"Wonder Woman - Challenge of the Gods" Review
So What's Next? (Background)
Not so long after the events of Gods and Mortals, some much more DC Universe-wide events where starting to go into effect…Millennium and Legends. What do they really have to do with the following issues of Wonder Woman? Well, with Legends, Wonder Woman got to meet many of DC's heroes, ranging from the then-newest Green Lantern, Guy Gardner, to the Man of Steel himself. And Millennium (an event that followed up the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths) actually crossed over with the Challenge of the Gods arc, though thankfully not in a way that would throw off the reader.
Even though Wonder Woman's first story arc, Gods and Mortals, was completed, there were still some loose ends that needed to be tied up…
- Where did the pistol come from?
- Where did the idea for the star-spangled costume come from?
- Who is this other Diana that came before the Amazon princess? (It was previously mentioned to Diana when she received the costume back in issue #1).
- How come Themyscira's prophet, Menalippe, felt wary of the Olympian gods even after they helped bring Diana back from the brink of death?
- Who is this Barbara Minerva character and why does she seek the Lasso of Truth?
Well, it seems Perez's first arc was merely set up for his sequel storyline, Challenge of the Gods!
Deadly Challenges Lie Ahead! (Plot Synopsis)
The story opens with Julia and Vanessa Kapatelis, Lt. Etta Candy, and Myndi Mayer narrating the events of what Princess Diana, aka Wonder Woman, was up to after the "Project: Ares" affair...
Julia recounts how after Myndi Mayer helped gain Diana popularity, Diana embarked on a world tour to spread her messages of peace, love, and equality. However, she soon realized that some foreign nations were not too privy to hearing these messages coming from someone like Diana, regardless of how true they might be. This negative atmosphere was not helped by the rising of fanatical psychologist G. Gordon Godfrey, who advocated the potential of outlawing superheroes. However, Godrey met his downfall as the mobs he created went out his control and he eventually was reduced to a mound of flesh after getting a hold of a mystical helmet owned by the superhero known as Doctor Fate. Julia also notes that Diana was invited to join the Justice League, but she declined. Diana felt that joining the League would defeat the purpose of coming to Man's World in the first place: she came to teach the world of the Amazon way, not to become some costumed crime-fighter. In addition, Julia says that Diana doesn't say anything regarding Superman (which is later revealed in future stories to be Diana harboring some sort of crush on the Man of Steel). And Julia mentions of Diana giving her condolences to Colonel Michaelis's widow after the events of the "Project: Ares" affair.
Lt. Etta Candy writes her accounts of Diana's experiences in a letter to Steve Trevor. She details how the military have been making statistics of Diana's strength and abilities, ranging from her ability to deflect bullets to comparing her her speed and maneuverability to that of a fighter jet. Diana was also asked by the military if the material from her god-given gifts can be duplicated for the military's usage, but she was strongly against the idea.
Vanessa Kapatelis writes of her experiences with Diana in her diary. She writes of how her life has completely changed, possibly for the better, since Diana's arrival. Vanessa is told by Diana of what life is like on Themyscira and of how Amazons don't age, but grow. During this time, they begin to form a sisterly bond. Vanessa has also gained more popularity at school and the attention of a boy named Barry Locatelli (whom she has a crush on). An assembly is held at the school where Diana gives a speech about her ideals. Vanessa notes of Barry's enthusiasm about her ideals. After Diana leaves, Vanessa and Barry come across of group of boys who have made crude drawings on a picture of Diana, which they don't take kindly to and they fight them. Both end up getting in trouble for this and Vanessa is grounded for a month, but she felt it was worth it.
And Myndi Mayer writes in a letter to Julia of the experiences of getting Diana's name known to the world. Mayer tells of how Diana, after the G. Gordon Godfrey fiasco and the military acknowledging the validity of Diana's claims, was once again given a warm reception from the public. She was presented with the key to Boston by the city's mayor, was featured on a critically acclaimed episode of a popular talk show, got to meet president Ronald Regan and (in a very metafictional moment) allowed DC Comics the license to have a monthly series based on her adventures. Mayer also details that, since Diana will be returning to Themsycira after her world tour, the "Wonder Woman Foundation" was formed in order to publicize, promote and encourage various women toward equality and advancement. And on a lukewarm note, Mayer explains that Diana has been under much debate by the religious community regarding her beliefs. Recently, at the time of her writing, she says that she has received a letter from archeologist Dr. Barbara Minerva (last seen in the epilogue of Gods and Mortals) saying that she's found what seems to be a second Girdle of Gaea.
All while these accounts are written, Barbara and her assistant have arrived in the states and begin to carry out their plans to not only take the Lasso, but to set up Barbara for something more sinister...
Soon, Diana is given the news of Barbara's supposed discovery. Mayer comes along with Diana to visit Barbara at her apartment. Upon meeting her, Barbara asks if she can see Diana's lasso, but once she comes in contact with it, she spills out the truth that there wasn't a second Girdle of Gaea at all, and very nearly admits there isn't even a "Barbara Minerva" as she throws the Lasso aside. Diana is both furious and hurt by this realization and the idea that another woman would lie at all. She flies out of the building in tears as she cries out the heavens why this has happened, leaving Mayer frustrated and wondering "now what?".
As a result of meeting Barbara, Diana decides to cut her world tour short to return to Themyscira, which upsets Mayer. Meanwhile, Barbara is undergoing a mystical process that transforms her into a human-cheetah hybrid simply called "The Cheetah". Cheetah now begins a hunt for Diana in an attempt to kill her. She finally finds her resting at the base of a tree on the shore of a lake not to far from the Kapatelis home. As Diana begins to stir, Cheetah attacks. As Diana tries to fight back, she receives several wounds from Cheetah, and it seems for a while that Cheetah is faster and stronger than she is. Cheetah briefly takes cover in the the underbrush, but Diana manages to sense her position and wrap Cheetah in her Lasso. However, the Lasso has no effect on her and she proceeds to tug Diana towards her. When that doesn't work, Cheetah charges Diana into a tree and gets her pinned underneath it. Julia, having overheard the commotion, manages to fire her shotgun at Cheetah before she can kill Diana. Cheetah falls into the lake and Diana follows in after her, hoping that she's still alive. Diana has no luck in finding Cheetah, though. Sometime later, Diana gives her final farewells to Julia and Vanessa just before she departs for Themyscira, but leaves them some hope that she may one day return.
On Mt. Olympus, Zeus is watching over Themyscira and, more specifically, Diana. He feels that she would make a great wife for him, which the goddesses don't take too kindly to. On Themyscira, Hippolyta and several Amazons discuss about the items that Diana brought back from Man's World and debate about whether or not they should share this knowledge with the rest of the Amazons. They also bring up the American flag, saying that this is the second time this banner has been seen by them. Hippolyta feels that at this point, the flag no longer bares any meaning to them and that Diana is to now stay on Themsycira. Meanwhile, Diana encounters Zeus on the shoreline of the island, where he claims that she's been chosen to partake in godhood. Zeus's voice is heard across the island, and Hippolyta rushes to where they're at. Diana turns down Zeus's offer, which enrages him. Hippolyta calls out to Zeus to stop, but before he can attack her, Hera drags Zeus back to Olympus. Diana is taken to the Temple of the Oracle, where the island's prophet, Menalippe, says that despite the encounter, there appears to be no bad signs of future events. Diana suddenly hears the Olympians beckoning her in her head. She feels that in order to figure out what's going on, she must meet them. She gets transported to Olympus, where the Olympians discuss as what will be Diana's fate. She ultimately given some sort of challenge in order to prove her and the Amazons worth to Zeus. The challenge is for Diana to go down into the Demon Lair that the Amazons have been guarding for centuries and conquer all of the monsters within it. Once back on Themyscira, Diana explains of what she is to do. Hippolyta objects, saying that she should be the one to take on the challenge, feeling that she, Diana, and the rest of the Amazons being treated as pawns in Olympians' game and that such a thing must end.
Later that night, Diana, now clad in a battle armor version of her costume, and two of Themyscira's generals, Philippus and Artemis, go down to the gate of the Demon Lair. As Diana enters, she uses a dagger to wedge the door, allowing her an easy way to exit when she completes the challenge. However, unbeknownst to her, the dagger breaks and locks her in. As Diana walks down the stairwell in, she discovers a cartridge shell. As she wonders how it got there, she is attacked by Ebony Hands. She fends them off, destroying the stairwell in the process and she tumbles down to the bottom of lair, where she is attacked by a Hydra. The Olympians watch over Diana's battles and express their opinions on the matter. Diana becomes victorious as she defeats the Hydra, but she gets knocked out from it. This is a result of Morpheus allowing Diana to sleep and regain her strength.
Back in Man's World, Steve Trevor is given news that his father passed away. He begins to sadly remember others that were close to him that have died as Etta Candy comforts him.
Dawn comes to Themsycira as Hippolyta discovers that Diana went into the Demon Lair. As she worries about the madness of the overall situation, a vulture eyes Hippolyta. As they look at one another, something causes Hippolyta to go after Diana. After getting her own battle armor on, the Amazons see Hippolyta going to the gateway of the Lair. Philippus follows after her to try to stop her, but after an intense fight, Hippolyta knocks out Philippus and has her horse bring her back to the palace. She tearfully tells Philippus to forgive her just before she is sent back. Pan, the goat-god son of Hermes, begins to grow irritated with Hippolyta's interference.
Diana reawakens and encounters two tunnels along her path. The right-hand tunnels begins to show Diana a portal where several Amazons writhe in agony, calling out to Diana for help. Diana begins to wonder if what she's seeing is real or not when she hears an agonized Julia hanging from a massive spider web. Shocked, Diana tries to get her untangled, only to discover that it's actually a She-serpent in disguise. After fending off the She-serpent, Diana suddenly finds herself in what seems a cloudy sky. She sees a plane fly into the waters below her and she follows in after it. Then the water itself vanishes. Diana explores the wreckage of the plane. She notes that it's similar to the one Steve flew, only that it's not the same. Then a voice comes from behind Diana, and when she turns to see who the voice belongs to, Diana sees the woman for whom she was named after standing before her.
Hippolyta finds that her way down in the Lair is very difficult, as she tries to fend off various demons and walk upon the stoney ground. Pan continues to make Hippolyta's journey more and more difficult as he summons skeletons to fight her. After defeating them, Hippolyta then sees the two tunnels that Diana saw earlier. She has continued to follow the vulture from earlier and it leads through the left-hand tunnel, much to Pan's dismay. But Pan still feels convinced that Hippolyta will not make it through the tunnel alive.
Steve goes to his aunt and uncle's home to see the body of his father. Etta is looking at some family photos when she comes across a photo of Steve's mother. Steve's aunt says that her name was Diana Trevor.
Diana is very surprised upon meeting Diana Trevor in the Lair. Trevor says that she had waited for Diana for quite some time, saying that is was fate that they'd meet. Trevor explains her backstory that when she was young, she wanted to be an air force pilot. In her teens, she became a barnstormer. In 1940, she married Lt. Ulysses Stephen Trevor and after the events of Pearl Harbor, they had child. Diana puts two and two together and realizes that the woman she's talking to is Steve Trevor's mother. Trevor continues on by saying that after World War II, she intended to stay home and help raise the family, but she wasn't through yet and she decided to go on one more mission. Halfway through her flight, though, a sever storm formed and she plane went down as a result of a lightning bolt striking it. Trevor survived the crash and awoke on the shores of Themyscira, only to find the Amazons trying to fight off the Ebony Hands at the gates of the Demon Lair. Trevor decided to try and help and she opened fire on the demon. The Hands captured her and began mangling her body. In a last ditch effort to save the Amazons still trapped the Hands' grasp, she fired her gun and made direct hit just before dying. (Thus the cartridge shell that Diana found earlier). Hades arrives to take Trevor to the Underworld. He further explains the origins of Diana's costume and how it was inspired the American flag's colors that were on Trevor's tattered clothing and the pistol that was used to test Diana's bullet-deflecting abilities was the same one Trevor had. Trevor proceeds to leave with Hades, knowing her husband is waiting for her in the Underworld, while Diana bids her farewell.
The funeral for Ulysses begins to wrap up as Steve has a recollection about his mother. He says to Etta that he remembers seeing his mother's spirit watching over him one night when he was a child.
As Diana continues on, she hears the sound of Pan playing music. Pan tells Diana of the events of Millennium, saying that this another challenge Diana must overcome. However, she doesn't realize that this was just a way for Pan to distract her from the actual challenges and prevent any chances of Hippolyta being saved.
Hippolyta, meanwhile, stumbles upon a strange looking rock formation. Before she can get a good look at it, she is attacked by Harpies. She tumbles backwards off the cliff edge, but manages to hook her battle-ax into the rock formation. It cries out in pain, the voice of which she recognizes as Hercules's. Upon realizing that Hercules is imprisoned like this, Hippolyta can't help but feel sympathy for him, in spite of the what he had done to both her and the Amazons centuries ago. However, she must continue on to find Diana. But she is stopped short by a sleeping Cyclops. The Olympians catch sight of a skull nearby the Cyclops that's shaped like a human skull with horns. They realize that this is the remains of the actual Pan and that the Pan running around was an impostor who had him killed. When they hear of Diana being involved with Millennium, Hermes is sent to bring her back.
The Cyclops awakens when he smells Hippolyta within the area and he attacks. It's revealed that he is blind during this. Before he can eat Hippolyta, Diana arrives just in time to save her and have the Cyclops retrained with the Lasso. The Cyclops reveals that he along with the rest of the cyclopses were banished to the Demon Lair centuries ago. Because of the lack of food, they fought each other until only he remained. And because of his blindness, the Cyclops has to wait for food to come to him. He then reveals that he had eaten the remains of the real Pan, which only gave him eternal indigestion. Feeling that he can't suffer any longer, he begs Diana and Hippolyta to put him out of his misery. As the both of them contemplate what to do about the Cyclops, Hippolyta begins to hear Hercules wail, but Diana can't. Hippolyta rushes for him, saying that she can't just leave him here to suffer. Suddenly, a Chimera, Minotaur, and the She-serpent from earlier attack. Halfway through the battle, the Cyclops somehow escapes and tries to eat the Minotaur, but both go tumbling off a cliff as it collapses beneath them.
As the battle subsides, Harmonia (who's beauty has been restored) appears before Diana and a battered Hippolyta. She reveals that she was the vulture that Hippolyta followed into the Lair. She also says that the impostor Pan was a remaining agent of Ares. She gives Diana the talisman from the Gods and Mortals arc, saying that it'll be needed to complete the challenges. Diana figures that freeing Hercules can be the way to end the challenges. With the Chimera chasing off the Harpies, Diana and Hippolyta take the chance to try and free Hercules from his stone prison. His wails become much louder to Hippolyta, which Diana interprets as a some kind of bond that still exists between Hippolyta and Hercules. She decides to tie Hippolyta to the side of Hercules's head to see if this connection can be revealed. Hippolyta begins to see what Hercules has been through and learns of the fate of her sister, Antiope (it's revealed that she was killed by the witch, Circe, in a later story). Suddenly, Hercules's stone prison begins to crumble and the demons from within it try to escape to the exit of the lair in a giant speeding fireball. As Diana goes to stop the demons, Hercules manages to catch Hippolyta before she falls off the cliff edge. Using the talisman, Diana absorbs all the demons into it. Ares appears and asks Diana to give him the talisman. Though unsure about this, Diana complies and tosses the now scalding-hot talisman to Ares and he vanishes. Harmonia tells Diana that this has restored the balance of power amongst the Olympians. Hermes then arrives to tell Diana that she must slay the impostor Pan (the events of which aren't shown in the trade collection, but in the events of Millennium).
After taking care of the impostor, Diana returns to retrieve Hippolyta, only to find Hercules guarding her as he carries Themyscira on his shoulders. Diana manages to get Hippolyta to safety, leaving her tiara behind to let the Amazons know she's still alive. Diana returns to Hercules to try and help him, but he objects, saying that his burden of carrying the island is his ultimate fate and punishment. Diana then offers to share the burden if he refuses to leave. This gets the attention of Zeus who, after acknowledging Diana's victory over the challenges, frees Hercules. Diana gets Hercules out of the Lair and brings him to the Amazons. They are stunned and apprehensive at first, but when Hercules acknowledges his wrongs and begs for forgiveness, the Amazons accept him.
Some time later, Hippolyta is recovering. Philippus apologizes for their fight, but Hippolyta says that she did what she had to do and that she couldn't have asked anyone else other than her to protect the Amazons.
Back in Man's World, while going through old photographs, Steve and Etta profess their love for each other and they kiss.
Several days later, the Amazons celebrate Diana's victory. Hercules asks as to how the Amazons can survive without the need of an army. Diana responds, "On this island, there is no need for one."
After the celebration, Hercules asks Hippolyta about Diana's origins and is glad to hear that Diana wasn't conceived as a result of his violation of Hippolyta many centuries ago. With past conflicts forgiven, Hippolyta shares a tender kiss with Hercules before he leaves for Mt. Olympus, which Diana takes notice of.
Several more days pass, and the Amazons begin to debate as to whether or not men should be trusted once again. Hippolyta decides to let Diana resume her mission of spreading the lessons and ways of the Amazons throughout Man's World and to become Themyscira's ambassador. Before she leaves, Diana visits the statue of Diana Trevor and gives her final regards.
The story ends back at the Kapatelis home, where Vanessa tries to tell Julia of some light shortage in her room. Julia doesn't buy it, thinking it's just Vanessa being lazy with her homework. However, when she enters the room, she finds Diana standing right by the window, greeting her. The Kapatelis' are overjoyed by Diana's return as they tell her, "Welcome home, Diana…welcome home!"
In my review of Gods and Mortals, I initially criticized the portrayal of the Olympians. After going this book, though, I'm reconsidering my thoughts on that. This take on the Olympians actually works much better in the context of a story like this. In many ways, the portrayal of the Olympians here reminds me of their portrayal in the spectacular 1981 movie Clash of the Titans in a very good way.
Speaking of Clash of the Titans, it wouldn't surprise me if George Perez got some inspiration from that movie (along with some other films with the special effects of the legendary Ray Harryhausen), since the battle sequences really have the vibe of some of the best action scenes of Clash. The battles between Diana and the mythological monsters are a blast to read, since you're on edge as you see Diana tackle one challenge after another. It also gives us, the reader, an opportunity to see Diana cut lose with her abilities and see the warrior side of her in a well-handled and awesome light. And the artwork is extremely well-detailed in each battle scene.
Perez's take on the Cheetah was also very memorable. Before the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Cheetah was essentially just a woman dressed in a cheetah costume. That version of her never seemed all that interesting to me, especially since many consider her to be Wonder Woman's arch nemesis. Perez's version, however, really makes for a better Cheetah since Barbara Minerva actually is transformed into a Cheetah with mythical powers, making her a great and deadly foe for Diana.
The book also does a great job at tying up the loose-ends from Gods and Mortals. All of the connections made in the story fit with all the past events without it feeling rushed or out of place. The story itself is very-well paced. It's a little bit of a faster read by contrast to Gods and Mortals given a majority of the action, but it still keeps it's integrity and it doesn't disappoint with it's development of both story and characters.
And I mentioned in the plot synopsis that there was a really metafictional moment that occurred. That would be the bit in Myndi Mayer's letter when she mentions that Diana allowed DC Comics to have the monthly series based on her adventures to be published. Interestingly, Perez, in his final issue of Wonder Woman, wrote an incredible farewell letter to Diana saying is was a pleasure to write of her adventures in Man's World. Given that, I think it was pretty meta in retrospect that Perez had that little bit about the comic featured within the book itself. (It probably would've been more meta if Perez had briefly featured himself in that issue as a non-speaking cameo).
As for complaints, there actually aren't that many from me, and they don't really make much of an impact in the long run anyway, but here they are...
The first is that when Cheetah is defeated, she vanishes and the event is left unresolved. It's revealed in later issues that Cheetah did survive being shot at by Julia, but the issue didn't really give us any hint that Cheetah may still be out there. Plus, Cheetah's defeat felt somewhat like an anti-climax since Cheetah was built up throughout the beginning of the issue, and after a good fight scene with Diana, Cheetah was taken out quite easily.
It's also sort of a minor plot-hole when the Cyclops escapes the retrain of the Lasso. He says that how he escaped doesn't matter, but I would like to know how he did.
And my last complaint actually has nothing to due with the story itself. It's more about that actual trade collection format. While the events of Millennium really had no impact on the storyline, it's kind of jarring when the plot element of Diana having to slay the impostor Pan is not actually featured in the book itself. It would've been nice if they had edited in some excepts of the actual confrontation put into the Challenge of the Gods trade paperback.
The final score?
4.5/5 - Recommended!
Any Other Good Wonder Woman Stories?
Are there any other stories of the Amazon Princess that are worth a read?
Yes, there certainly are! Here's a list of some of my current recommendations...
- Gods and Mortals
- Challenge of the Gods
- Paradise Lost
- Paradise Found
- The Hiketeia
- The Circle
- Ends of the Earths
- Rise of the Olympian