Reading Hiketeia: A Wonder Woman Newbie’s Look at a Classic

With Wonder Woman Day on the horizon, writer Meg Downey gets in the mood by reading one of Diana’s best standalone tales, Greg Rucka and J.G. Jones’ WONDER WOMAN: THE HIKETEIA. What does this modern day Greek tragedy teach us about this summer’s most talked-about hero?

Alright, I have a confession to make.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but…I don’t really know all that much about Wonder Woman.

I know, I know, totally embarrassing, and this week of all weeks. But as lame as saying that out loud makes me feel, I have to be honest—outside of meeting Diana in crossover events and team books, I haven’t really had all that much contact with her.

Now, obviously, I want to correct that now more than ever, so I’m really making an attempt to hit the ground running here. I dug around, spoke with some very savvy Wonder Woman fans about some “essential” back issue reading and came up with a consensus almost immediately: Greg Rucka and J.G. Jones’ graphic novel, WONDER WOMAN: THE HIKETEIA, was not to be missed.

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As Wonder Woman stories go, this one’s apparently pretty definitive—and, added bonus, it’s the current Wonder Woman scribe Greg Rucka’s first work with the character.

How’s that for a starting point?

You can find The Hiketeia reprinted in the pages of WONDER WOMAN BY GREG RUCKA—it’s the first story, so it’s pretty hard to miss—and read along, either as a first timer like I am, or as a veteran fan looking to get back to the root of things.

Also, since The Hiketeia is a graphic novel and not a series of issues, I’m going to break it down into smaller sections as denoted by major events taking place. Sound good? Let’s go!

GREEK HISTORY

I’m going to be totally honest here. I read the first two pages of this story and set the book down to Google whether or not “Hiketeia” was a real thing or something that Greg Rucka had just made up for the sake of telling a really cool Wonder Woman story.

It’s a real thing. It’s completely a real thing. I may or may not have lost an embarrassing amount of time falling down a Wikipedia spiral on this one, but it’s a totally legit part of ancient Greek history.

That being said, I can immediately tell I’m in for a very new sort of story. Back on my home turf of Gotham City, the only sort of ancient history lessons I really learn are from guys like Maxie Zeus, and, well…let’s just say he’s not the most trustworthy source of information. This is breaking new ground for me already and I’m barely more than two or three pages in.

So Hiketeia is intense—like, really intense—and the sort of bond or oath that gets upheld by literal monsters, which is awesome.

I also really like starting out with Diana working as the ambassador from Themyscira. I’m a sucker for heroes with day jobs, and for heroes having to deal with the public. Diana’s way, way more patient with her fans that I probably would be in her situation, though.

MAKING A PLEA

Here’s where things start to get really interesting for me. I’ve already spoken a bit about how I consider Gotham to be my home turf, so you can probably guess I’m a Batman girl at heart—and most of the Wonder Woman fans I went to for recommendations knew that about me. This story was sold to me as something Batman featured pretty heavily in.

I didn’t actually know how he factored into things, though.

So now we’ve got this girl who, clearly, in Bruce’s eyes, is a criminal, making this Hiketeia plea to Diana to protect her.

Interesting.

I may not know Diana that well, but I know Batman like the back of my hand and he’s definitely not someone who gives up or lets people go.This girl is clearly in trouble, and now Diana’s in trouble right there with her.

And to make things worse, the furies—or the Erinyes, as Diana calls them—are pretty scary. They don’t seem like a group who are all that into making compromises, either.

They also really, really seem to have it out for Diana. This is getting pretty tense.

MAINTAINING HIKETEIA

I really, really love that Diana basically hired Danielle to be her secretary. That’s a really nice way to translate all the ancient Greek formality of the Hiketeia oath into modern terms.

…But, of course, it can’t be that easy, can it?

Before things can get too cozy for Danny in her new job, Batman’s just gotta show up—who does he think he is, anyway? Some kind of detective?

Bruce’s side of the story admittedly does make things sound…pretty bleak, I’ll be honest. By his accounting of things, Danielle is a straight up murderer, and she isn’t really doing all that much to state her case to the contrary.

This is probably the exact moment in the story where I realized that I was really actively rooting for Diana here. I definitely was never rooting against her, but now that Batman’s here and trying to throw his weight around, I’m really feeling the stakes.

This is definitely one of those “unstoppable force versus immovable object” type conflicts—though Bruce definitely has less to lose here than Diana or Danny do, he just doesn’t realize it.

And honestly? That makes it even better. It’s always fun to see Batman when he doesn’t hold all the cards.

DANNY’S STORY

Alright, this is the moment I’ve been waiting for. Hiketeia hasn’t really been a mystery story, really, but it has had this mystery running underneath it from the start.

Why did Danny kill those men? What put her so high up on Bruce’s list of people to bring in?

I expected Danny’s history to be sad, but I didn’t expect this particular type of sad.

Bringing her sister into the mix really makes for a poignant look at not just tragedy, but at some of the tropes that push the super hero genre at its core; this idea that vengeance and “doing what’s right” are things that can’t be compromised on. The fact that Danny was doing it to emulate the rules and laws from Diana’s culture in an effort to be more like her really just adds a whole extra layer.

I love the fact that Diana doesn’t react to Danny’s story by trying to chime in with judgment. The opportunity was there, Diana knows she’s telling the truth (Danny has to be honest because of the magic of Hiketeia between them) but she doesn’t try and explain to Danny that what she did was wrong or right. She just listens, and tells her they’ll figure out next steps in the morning.

That sort of patience isn’t something I’m used to seeing from super heroes and it’s made Diana really stick out to me as something special in a way I wasn’t anticipating at all when I started this book.

In a world where people can fly and dodge bullets, being completely level headed in tough situations is just as much a super power as heat vision.

OATH ENDING

So, after spilling her guts, Danny does what I probably would do in a situation this stressful and runs.

…But of course, Batman finds her, and then things really start going downhill.

For as big a Batman as I am, I always feel a ton of satisfaction watching him lose fights (see my recent breakdown of “The Button” for a recent example). This is especially true with fights that I feel like he’s in the wrong in—and this definitely no different. I’ve decided by now that I’m 100% behind Diana on this one. After all, she really doesn’t have a choice; the furies are literally right there. Bruce thinks he understands (he usually does, after all), but he absolutely doesn’t. Not this time.

Of course, for as satisfying as watching Diana completely demolish Batman in a fight is, in the end, it’s still a tragedy. Danny still dies. Neither hero was successful in their mission.

It’s brutal, but in a beautiful sort of way. I came into this story feeling kind of…well, alienated from Wonder Woman. I didn’t know how to approach her, I wasn’t sure where to look for her personality and I was deeply intimidated by her history. I absolutely don’t feel that way anymore.

If I only get to take one thing away from The Hiketeia, it’ll be that Wonder Woman is defined by her compassion the same way Batman is defined by his obsession or Superman is defined by his altruism.

At the end of the day, I think that’s a pretty good definition to have.

Alright, now who has some more newbie Wonder Woman recommendations for me? Leave them in the comments bellow!
Meg Downey writes about Rebirth for DCComics.com and covers DC’s Legends of Tomorrow for the #DCTV Couch Club. Look for her on Twitter at @rustypolished.

WONDER WOMAN BY GREG RUCKA VOL. 1, which includes Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia, is currently available for $5.99 as a part of this week’s Wonder Woman Digital Comics Sale. In addition, look for other acclaimed Diana tales from George Perez, Brian Azzarello, Jill Thompson, J. Michael Straczynski, Renee de Liz and more.

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