When the “Sacrifice” arc was announced, it caused quite the controversy in the fan community. Fans who were following The Omac Project miniseries grumbled about having to buy the “Sacrifice” arc, which ran through the Superman and Wonder Woman titles, due to its bearing a direct effect on The Omac Project storyline. But this controversy is nothing compared to the one that hit after fans saw the last page of the Wonder Woman installment.
(Spoiler warning: this review will reveal plot details from various DC Comic books of the past months.)
First, a background into the story leading up to this arc, which takes place between The Omac Project #3 and #4. Maxwell Lord, head of Checkmate, has co-opted a spy satellite owned by Bruce Wayne (who, as we all know, is Batman) to spy on the superhero community in the DC Universe. Batman eventually finds out that his satellite is no longer under his control and begins to investigate who the culprit is who stole it from him.
The “Sacrifice” arc starts as Superman is experiencing different hallucinations. He’s seeing some of his deadliest enemies kidnapping the people he loves and murdering them in front of his eyes. As it turns out, Superman’s friends were never in danger and he wasn’t fighting an arch nemesis. Rather, under some mind-altering influence, he had attacked his friend, Batman, and almost succeeding in killing him. Only the last minute intervention of Wonder Woman stopped him from ending the Dark Knight’s life.
While in JLA custody, Superman allows the telepathic Martian Manhunter access to his mind to see who has been controlling him. They find that Maxwell Lord, who has limited mind control powers, has been infiltrating Superman’s psyche over the years. Slowly, Lord has built up a foothold in Superman’s mind. Since Batman was getting a little too close to finding out the truth about his operation, Maxwell Lord decided that the time was right to spring his secret weapon before Batman connected him to the theft.
Upon learning the truth, Superman rushes off to Checkmate headquarters to confront Maxwell Lord only to return to Lord’s mental control. Wonder Woman, who has tracked Superman, is attacked by the Man of Steel. The Superman/Wonder Woman battle takes up much of Wonder Woman #219. Wonder Woman realizes that the only way to stop Superman is to either kill him or have Maxwell Lord release his control of him. She returns to Checkmate headquarters and forces him to release Superman. He begrudgingly agrees but tells Wonder Woman that this is only a temporary reprieve. Once released, he will exert his control on Superman once again. The only way to stop him is to kill him.
And now comes the surprise that fans didn’t expect: Wonder Woman breaks Lord’s neck, killing him.
The scene, as written by Greg Rucka, does have an air of realism. Since he took over the book with issue #195, Rucka has written Wonder Woman as a warrior. When she confronts Lord, it is clear what her thinking is: by killing one man she is potentially saving the lives of hundreds of others. This is the pragmatic decision of a warrior. So while Wonder Woman’s actions might have been out of character with the way she was portrayed twenty years ago, they are in character with her current incarnation. And an argument could be made that her killing Max Lord WAS heroic, considering how many lives were potentially saved.
But comic fans, especially long time readers, protested DC turning Wonder Woman into a killer. The main argument amongst this group was a simple one: heroes don’t kill. Wonder Woman, a character they admired over most of her 64 years of existence, has become sullied forever by one page of one comic book. And Wonder Woman is not the only character to receive this sort of treatment. Consider Superman: although manipulated into seeing things that are not there, the murderous rage he feels at these hallucinations seems to be his own. Two of the noblest heroes now seem, at least under some circumstances, capable of taking life, a major development in the eyes of most fans.
This comes as a culmination of a certain section of comic fandom’s increasing disenchantment of the comic medium. Over the years, comics have gradually grown darker and darker in tone. The stories have tried to be more “realistic”, to reflect a more serious style and mood. We are now, except for a few exceptions, in the grim and gritty era of comics. A vocal portion of comic readers have wished for a return to a simpler time. A time when their heroes were heroes, not people who would kill or brainwash their enemies because they couldn’t think of a better way of dealing with them.
Despite some complaints, books written from this “grim and gritty” point of view sell. As long as they do, authors will continue to push the boundaries with their writing. How far is too far, and do they owe anything to the devoted followers of these characters? That question will probably be answered when their interpretation of these characters fail to sell to the comic buying public. But since all issues of the “Sacrifice” arc have sold out, a change isn’t likely to happen soon.