A Retrospective on Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia (2002)
Since her debut in 1941, Wonder Woman has become one of the most recognizable superheroes of all time. She has been featured in a plethora of mediums, from the 1970's Lynda Carter-led television series to the recent film adaptations featuring actress Gal Gadot.
Interestingly enough, my initial exposure to Wonder Woman solely lied in television mediums. It was not until recently that I began to truly educate myself on the character and her respective mythos.
So, some time ago I found myself reading Greg Rucka and J.G. Jones' collaboration on Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia. When it comes to comic book theory and the analysis of superheroes, one of the concepts that always stands out to me is the deconstruction of the hero and their duty.
In regard to Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia, this very concept is addressed in an unexpectedly tragic way. Oftentimes, superheroes impose a code upon themselves, one that keeps them in check from becoming the villains they swear to combat. Oftentimes, this code abides by the law their society imposes.
This particular story challenges that perception of code, law, and honor. It pits heroes against one another and forces one to consider the possibility of an impossible decision.
So, without further ado, let me acquaint you with the modern tragedy of Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia.
Thicker Than Blood
Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia opens with our titular character expressing a serious case of homesickness. Within the world of men, Diana is prescribed to a duty, one that comprises her service to mankind. She must maintain alliances and exemplify loyalty to those she vows to protect. Unfortunately though, this duty requires her to be removed from her family and community in which she feels safest.
As her introspection continues, Diana ponders the concept of laws, specifically that of hiketeia. Ultimately, hiketeia is a sacred, ancient ritual, one that involves a supplicant asking another for their protection. Consequently, the one who is asked of hiketeia will take full responsibility for the supplicant, with the supplicant rescinding their autonomy in return.
Hiketeia comprises an unbreakable promise. So, if one were to abandon their supplicant, they would face grave punishment as the hiketeia only ends upon the supplicant's decision to terminate the connection.
So, in this sequence, one can address Diana's uncertainty in regard to the state of mankind. The world of mankind is much crueler than Themyscira. As a result, Diana finds herself struggling to trust this world.
However, what she does trust is an ideal she has found stability in, even in the world of men: the law.
The Heart of Justice
Thus, in the context of Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia, a young woman named Danielle Wellys implores Wonder Woman to accept hiketeia, which Wonder Woman does. This offer of hiketeia comes after Danielle finds herself pursued by none other than Gotham City's guardian, Batman.
Well, Danielle is wanted for the murders of multiple men.
As Batman pursues Danielle, she attempts to explain herself and justify her crimes. Though, Batman refuses to listen. So, when Wonder Woman accepts responsibility for Danielle through hiketeia, which includes the duty of protecting Danielle from harm, Batman chastises his long-time ally.
He expresses disappointment as he believes Wonder Woman is betraying her own code of justice. To this, Wonder Woman reminds Batman that hiketeia is unbreakable and sacred, informing him that he does not fully understand the code by which she lives.
Now, towards the story's conclusion, we come to learn that Danielle killed the men responsible for the horrific abuse and callous murder of her own sister. Without giving the story's conclusion away, the narrative culminates into quite the stand-off between Batman and Wonder Woman, both pursuing their own perceptions of justice with Danielle in the middle of it all.
It should come as no surprise that one of the best aspects of Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia is the complex dynamic between Batman and Wonder Woman. In the context of this story, the two exemplify laws that counteract each other, therefore obstructing the processes by which they execute their heroism.
Batman claims to exemplify the binary of good of evil, the embodiment of blind, objective, and unbiased justice.
Though, what exactly defines an unbiased code of justice? In the context of an infinite number of comic book stories, varying heroes maintain varying interpretations of this concept.
According to Wonder Woman's point of view, codes and laws are the fabric of existence, whether one is willing to accept that or not.
"Written, unwritten, new, ancient, social, religious...we are slaves to laws. Each builds upon others, forming the lattice we call civilization."
In fact, the law has served as a tether to her own assurance in the world of man. With this,
law is often perceived to be the concept that instills order across a civilization, but what happens when there is no clear-defined, ubiquitous law? What happens when the harbingers of justice no longer see eye-to-eye?
Batman and Wonder Woman have served as symbols of justice throughout their careers. Now, they are on opposite sides of the battle, therefore inciting doubt in identifying the real hero of this story and defining the right thing to do.
With this though, the act of honoring a particular code may not truly define a hero's practice, and, thus, the hero themselves.
A Cold Night on Earth
It is worth stating that Batman and Wonder Woman's opposition in Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia does not mean that one of them is in the wrong.
Perhaps one of them is, but there is no clear cut definition of that stance in this story.
Both individuals are honoring codes they believe to be sacred, even if those codes are still products of self-interest or self-defined duty.
Now, one cannot help but wonder if this choice contradicts the heroic symbol Diana has built for herself as Wonder Woman. Perhaps it implies that she cannot abide by an objective law. Though, one must also consider that Woman is exemplifying honor by abiding by ancient and sacred tradition.
Oftentimes, heroes pursue objectivity in the form of law and order. Additionally, heroes find themselves acting outside of the law in order to bring justice to those the law has failed to sentence. We all know Batman is no stranger to the latter.
Thus, laws, rituals, and order may provide a hero with a semblance of stability and honor, but if that hero were to dig a little deeper, perhaps they would find an ideal to cast doubt upon in addition to their own faults in honoring the ideal completely.