I love an alternate universe. Whether it’s slight changes in a different dimension or a full on evil mirror universe, I’m instantly intrigued. I am here for bizarre multiverse fun all day long. However, alternate universes haven’t been great for Wonder Woman. I’ve never been a big fan of the evil Earth Three, the Crime Syndicate, or Superwoman. The characters are so evil as to not be interesting. And Flashpoint Wonder Woman wasn’t much fun either, what with the weird design and the Amazons’ unnecessary invasion of the UK. It just didn’t live up to the exciting potential an alternate universe represents.
This issue does, though. It’s great to have some past Wonder Woman favourites back for this issue, and Steve Orlando and Aaron Lopresti do smart work by keeping things small. An alternate universe is a big idea, and the impulse always seems to be to make the story huge and expansive, even cosmic at times. But here, the alternate universe is contained. It’s not part of a massive multiverse, it’s a manifestation of Queen Hippolyta’s imagination as she observes the sort of queen she could be if she gave into her darker inclinations. It’s all internal, meant only as an opportunity for self-reflection until a young Diana gets curious and stumbles into it. Then things get messy. We’ll dig into it all, but first:
Look away if you have not yet read this issue!
Also, you should read it!
You don’t even need to be caught up on the current arc!
It’s largely a standalone tale!
Hippolyta’s dark universe comes with an evil version of herself and a group of Amazons bent on conquest and aggression rather than peace and love, so it’s no wonder that the two queens don’t get alone. Or rather, the queen and the empress. These Amazons appear to rule an empire. When the queen’s attempts at diplomacy fail, unsurprisingly, we then get a series of trials to decide who is the superior Hippolyta. It’s all super fun.
And exactly what I expected from Steve Orlando. His past issues of Wonder Woman have demonstrated a deep appreciation for the history of the Wonder Woman mythos and an understanding of how what is powerful and meaningful about the character can intertwine with the sometimes outlandish aspects of her comic book past. This issue gives us so many classic references, from an awesome chariot race with kangas to an invisible jet contest to an iconic bout of bullets and bracelets. Then, just as the last trial is set to begin, Themyscira is invaded by Atomia, the Queen of Atom World.
Atomia is not one of Wonder Woman’s better known villains. She’s only appeared in a couple of regular issues, and was part of Kurt Busiek and Trina Robbins’s 1986 The Legend of Wonder Woman mini-series. But she’s a classic Golden Age foe who debuted in Wonder Woman #21 way back in 1947. This was a period in which Wonder Woman’s creator William Moulton Marston was quite ill and the bulk of his writing was being done by his assistant, Joye Murchison, and she wrote this issue. We can see Atomia here drawn by H.G. Peter, with Wonder Woman and the Holliday Girls all tied up, as per usual in the Golden Age:
It’s another great deep cut from Orlando, and Lopresti and inker Matt Ryan bring the scene to life with a very cool update of Atomia and her various minions. Together they all capture a wonderful, modern take on old school Golden Age fun.
And more importantly, it’s all in service of a good story that digs into the heart of Diana and Hippolyta. Diana is locked up for most of the issue, but when she hears the battle and people screaming she’s compelled to break free and go help. Even at this young age, she’s still the hero we all know and love, and by saving the imperial Amazon realm she not only earns freedom for her and her mother, she also gets to offer Atomia mercy where Empress Hippolyta would have only offered destruction. Defending others and understanding your enemy are values Diana learned from her mother, and that she’s able to hold to them in the dangerous crucible of this evil dimension speaks to how well Hippolyta taught her.
For Hippolyta, we get a sense of her dedication to her role, and how she struggles to do what is best for her people. Empress Hippolyta is her mirror, a way for her to analyze her own actions and see how her choices would play out if she went a different direction. The empire is violent and cruel, yet one key divergence still seems to weigh on the queen. Empress Hippolyta has no daughter, and lives only for her Amazon sisters. As her opposite, Queen Hippolyta wonders if she was selfish to have Diana, and whether that choice was best for the Amazons. Then Diana swooping in to save the day demonstrated the wonder that she has become, and how she embodies everything that is right and good about the Amazons. It’s a nice moment of reflection that captures the bond between Hippolyta and Diana while also underscoring the loneliness Diana must be feeling in the current ongoing arc and explaining the desperation she has to find her lost family.
Lopresti and Ryan do good work throughout the issue, making the Chi Dimension feel different than the standard take on Themyscira. And whoever decided that Empress Hippolyta should be blonde made the right call. Otherwise, this issue could have been very confusing! It’s fun to have Lopresti pop by Wonder Woman again. He paired well with writer Gail Simone back in the day, and earned himself a spot in the pantheon of modern Wonder Woman artists. It was also enjoyable to have an issue drawn by the same art team throughout after the mishmash we’ve had over the past couple of issues. Double shipping, gang. It’s the pits.
I’m curious to see how this tale of Diana’s past will influence the present. We know if this dimension exists, then Hippolyta is still alive. But what will our intrepid heroes find when they enter this dark alternate universe? Is this where the Amazons are hiding? We’ll know more in two weeks’ time!