Release: July 1987
Writer: Len Wein
Pencils: George Pérez
Inks: Bruce D Patterson
Ares is here, and the shit has officially hit the fan. The book opens with a news report bringing everyone up to speed before this final confrontation: a general has taken over an American nuclear missile silo with aims to release atomic war on the world. A counterpart in Russia is doing the same thing. Nobody knows what the hell is going on, but the president is sure that he’s incapable of stopping it. Thankfully Wonder Woman’s on the case. We open with our heroes all confronted with the reality of Ares before them, which is unsurprisingly very unexpected from the people who are just soldiers and scholars that have become Diana’s retinue.
Nobody’s paralyzed by indecision for long, however, and everyone jumps into the fray against the rogue soldiers and the general at their head. Diana is after him, trying to get to him before he can launch the nuke, while everyone else is backup. One of the interesting things about this fight, which rages all across the missile silo, is that (building upon some of the stuff I talked about yesterday) both Etta and Steve are shown as totally capable of killing the bad guys. There’s some remorse, but without hand wringing, and it was reading this that I realized for the first time just how much it makes sense to entrench Diana with soldiers as her origin. They’re probably the only group of people that wouldn’t immediately censure her for her approach to dealing with bad guys, and the only group you compare her to where her use of lethal force feels possible without a lot of caveats. Also Etta straight up shoots people and that’s great, considering she spent her first decades being a long running fat joke.
Either way, Diana exerts all of her strength to tear down the secured bunker doors to the launch room, yelling at Ares the whole while that he’s a coward for refusing to face her and for hiding behind mortals. Ares takes the bait, but instead of revealing himself proper, sucks Diana into a void dimension, where he faces her with all of his godhood.
Diana and Ares square off, but an Amazon is no challenge against a god. Ares is more interested in breaking her spirit than defeating her in a straight up fight, and so he shows her the reality of the situation: the gods ready to abandon the mortal world, the Amazons suffering as their divine protectors flee, leaving Themyscira wilting away literally as plants die and the Amazons rapidly age. Diana, resolute, refuses to give up hope. In a desperate attempt to handle Ares, she suffers blasts of his fire and casts her lasso around him.
This is her one last gasp, not to go out punching but to go out giving Ares the burden of truth, which in his case is an apocalyptic vision of the world to come. Ares is subjected, through the three pages I’m going to just link below, a sprawling vision of the world in which he succeeds. All of humanity dies in glorious combat, but then he’s left on a radioactive cinder of a world, with nobody to worship him or any other god. Alone, empty, he will spend eternity in the crisis of knowing that his greatest victory caused his greatest calamity. And, both because it’s accurate and because it’s book 6 of a 7 issue arc, it works. It’s also a really spectacular way for Diana to defeat the literal effigy of all conflict without it reducing to punching each other. It’s really good.
There’s been solid stuff in these six comics to date, but Diana managing to argue down the apocalypse by appealing to Ares’ vanity and managing to get a pat on the back as mankind’s protector at the end of it is maybe the highest point. It establishes her as a power character that thinks her problems through instead of just fights them, able to use cleverness and emotional fortitude to win the day. And it’s awesome. Ares literally just undoes his plan in a heartbeat, walking away from the death of the world with a promise that he’ll let humanity screw themselves over if they want. Equally as important, it offers an idea that the gods both good and bad wish for the same fate of Diana. She’s the steward of humanity, whether it be the gods who birthed her wanting an ambassador to bring their praises to the modern world; or Ares, waiting in the wings to watch this warrior tasked with spreading peace, ready to resume the moral conflict should she fail in her task. It’s a tall order, but for a young hero it’s a really strong charter to end the first story with.
Our final page picks up with Etta and Julie and all in the silo, watching as the men under Ares’ control collapse (and the dead ones burn away), leaving them to wait for the good military to arrive, where Etta explains everything that’s happened. They all wonder where Steve’s gotten off to, only for him to emerge from the launch room, carrying an injured and unconscious Diana. She was victorious, but at what cost?