What is more important: duty or justice? When should “what’s right” supersede “the law”? At what point should you stop protecting an individual in order for justice to be served?
These are incredibly heady, very difficult questions, and each is posed in Greg Rucka and J. G. Jones’ Wonder Woman-The Hiketeia. Originally published in 2002, the original graphic novel sees Diana of Themyscira take a young woman under her protection, only to find out her plight isn’t as one-sided as it initially seemed. Widely regarded as one of the greatest Wonder Woman stories ever written, and rightfully so, The Hiketeia also just so happens to feature our favorite Dark Knight Detective in a supporting role. Given that Diana’s first solo outing on the big screen comes out tomorrow, now’s as good a time as any to look back on this gem of a story.
The idea of the Hiketeia, as a plot point, is sanctuary. Rather, it’s an oath that somebody takes when they’re in trouble, requesting supplication from another in return for protection. Terrible analogy time: Hiketeia is kind of like the life debt Chewie owes Han, but in reverse. The one needing protection asks the guardian for it, rather than the guardian pledging themselves to the other. Like I said, terrible comparison, but at least I met my Star Wars reference quota.
Hiketeia is a request that is the guardian’s right to accept or refuse, but if accepted they are bound to protect their charge no matter the cost. “To grant Hiketeia is to accept complete responsibility for the supplicant,” we’re told. The only way to be released from the oath is by the supplicant’s word… or their death.
Rucka, who would go on to write Wonder Woman for several years shortly after this was published, builds a solid sense of character mythology in 90 short pages. If anything can be held against him it’s that he doesn’t explore many facets of Diana’s personality, but that’s hardly surprising in a one-shot. Given the limited space, he actually touches on quite a few important aspects of the character: her mythological connections, her sense of duty, and her willingness to show grace.
The mythological aspects are strange, as they should be, with Diana often seeing the Furies on the fringes of whatever is going on around her. Thinking tragedy is meant to befall her, she dismisses the crones, claiming they have no power with her.
It’s easy to see, of course, that they aren’t messengers of her doom. This is a modern day tragedy, evident right from the first page, but it isn’t Diana’s tragedy. She is but a player in the proceedings, and even with her best intentions she can’t prevent fate. “Greek tragedy is always a story of the insoluble,” she says, hoping to deny the fates the prize they seek. Whether justice needs to be served or not, surely Diana’s willingness to rehabilitate the girl will count for something.
It’s that sense of grace that makes this story rise above its tragedy, and also what makes its tragedy that much more harrowing and poignant. Diana accepts the girl as she is, no questions asked. Under Hiketeia it is her right to be able to ask why her charge seeks asylum, to ask what she’s running from, and Danielle is obligated to answer truthfully. It’s no matter to Diana, though, as she doesn’t care. The girl needs help, and that’s all that matters.
But… the girl is a criminal. As such, Batman is not wrong to pursue her. After all, she killed several men and needs to answer for her crimes. Justice must be served, no matter what Diana’s honor bound to do.
Like all stories, there are two sides. Danielle killed some men, absolutely, but why?
They were sex traffickers. Disgusting, sleazy men who abduct fragile women, drug them up, use them for the own lascivious desires, and then dispose of them when they’re no longer needed. Killing is wrong, but… surely not in this case?
These are hard, hard questions without easy answers, and Rucka doesn’t try to answer them. Diana is right to protect the girl and show her grace, and Bruce is right to want to bring her to justice. If the story ends predictably, it’s because that’s the only ending that will work. After all, this is a tragedy. There are no happy endings.
Besides the heavy themes, I really love the interactions between Diana and Bruce. Both are stubborn, unwilling to yield in their respective pursuits. Even though the now-iconic image of Batman under Wonder Woman’s boot is a powerful image, Bruce isn’t portrayed as a pushover. Diana is strong, and so is he, in his own way. She doesn’t want to cripple her fellow hero, but she doesn’t want to forsake her duty either. It’s a great battle of wills to watch, as Bruce tries to use Diana’s compassion against her with no avail. Even though she’s gracious, she’s no pushover.
J.G. Jones’ art is quite lovely, aided by some gorgeous colors from Dave Stewart. His Diana, for instance, is tall, strong, fierce, and beautiful, just as she should be. There are some absolutely stunning images, such as the two above (the latter of which is part of a double-page spread) and a scene where Diana throws Batman from a second story window. The visual storytelling relies just as much on facial expressions, panel layouts, and narrative flow as the script does, and Jones is Rucka’s equal in that regard. It’s hard to imagine another penciller for this story, and I don’t think there could have been any other choice.
Though this story is long out of print on its own, it’s available as part of the Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka, Vol. 1 collection released last year. It’s on sale for four bucks for a digital copy, and that’s an insane deal to pass up. Get it.
- You want a great, standalone comic.
- You’re looking for some great Wonder Woman stories.
Overall: This is a hard story that doesn’t want easy answers, and a true masterpiece of comic storytelling. Rucka and Jones have truly crafted one of the greatest Wonder Woman stories of all time, with a tale that is as tragic as it is beautiful. A modern day tragedy in the truest sense, The Hiketeia is an almost perfect celebration of Wonder Woman’s character. Given the heavy subject matter, you may only want to read it once, but you should definitely read it without question.