Meanwhile, Wonder Woman had been busy since her battle with the Cheetah and Kobra’s minions. She had assured Eloise Abernathy that she would rescue her missing father and the Huckabys. However, several things troubled her.
The Dark Commander was unknown to me, she thought. However, JLA files revealed that a male who used that name and similar armor once battled Diana when she was Wonder Woman. He even murdered her lover Steve Trevor, although special magic eventually brought another Steve Trevor into her life. That Dark Commander also died. (*) Still, if magic was able to restore one man, it could surely do the same for another. If the female Dark Commander is related to the previous one, then it would explain her hatred for anyone named Wonder Woman. However, her language and power suggests that she is more than mortal. We Amazons have been plagued by malicious Olympians before. I know too well the evil Mars represents. He schooled me in his ways when I was his magically enslaved pupil. I know that it was through such magic that the Dark Commander observed my movements and knew I had met Etta and Howard. She also supported the Cheetah and helped her escape.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Crypt of the Dark Commander,” Wonder Woman #248 (October, 1978).]
Nubia crossed her legs and sighed as she stared at the computer screen on the JLA Satellite. “If some of Diana’s friends have been taken by this fiendish woman, then perhaps others may also be in peril,” she said. “The JLA computer will enable me to learn the locations of many of them.”
She worked swiftly, and after making a few calls across the nation, Nubia knew that Diana’s former roommates, including Cathy Perkins, were all safe. She also learned that her sister’s colleagues from her jobs at NASA and the United Nations were also accounted for, except for the long-missing Steve Trevor, who obviously had disappeared under different conditions entirely. “None of Diana’s other past allies are missing. That means I may focus my attentions on finding poor Howard and Etta. Why Sofia took the Sword of Artemis, or if she even did so, remains a mystery, too. Perhaps I will find the answers I need about the Dark Commander and why she clearly hates my mother so on Paradise Island.”
Quickly teleporting down to Science Island, Nubia greeted the Amazon’s chief scientist, Paula Von Gunta, with pleasure. “Hola, Paula,” she said. “I have come to see my mother, but I would talk with you as well. Have you any means of tracking a being called the Dark Commander? Has she some tie to our culture or that of the Olympians?”
Paula, a tall blonde, nodded thoughtfully. “Princess, I have been working on something that I had not imagined being used in such a manner,” she said. “However, I think it just might have such an application as well.” She led Nubia inside the Hall of Science, where the brilliant woman conducted most of her experiments. “Princess, as you know, many of your tools or weapons contain a magic that came from our patronesses. I think that I may use this device to track mystical energies of a like kind. That is to say, I recorded the powerful personal energies given off by Athena and Aphrodite when they last appeared to us. That type of power is far beyond my ability to tap. I had imagined that I could do so in order to enhance the effectiveness of our purple healing ray, which has been rather unstable at times. That failed, but the energy signature of our Olympian patronesses remained within my device. They had a particular pattern in common as Olympians. I think perhaps we could try to track the Olympian magic this Dark Commander seems to possess as well. If she is empowered by such mystical energies, then I may be able to fashion a detection device.”
“That idea would not have occurred to most of my sister Amazons, but as ever you possess a mind free from any bias or limitations be they ancestral or cultural,” complimented Nubia.
“My thanks,” said Paula. “Shall we attempt to use the device? I have tried to pinpoint Olympian energies on this globe before and failed to detect anything beyond the location of Donna Troy, the former Wonder Girl.”
“I still would welcome such an attempt,” said Nubia. “Will you use the device while I talk to my mother?” Paula nodded with an eager look in her blue eyes. She was always ready for any scientific challenge.
Wonder Woman hurried inside the palace on the main isle and greeted her regal mother, Queen Hippolyta. “Nubia, do you bring news of Sofia?” asked the blonde.
Nubia shook her head. “I have learned only that her old associate Aegeus has escaped from prison. I suspect a connection. Paula is working to help me track the Sword. I believe it may be tied into a more pressing matter. A woman calling herself the Dark Commander, and styling her armor after one of Diana’s late foes, has abducted two of Diana’s friends. She has displayed great power, and her speech and mannerisms suggest a connection to Olympian magic. She also mentioned you as if she had some private spite against you.”
Hippolyta frowned. “Many of the Olympians do bare malice for us. It is the same in many families. Close ties of blood may lead to bonds of love or of hatred.”
“I know most of the malice comes from Mars himself,” said Nubia. “Why does he have such personal enmity for the Amazon nation? Is it due to the fact that you all were warriors who embraced the ways of peace and rejected his rule? During my years under his sway, I always felt that he nursed a personal grudge against you that was far out of proportion to any specific hurt or deed.”
Hippolyta sighed and tossed back her golden hair as she recalled old events from her youth. “Nubia, Mars hates me because I rejected his ways, and he felt this rejection most keenly because he cared for me deeply long ago. He is my father. I know you must have wondered before about our origins, and it always surprised me that he told you so little during his time seeing to your maturation and training.”
Nubia gasped in surprise. “Your father?! I knew some of the tales suggested as much, but I dismissed them as mere fables, since the names differed from one version to another. I would learn more!”
“I will relate our family history now,” said Hippolyta. “I should have done so long ago, but I always feared ruining the relationship we two had developed so wonderfully in recent years. It was such a boon to have my lost child back once more that I feared stirring up old wounds that might change things between us. I knew the potent anger you felt for Mars and how he robbed you of much of your normal life colored all you did, and I certainly did not wish you to ever associate me with him and his ways.” Nubia gazed intently at the beautiful woman and listened as she related a tale of a time long ago.
The Amazon queen looked stunning and no older than she did had eons old when she had first departed a barren shore for an isle called Paradise. She still remembered that ancient home and how it felt when the River Thermodon rushed by her sandal-worn feet. During that golden era, she had been held in awe by all that dwelt nearby. She had been called Daughter of Enyalius, and as such was revered at shrines ranging from Sparta to Athens. Her mother had been Otrera, the daughter of fierce Ares himself. He had, in turn, fathered Hippolyta with Otrera herself. This was not uncommon among the twelve Olympians in those ancient days. And surely who better to father the sisterhood of warrior women called Amazons than the god of war and battle himself?
Hippolyta sighed. Ares was the name the Greeks gave to her father. It was the name she had used on the occasions during her youth in which he visited her and watched with pride as she excelled in every art, both martial and otherwise. He had named her himself with delight and purpose. For the Oracles foretold her future prowess even when she was but a tiny, blonde infant.
“Hippolyta, Lady of the Stampeding Horses, warrior princess, and fair conqueress!” he had announced with paternal pride. She had grown strong and fair and was taught the arts of combat by her father and mother and the famed centaur Chiron, who would also tutor Jason, Theseus, and other demigods. She had known her father in terms much like those of the later Homeric hymn, which spoke of Ares as “defence of Olympus, father of warlike Victory … leader of righteous men, sceptred King of manliness,” and implored, “O blessed one, give you me boldness to abide within the harmless laws of peace, avoiding strife and hatred and the violent fiends of death.”
However, as she would learn with bitter regret that Ares, like all the Olympians, carried within him a second and often ugly nature less divine than devilish. Still, for years, the blonde beauty’s life as the child of a god was splendid. She mastered every battle skill and earned the title warrior princess by her sixteenth year. She bonded with his many other female children by countless women other than Otrera. These women warriors became known as Amazons and formed a unique sisterhood. Like their famous father, they were feared and admired for battle prowess and courage. She also grew up with two real sisters who were also children of her parents — Antiope and Penthesilea. They formed a striking trio, with Hippolyta, the blonde and the eldest; Antiope, the dark middle child; and youngest of all, the red-haired Penthesilea.
Still, even as Ares watched them grow with pride — and his pride was strongest for Hippolyta — he also displayed another side. As his own father Zeus had once said, “You are to me the most hateful of gods who dwell upon Olympus, for dear to you are strife and war. You have your mother Hera’s intolerable, unyielding spirit!”
Hippolyta enjoyed proving her skills and beating all challengers, but she also had a feminine side that enjoyed dressing in fine gowns and rare jewels. She was as proud of her beauty and intellectual charms as she was of her strength and skill. She did not like to hurt others in her games of war. She saw combat as noble only when fought for pure reasons alone, as in defense of those too weak to protect themselves.
Ares, cruel and fond of violence for its own sake, differed from her strongly. He may have been called defender, but he also was a bloody warrior with a pleasure in slaughter for its own right. He encouraged the Spartans to live up to such a code of stoic and merciless victory at all cost. These people had been Hippolyta’s admirers, and she hated what he turned them into with no regard for their higher natures. Hippolyta could never afterward think of him as Ares, the proud father who loved her spirit and applauded her battle skills; she chose to have her people always call the enemy of their peaceful ways — Mars. This name of a Roman fertility god had been appropriated by her father over time. So as she drifted closer to the teachings of Aphrodite and Athena (also a battle goddess with a wise and insightful nature), she lost the father she had adored. Ares lived on in her memory, but this vile and hateful killer could only be called Mars from then on by his daughter and her followers.
Thus separated from her father Ares by his cruel and violent nature and the more feminine instincts that formed a part of the young beauty, Hippolyta had become a crusader of sorts who led the other daughters of Ares to embrace the virtues of love and peace as taught by Athena and Aphrodite. She and her Amazon sisters dwelt in peace along the Thermodon. True, the area, like all of ancient Greece in those days of yore, was plagued with monsters and magic, but Hippolyta and her Amazons were more than capable of slaying such creatures.
They were not alone in their skills, for the era of heroes was upon them. Demigods, the other beings that were children of the Olympians and mortals, were making names for themselves by valor and wonderful adventures. Men like Perseus, Theseus, and Bellerophon, and women like Atalanta and Callisto had epics sung by bards about their heroic deeds. However, perhaps none of them, were as greatly heralded as Herakles or Hercules. This son of Zeus and a mortal woman was offered a choice by the Fates themselves. He could live an obscure life of easy pleasure, or he could dedicate his life to virtuous hardship and heroism. He chose the second course and continued a life full of adventure and glory and peril.
From his crib, Herakles had endured the wrath of Hera, queen of the Olympians, because of her jealousy over the infidelity of her husband Zeus with mortal women such as Herakles’ mother. He had never failed to triumph in any task he attempted. Then Hera’s foul magic destroyed his children and left him maddened with rage and grief. Some said he had killed his own family while under Hera’s spell. Others claimed it was her fiery anger that had ended their lives and driven him mad with sorrow. In any case, he offered to undertake twelve labors by which he might win such redemption. His ninth task was to bring back the Girdle of Aphrodite, which was worn by Hippolyta herself as a mark of the favor the love goddess bore her. Thus the hero entered the life of the lovely Amazon queen, and nothing had been the same from that moment onward.
“I digress,” said Queen Hippolyta. “You know the rest. Nubia, forgive me for never telling you that Mars was my father. He naturally took my leading the other Amazons to the ways of Athena and Aphrodite as a very personal injury. I have always felt that in stealing you from your cradle, he sought to hurt me, but also he wanted to shape you into the woman he had wanted me to be.”
“I have nothing to forgive,” said Nubia. “You acted to shield me from pain. That is what a mother does. I know you acted out of such a motive as well when you used the Mists of Nepenthe to make Diana forget certain elements of her own past. She forgave you at the end. Never forget that!”
Queen Hippolyta touched Nubia’s hand and said, “I thank you for that welcome reminder. I am determined not to make the same mistakes with Diana this time that I made before. Having her to raise anew is a true blessing.”
“You are such a blessing to me,” said Nubia. “I know it must pain you at times to see the way the threads of Fate have formed such a bitter weave between you and one who fathered you.”
Hippolyta nodded ruefully. “I have had many an eon to come to terms with such a loss. If I did not have the teachings of Athena and Aphrodite upon which to lean, I would be most sorrowful and wounded.”
“I can only assume this evil Dark Commander is the latest surrogate daughter of Mars,” said Nubia. “She has his hatred and his power about her. I am eager to best her in combat and free my friends.”
Hippolyta looked sad as she said, “Nubia, Diana found protecting those helpless people to be rewarding and demanding. I see you also feel that way. She would be proud.”
Nubia smiled at the blonde queen. “I am glad. I seek ever to honor her while displaying my own worth as well.”