“Paradise Lost” (season 1, episodes 10-11; originally aired January 21, 2002, January 28, 2002)
Anyone have a stressful Thanksgiving holiday? The kind that’s full of nagging parents, obnoxious relatives, and bad food? I had a good one, but going home and reconnecting with family is one of major causes of anxiety during the holiday season. As people grow older, they choose how far they want to distance themselves from their parents’ values and beliefs, and the greater the space, the more tension when opposing forces reunite. After leaving Themyscira against her mother’s wishes, Diana's conflicted spirit begins to get in the way of her Wonder Woman duties, so she decides to return home and face her mother. When she arrives, Diana finds an island in shambles, her mother and sisters frozen as statues, and evil warlock Felix Faust at the center of the destruction, working to unleash Hades upon the world.
Diana’s return to Themyscira is a surprisingly apt metaphor for what it’s like to return home after tragic events like death or divorce. A familiar, comfortable environment is suddenly fraught with importance, as the holidays become one of the few opportunities to bring the whole family together. Yet there’s still that tension, the conflict that grows as the child ventures further from the nest, and Diana’s frozen relatives are the force that she will ultimately have to overcome. Diana has left the island, and she is learning and growing. She’s becoming more familiar with the world of man, and she doesn’t think it’s all that bad. When Felix Faust forces Diana to retrieve the pieces of a key that will open the gates of Tartarus, she is forced to choose between saving her family or the world, and she chooses to trust in her friends to help her do both.
By bringing men to Themyscira, Diana breaks the fundamental law of the island. Even though she would not be able to defeat Faust and Hades with Flash, Superman, Batman, and J’onn, Diana ends up being banished by her grateful mother, who must not compromise her authority as queen. They may not be made of stone anymore, but the Amazons remain firm and unmoving in their ideals, Diana just doesn’t agree with them anymore. She had wanted to leave, and now she is able to with her mother’s blessing, but she also carries the shame for her actions. Sounds like a trip home to me.
I’m not sure how much of metaphor stuff is intentional because Joseph Kuhr serves up a simple plot that basically plays out like a video game. The Justice League has to collect all the pieces of the relic before the timer runs out. J’onn and Flash fight a snake. Wonder Woman and Superman fight each other. Felix Faust shoots exploding balls of energy that should look familiar to anyone that has played a Metroid game. Hades summons an army of undead skeleton warriors for some button-mashing beat ‘em up action. To close the gate, Wonder Woman has to pull out the key, and “Push A as fast as you can!” might as well flash across the screen. Even the music has an 8-bit quality at times, especially during the fight scenes. The finale is a block/shoot the obstacles flying game, but it’s also one of director Dan Riba’s best action sequences.
“Paradise Lost” is Justice League’s Greek epic mini-movie, and there’s a great sequence in the second part where Bruce Timm illustrates the flashback to Hades and Hippolyta’s relationship in the style of Greek pottery drawings. It’s a clever way to tell a sweeping story without struggling over how to appropriately animate it, and it’s been done before in the DCAU, but Timm’s images benefit from his striking color work. The story of Hades betrayal during the war with the Titans brings the plot even deeper into mythology, even if it doesn’t strictly follow Greek continuity.
This is a fitting episode to watch after this month’s issue of Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s fantastic Wonder Woman series. After the goddess Strife revealed Diana’s lineage at the end of last issue as the daughter of Zeus, Hippolyta tells the story of her courtship with Zeus, and there are some strong parallels between the relaunched series and Justice League’s Wonder Woman. In JLU’s “The Balance,” Hades reveals that he is Diana’s father, or more specifically that he was with Hippolyta when they made Diana out of clay. The idea of Diana being born out of the love between the King of the Underworld and Queen of the Amazons is captivating, and it’s something that I wish could have been more fully explored on this series. Giving Diana a godly lineage makes her a part of a story that has been told for thousands of years, and opens the doors for family drama that I hope Azzarello takes full advantage of.
In anticipation of next week’s DC Relaunch Rundown, let’s talk about how great the Wonder Woman title is right now. Azzarello and Chiang were a great team on Dr. 13: Architecture and Mortality, and their partnership is only getting stronger on this series. When Diana learns about her true parentage, she feels betrayed and confused, but most significantly, she’s angry. After knocking down a few trees, Diana walks up to the Amazon that has been talking shit about her the entire issue, and punches her in the face before Aleka can finish a sentence. It’s the kind of “Aw, yeah!” moment I’ve been waiting to see from Wonder Woman for a while, and Cliff Chiang’s imposing yet gorgeous Diana sells the scene. Tony Akins is taking over the artwork for issues #5 and #6, but he’s not too big of a departure from Chiang’s style and he did some great design work on Jack of Fables. Azzarello plans to keep Wonder Woman on the fringe of the DC universe and firmly out of crossover territory, so I fully expect this title to continue picking up steam as Azzarello, Chiang, and company flesh out more ideas.
- Wonder Woman saves a girl named Cassie at the top of the episode, which is probably a nod to Cassie Sandsmark, future Wonder Girl.
- Tropical storm Gardner, most likely named after Justice League of America writer Gardner Fox (storms get first names, right?), but I like to think it could potentially be a reference to Guy Gardner, everyone’s favorite Green Lantern with a bowl-cut.
- The Superman vs. Wonder Woman looks like it might be Parademon vs. Fing Fang Foom. That fight scene could easily have been cut, because rather than showing off Diana’s strength, her stupidity is put on display.
- There’s some good disturbing imagery this episode, with Felix Faust mounting heads on the wall of his office and Hades transforming into a giant wolf-hulk with three tongues.
- Hippolyta is absolute shit with a dagger. Her attack on Felix Faust is just sad.
- Hades flame breath means an obligatory breath mint joke from Flash, otherwise he’s not too heavy on the one-liners this week.
- Flash: “She wants me.” J’onn: “Indeed.”