killing the enemy in battle.”
2004. JLA #99. Written by Chris Claremont. Co-plotted by John Byrne. Concluding chapter of the six-part story arc called “The Tenth Circle.”
For much of this story arc, Superman has been under the mental control of the vampire Crucifer. After the combined forces of the JLA and the Doom Patrol have fixed that problem and otherwise softened Crucifer up, Superman (back in his right mind again) kills Crucifer on the spot (using a crucifix which Batman thoughtfully provides). All the other heroes in the vicinity (including Wonder Woman) don’t seem to object to Superman’s method of ensuring that Crucifer’s mind-control schtick will never afflict the Man of Steel again. Batman even makes a rather ghoulish joke about Crucifer’s fate as the story finally ends.
2004. Wonder Woman #210. Written by Greg Rucka.
Diana fights Medousa the Gorgon (it’s spelled “Medousa” in this story) in a globally televised duel to the death. After blinding herself as a defensive measure, Diana chops off Medousa’s head. In Diana’s defense, I might mention that, according to two estimates (Circe’s and Athena’s), Medousa would probably, after defeating Diana, have been ready, willing, and able to transmit her power of petrification over the airwaves via the aforementioned live TV broadcast and thus turn at least forty million mortals into stone in the blink of an eye. Incidentally, the first page of this issue includes a panel showing Superman and several other members of the JLA grimly standing by in the Watchtower; the plain implication is that they’ve heard exactly what’s going on and feel that they “should” or “must” leave the situation completely in Diana’s hands.
2005. Wonder Woman #213. Written by Greg Rucka.
Athena is challenging the authority of her father, Zeus, in Olympus; seeking to become his successor as the ruler of the Greek gods, effective immediately. They agree to settle it with a battle of champions; Zeus’s champion is a giant creature called Briareos and Athena’s champion is Diana (still blind after her fight with Medousa). Diana finally wins by pulling the head of Medousa out of a bag and waving it at Briareos; the head still has the ability to petrify people, even though Medousa is dead. Although Briareos follows orders from Zeus, he never demonstrates any ability to express himself coherently; just random growls such as “RRRHHAAA!” So I’m not sure whether he qualifies as “sentient,” but thought I would list him here to be on the safe side.
2005. Wonder Woman #219. Written by Greg Rucka.
Max Lord has been using his telepathic gifts to mind-control Superman. Superman and Diana spend most of this issue fighting. Diana suffers a broken wrist and probably other injuries from being struck so hard, repeatedly, by the Last Son of Krypton. Finally she gets her magic lasso around Max Lord and starts interrogating him about the situation. Max asserts, “I’ll never let him go,” and then, in response to a question about how Diana can free Superman from his control, answers simply: “Kill me.”
Diana takes Max at his word about this being the one sure way to guarantee Superman will never be driven berserk by Max’s mind-control abilities again . . . and breaks his neck.
Suddenly the terrible truth dawns on Superman! His horrified reaction heavily implies that for the first time he has suddenly realized that Wonder Woman actually thinks it’s morally acceptable for her to deliberately kill unrepentant, powerful, blatantly murderous enemies under certain circumstances, as a way of making sure that neither she nor any innocent civilians will be ever be butchered by those particular villains in the future!
Note: In all the relevant issues I’ve read which show something of Superman’s dismay at the fate of Max Lord (including “Infinite Crisis #1″), Superman makes no acknowledgement of having ever seen or heard of Diana’s deliberately killing any other sentient enemy in any other time and place. Likewise, neither Superman nor Wonder Woman nor anyone else seems to have pointed out the Painfully Obvious Parallels between how Superman handled the Crucifer problem (and why), and how Diana handled the Max Lord problem (and why). Even though Superman killed Crucifer with a weapon provided by Batman, while Wonder Woman was watching, after other heroes had deliberately played a part in making Crucifer more vulnerable to such an attack than he previously would have been (it’s a long story).
2005. Superman #223. Written by Mark Verheiden.
Superman says to Supergirl, “I don’t care if it’s Max Lord or Luthor or anyone . . . life is sacred. Diana forgot that. I don’t want that to happen to you.”
Of course Diana couldn’t “forget” anything unless she previously “knew” it. So Superman’s statement just begs the question: When did Diana ever lead Superman to believe that she “knew” that the life of a cold-blooded super-powered murderer is just as sacred as the lives of any of the people he will kill in the future if he gets the opportunity?
(And if you happen to know a serious answer to that last question-for instance, if you can think of any story, in any DC comic book published after the Post-COIE Reboots and before the death of Max Lord, in which Diana did tell Superman she had a firm policy against deliberately killing her enemies, then please let me know! I’ll be delighted to add a summary of that event to the next draft of my Timeline!)
How do we explain the huge disconnect between all of Post-COIE Diana’s previous killings on the one hand, and Post-COIE Superman’s slack-jawed astonishment at the “discovery” that she sometimes deliberately kills her enemies, on the other hand?
At first glance, the possible explanations include:
1. Bad Writing.
2. Bad Editing.
3. Implicit Spur-of-the-Moment Retconning. (“Gee, guys, I guess we completely forgot to mention to you that Superboy-Prime presumably erased all those previous killings from Wonder Woman’s continuity when he was punching that wall, over and over, before Infinite Crisis got started.” Or any other excuse, such as “Hypertime fluctuated again,” which would amount to the same thing.)
4. All of the above!
I currently favor #4, but I’m willing to listen to other points of view! I could have overlooked another possible way to explain the apparent gap between the concepts of “Diana has killed lots of sentient beings before this, sometimes during live TV broadcasts” and “Superman had no clue that Diana was a killer until he saw what she did to Max Lord.”
What are your thoughts?
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