Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Wonder Woman Wednesdays: A Complete History of the Amazon Peoples

(Above: Or you could just read this, which features extensive back-up features written and illustrated by Phil Jimenez which condenses all of Wonder Woman's post-Crisis history into a few nice looking pages. Most of the character images near the end of the post are Jimenez's.)

Yesterday ran a version of my Complete History of the Amazon Peoples (post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, post-Infinite Crisis/52). But in the off-chance that it just wasn’t wordy and/or nerdy enough for you, I’ve decide to present a previous, longer, more detailed version here, complete with some additional thoughts that just occurred to me in the last day or so, for the most masochistic among you. (Plus, it’s Wonder Woman Wednesday here at EDILW, so Amazon history seems especially apropos). Enjoy!

A Complete History of the Amazon Peoples

The history of the Amazons began over 30,000 years ago, but don’t worry, I’ll be sticking to the highlights only here. Not much happened those first 27,000 years of interest anyway.

The Amazons’ story begins with a pregnant woman killed by her mate. Gaea, goddess of the Earth, took pity on the slain woman, and placed the victim’s soul in a well, known as the Well of Souls. Because it was a well in which souls were kept, you see. Over the millennia, Gaea would place the souls of all women unjustly killed by men into the well.

In 1200 B.C., the Olympian goddesses Artemis, Athena, Aphrodite, Demeter and Hestia pooled their powers to create the Amazons, their very own, all-female race of human beings, each reincarnated from one of the souls from Gaea’s well.

Three thousand women strong, the Amazons founded the city-state Themyscria in Asia Minor, and looked to sister-queens Hippolyta and Antiope for leadership. The Olympian war god Ares sent Heracles and an army of men to Themyscria, where he proceeded to seduce Hippolyta, and, in short order, ransack the city and enslave it’s populace.

The defeat split the Amazons into two factions. Antiope lead the Amazons bent on vengeance into Greece after Heracles, while Hippolyta and her followers fled across the Atlantic, rebuilding Themyscira on an island in the Bermuda Triangle that was concealed by storm clouds. (It was a pretty nice place, and would later gain the nickname “Paradise Island”).

There, hidden form the rest of the outside world, Hippolyta’s Amazons were granted immortality by the goddesses and were charged with the sacred task of guarding “Doom’s Doorway,” which lead to Pandora’s Box, buried beneath the island. The Amazons took to wearing bracelets, symbols of their defeat and enslavement at the hands of men, and spent centuries in seclusion, with no man setting foot on the island.

Antiope’s faction, meanwhile, settled in Egypt, founding their own city-state of Bana-Mighdall, hidden from the outside world by sandstorms. They remained mortal, and devoted themselves to the arts of war and killing, renting themselves out as assassins and mercenaries.

A few millennia later, the Amazons started getting occasional visitors, perhaps the most notable one being U.S. pilot Diana Trevor, who crash-landed there, and joining the community, eventually giving her life in a battle against monsters from the island’s box. In honor of her, her uniform and medals were turned into a coat-of-arms (And that’s why Wonder Woman’s costume looks like the U.S. flag, got it?).

World relations took a giant leap forward when Ares launched a plot to destroy the world. Hippolyta decreed a contest to choose the single greatest warrior to send to so-called “Patriarch’s World” to challenge Ares. Her own daughter Diana, magically created out of clay and gifted by the goddesses and the god Mercury with life and super-powers, entered the contest in disguise and won.

She became known as “Wonder Woman,” fighting against Ares, joining the Justice League of America, and gradually becoming not only a superhero, but also an ambassador of the Amazonian way of life and, eventually, a political diplomat representing Themyscria in the United Nations. (For more on the contest, struggle against Ares and Diana’s debut in the U.S., see trade paperbacks Wonder Woman: Gods and Mortals and Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Gods by George Perez and various; and keep in mind Infinite Crisis knocked large swathes of these stories, out of continuity, and we’re not supposed to mentally rewrite them while rereading so that they’re set about a decade earlier than they are in the actual books. Or something).

Gradually the shores of Themyscira were opened up to the outside world, and Hippolyta and other Amazons journeyed into the United States, and the goddess Circe started causing no end of trouble, initiating a “War of the Gods,” reuniting the Antiope’s descendants with the Themysciran Amazons (which leads to a civil war), and sending the whole island into another dimension for a time—ten years for those in the dimension, about one year time for those not in that dimension).

She wasn’t the only evil divinity to cause problems on Paradise Island. Apokoliptian dictator and self-proclaimed dark god Darkseid invaded Themyscira with his armies, killing over a thousand Amazons (To witness the conflict firsthand, check out Wonder Woman: Second Genesis by John Byrne).

Not long after, the Amazons went to war again, this time in another civil war between the Bana-Midghdall faction and those who have lived on the island for centuries. The conflict was settled only when Hippolyta and Diana decided to end the monarchy, renouncing their queenship and princessship (um, is that even a word?) for a more demoractic form of government. Hippolyta’s longtime friend and confidant Phillipus becomes the island’s leader, under the title of Chancellor (This round of Amazonian strife can be read about in Wonder Woman: Paradise Lost and Wonder Woman: Paradise Found by Phil Jimenez and various others).

But wait, there’s more war yet to come! The Amazons joined force with the unlikely alliance of President Lex Luthor’s United States, Superman and heroes of earth, and Darkseid’s Apokolips in a battle against Imperiex in a sort of war of the worlds (That’s Our Worlds at War to us readers here on Earth-Prime; recently re-collected from two fat trades into one giant, fat Complete Edition). Many of them lost their lives, including Hippolyta.

Afterwards, Themyscria was once again transformed, this time into a sort of university devoted to cultural exchange and learning, open to men, women and intelligent creatures from all of existence. The architecture remained Greco-Roman, but had a bit of a sci-fi twist, accentuated by the fact that the island included an archipelago of smaller islands which floated in the air. Now rather than a single Wonder Woman attempting to spread peace and Amazon ideals throughout the world, the world could come to Themyscira, and the Amazons could promote peace through open engagement, their most open engagement since they’d left Europe millennia before.

This didn’t last long either. The floating islands were destroyed in a fight between Hera and Zeus, and the Amazons again began to draw inward, just as the U.S.A. was parking battleships nearby and contemplating invasion. They were beat to it by the armies of OMAC cyborgs, lead by the hidden, artificially intelligent Brother Eye, which sent them to Themyscira to destroy Wonder Woman, revenge for her killing of Brother Eye’s boss, Maxwell Lord who (Superboy punch!) it turns out was actually an evil scumbag bent on the eradication of metahumans and world domination by his own Checkmate organization all along, and not the slick but noble leader who legitimized the Justice League as a world power with official status years ago (These stories are collected in trade, but I can’t in good conscience recommend anything past the point in which Diana regains her eyesight because, come on? OMACs? Max is a villain? Pfft).

While the Amazons fought back against the OMACs with machine guns, swords and their own ultimate weapon, the Purple Death Ray, Wonder Woman brought an end to hostilities when she realized there were innocent people trapped inside the OMACs. She left the island, while Themyscria (and everyone on it) disappeared for over a year, a year in which Wonder Woman herself would be little seen.

Some Amazon heroines of note include:

HIPPOLYTA: Queen of the Amazons, mother of Diana and, in a time travel paradox the likes of which could only occur in the DCU, she became both her daughter’s successor and predecessor in the role of Wonder Woman. When Diana temporarily died and ascended to Olympus to become the Goddess of Truth, a death Hippolyta sought to avoid by stripping Diana of the title of Wonder Woman, Hippolyta donned a star-spangled skirt and golden eagle bustier to become the second Wonder Woman, serving a brief stint with the Justice League. She also traveled back in time to the year 1942, retroactively becoming the first heroine to go by the name Wonder Woman, when she helped the Justice Society of America in their battles against the Axis Powers. Known as “Polly” to her friends like Wildcat, Jay Garrick and Alan Scott, she fought battles against Stalker in the ‘40s (The Justice Society Returns! by David S. Goyer, James Robinson, Geoff Johns and about 40 other writers and artists), and fifth-dimensional invaders in the present (JLA: Justice For All by Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, et al).

When the JSA reformed at Sand Hawkins’ urging, Polly became a reserve member, helping out in their first battle against the dark lord Mordru (JSA: Justice Be Done). She died while leading the Amazons into the battle during the Imperiex War. She was next spotted in Jodi Picoult’s unreadable Wonder Woman and Amazons Attack, apparently brought back to life by Circe, totally insane and once again the queen of the Amazons.

ARTEMIS: A member of the mortal, Bana-Mighdall Amazons descended from Antiope, Artemis participated in wars against Hippolyta’s Amazons before her people settled their own part of Themyscria. When Hippolyta conceived of a second contest to see if Diana was still fit to be Wonder Woman (part of her plan to avoid Diana’s death in battle, which was prophesied to her), Artemis claimed the prize, and she journeyed to America to serve as the new Wonder Woman (Yes, this was about the time Kyle Rayner became Green Lantern, Connor Hawke became Green Arrow, John-Paul Valley became Batman and four dudes became Superman, why do you ask?), while Diana changed into a weird biker shorts, bra and jacket combo to lead her faction of the then-splintered Justice League, going as just plain old “Diana.”

Artemis, who lacked Diana’s super-powers and possessed a hot head and thirst for violence that no previous Wonder Woman was saddled with, died in a battle against the White Magician (Much of this era’s important stories are collected in Wonder Woman: The Contest by William Messner-Loebs and Mike Deodato). She was later rescued from Hades and returned to life. Since then she served as her people’s representative in Amazon government and as Themyscira’s Minister of Defense. She disappeared with Themyscira during the last crisis with a capital C, and has recently been seen in Amazons Attack, exchanging glances with Phillipus behind Hippolyte’s back and presumably, holding her finger to her ear and making the coo-coo sign whenever her queen wasn’t looking).

DONNA TROY: You know what, I don’t have any idea. And I don’t think anyone else does either, which has become a plot point in Countdown. Donna Troy’s existence was originally forced because Wonder Girl was appearing in Teen Titans along with sidekicks like Robin and Aqualad (Showcase Presents: Teen Titans Vol. 1, although Wonder Girl wasn’t actually Wonder Woman’s sidekick; rather, she was like the pre-Crisis Superboy, the star of Wonder Woman stories from when she was a girl. Oops. It’s a mistake DC has been fixing and re-fixing pretty much ever since, the last attempt being the Infinite Crisis lead-in DC Presents: The Return of Donna Troy (although, again, Countdown implies that wasn’t the last we’ve heard of Donna’s origins, perhaps for reasons discussed below)

At any rate, I think she’s still a magical twin of Diana, created to be her playmate, but captured by Dark Angel (recently seen in Supergirl) and forced to live a series of alternate lives, each full of tragedy. She was rescued by the Titans of Myth, who gave her powers and training before returning her to Earth, where she founded the Teen Titans as Wonder Girl, changed her codename and costume repeatedly (From Wonder Girl to Troia to Darkstar back to Troia to Wonder Woman for about a week and then back to Troia again), married, had a child, divorced, lost her son and ex-husband in a car crash, rejoined the Titans, was murdered by a Superman Robot, came back to life in deep space thinking herself one of the Titans of myth, lead a group of heroes to fight Alexander Luthor’s giant fingers in the middle of the universe, hung out in her swanky new space-faring base New Cronus talking to the late Harbinger’s continuity ball, took the name Wonder Woman for a few weeks around the time Black Adam was killing civilians by the millions, and she was last seen in the company of Jason Todd in Washington D.C. (New Teen Titans: Who Is Donna Troy?, Teen Titans/Outsiders: The Death and Return of Donna Troy and Infinite Crisis contain most of the pertinent parts of that complicated history, or at least readable recaps).

The interesting thing about poor Donna's origin is that, aside from needing to think up an origin to explain her existence in the first place, all of her complications as a character stemmed from Crisis on Infinite Earths, which reset Wonder Woman's timeline, so that she didn't appear until several years after the new "heroic age" had begun (that is, several years after Superman and Batman started their careers, and the Justice League was about to move into it's JLI incarnation). All the magical twin, abducted by Titans business was in reaction to the fact that Wonder Girl predated Wonder Woman (to solve all that, DC could have just rebooted Donna and the Titans alongside Wonder Woman back in the aftermath of COIE. One of the many rejiggerings of Infinite Crisis was that Wonder Woman was now a founder of the Justice League again, which meant she arrived in Man's World around the time Superman and Batman were debuting now. I didn't think much of it at the time, being so confused as to why DC was bumping all of their post-Crisis Wonder Woman/JLA stories out of continuity to replace them with all their older, worse stuff (I don't care how much anyone likes the Satellite Era, you can't honestly tell me the stories were better written than those of the JLI or Watchtower Eras). But if Wonder Woman was active during the first year or so of DC's second "heroic age," then that means she does indeed predate Donna Troy's Wonder Girl again, and we don't need any of that Titans of Myth/Dark Angel stuff anymore. DC can just revert back to their original origin for her. But...they haven't, have they? Or, if they have, nobody's mentioned it or did a story for it. In fact, the last Donna Troy origin story was the miniseries preceding Infinite Crisis, the awkwardly titled DC Presents: The Return of Donna Troy, but Phil Jiminez, Jose Garcia-Lopez and George freaking Perez, released just months before the continuity within it was going to maybe be altered, knocking it out of canon. Why on earth would you hire those three titanic talents to craft an excellent series (um, by Donna Troy standars, anyway), and then knock it out of canon immediately afteward? If it is out of canon. Like I said, there's been no indication that Donna's reverted to her pre-Crisis(On Infinite Earths) origin know that Wonder Woman's arrival was shunted backwards down the DC timeline, but it doesn't make a lot of sense to have Donna become Wonder Girl and not be inspired by Diana now that Diana was around as Wonder Woman at the same time she became Wonder Girl does it?

FURY: Helena Kosmatos’s father was killed during the Italian invasion of Greece during World War II, and seeking vengeance, she became possessed of the power of the mythological furies. Taking the name Fury, she donned a suit of golden mail to fight against fascism and the Nazis as part of the Young All-Stars, the probationary, youth faction of the war-time All-Star Squadron. Helena had super strength and the ability to fly thanks to the spirit of the Fury Tisiphone. The downside? The spirit would occasionally transform her, turning Helena into a winged, hooved monster. That big gray, bat-winged monster you see in Amazon battle scenes now and then? That’s Helena. While not an Amazon by birth, she's been living on the island for quite a while now. (None of these stories are available in trade because there is no God; that’s the only explanation for why All-Star Squadron is not available in trade that I can think of).

WONDER GIRL: Cassandra Sandsmark, daughter of Gateway City-based archaeologist Helena Sandsmark, assumed the role of Wonder Girl after swiping the Sandals of Hermes and Gauntlet of Atlas to help Diana take on a clone of Doomsday (Wonder Woman: Lifelines). Upon meeting Zeus in person, she asked for powers of her own, a request the god complied with, giving her superstrength and the ability to fly. After years of wondering who her real father was, it was eventually revealed why Zeus was so generous with the powers—he’s her father.

A former leader of the now-defunct group Young Justice, Cassie is currently a member of the Teen Titans. Though technically an American citizen and a demigod (an Olympian-American?), Wonder Girl was trained by Artemis and given the blessing to use the “Wonder” name by both Diana and Donna, making her something of an honorary Amazon.


Jacob T. Levy said...

it doesn't make a lot of sense to have Donna become Wonder Girl and not be inspired by Diana now that Diana was around as Wonder Woman at the same time she became Wonder Girl does it

Heh. You said "make sense" in the same sentence as "Donna." Heh.

It hasn't made sense at least since Byrne sent Polly to the 1940s. Since then, Wonder Girl was preceded by a Wonder Woman. Of course, that in turn made Diana's own story make no sense-- if the world remembered an Amazon called Wonder Woman (who even wore a similar uniform) at the time Diana showed up, her whole introduction-to-man's-world narrative would have been pretty different.

I'd missed the whole post-Young-All-Stars history of Fury. (Just now read up on wikipedia.) That's actually pretty cool-- I like tying her back in to the Amazons. But I wonder whether anyone ever told poor confused Lyta where her mother was hanging out in the present day?

Anonymous said...

Only 3000? Throughout history? Seems way too low a number. I guess they're saying all the others deserved it.

Anonymous said...

1. The Well of Lost Souls is the title of a 1920s novel featuring Lesbian themes--it msut be some kind of refernce.

2. No person in anicnet Greek culture would have the name of a deity. No one would name their child Artemis, for example--instead she might have been named Artemisia or Artemidora.