Pandora: The Woman in Red

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Her appearance was what caught my attention. Not everyone can pull off a red hooded trench coat, but she did. And her face had stripes on it…which seems to be a thing I’m drawn to (see also: Loa, Rachel Summers, Tempus, etc.). Seeing her at the center of an intimidating melee triptych piqued my interest. Finding out she’d secretly been present in the background of every New 52 #1 issue made me actually go seek her out.

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I mentioned in my assessment of Flashpoint that I’d sought out the volume to learn more about what had led into the universe reboot, and that’s mostly true; but if it weren’t for someone telling me that Pandora’s first appearance was in Flashpoint #5, I may not have decided to buy it just now. I’d already seen the effects of the event, so what was waiting a little longer going to hurt? Discovering that the book housed the seeds of a major impending event proved the catalyst I needed. Of course, as I discovered, it truly was just seeds — Pandora appeared on one page, and although the implications of her first appearance are obviously critical, the actual reading of the issue shed little light on who the woman was.

With the aid of Comic Vine’s wiki I ascertained which issues Pandora has appeared in since her introduction at the conclusion of Flashpoint, and have made a point of either reading those issues (token #1 lurking notwithstanding) or asking others to verify whether she actually played a role in the issues for which she is credited an appearance. The list grew rather short.

pandorafoolishgirlIt begins with the backup story in Justice League #6, simply called “Pandora,” wherein the Phantom Stranger confronts Pandora and demands that she hand over her eponymous “box,” (which is, for reasons unrevealed, actually a golden skull with three glowing red eyes). Evidently Pandora’s interference with the timeline, and with human affairs in general, has gotten the attention of some higher powers which would like to see that stop. “You rewrote reality,” he says.

“I realigned it. I strengthened it.”

Of course, the Stranger isn’t here to talk, he’s here to take back the box, and when Pandora (shockingly!) refuses to hand over the precious cargo, a brief fight breaks out between the two, introducing Pandora’s agility and marksmanship (and some nifty dual pistols with magical qualities, to boot). After winning the skirmish she threatens to reveal his true identity to the world, accompanied with the promise “you’ll have more enemies than I do.” As she walks away from him, she reveals her intention to enlist the Justice League to assist her in releasing her from her curse… “whether they like it or not.”

Pandora next appeared in the 2012 Free Comic Book issue. Aside from the typical advertisements the FCBD book would typically contain, the main meat of the issue (which you can still get for free from Comixology) is a recounting of the judgment of the “Trinity of Sin,” comprised of The Question, The Phantom Stranger, and Pandora. Each has evidently committed an unforgivable sin, and each is condemned to a unique, eternal fate to parallel their evil. Pandora’s sin? Opening the “box,” of course, and unleashing all the horrors of this world.

I’ve always been sympathetic of Pandora. As a mythological figure her story is incredibly tragic, if not outright misogynistic (as with distortions on the Eden account, let’s blame women for all the problems in the world). Here was a girl who was to be punished and hated for eternity, for expressing a fundamentally human aspect: curiosity. Her pleas for mercy and help — “I don’t want to be evil” — are met with cold silence. Off she goes, to be hated forever.

Next we flash forward to the heist of Pandora’s Box from a high security containment facility run by A.R.G.U.S., important primarily because of the involvement of Steve Trevor and Amanda Waller (which I’ll get to in a bit). This affords us a glimpse of what happened before the events of Justice League #6, and leads into a preview of a massive hero vs. hero battle with the promise that “Trinity War” would be coming in 2013.

Pandora would be seen sooner, however, most relevantly in another Justice League backup story, this time within the pages of the #0 issue. This story, called “Questions,” follows seemingly directly on the heels of the FCBD story (the words “I know what I’m dealing with now” are featured at the end of that story and the opening of this one). Pandora is attempting to reopen the box, ostensibly to return the evils she once unleashed back to their original container. Yet the box refuses to open.

Suddenly an old wizard — who has just conveyed his powers to Billy Batson, crowning a new Shazam — appears, one of the original council members who condemned the Trinity many years ago (he’s the one at the top middle of the previous image). Pandora’s rage is quickly usurped with shock and watery eyes as the wizard delivers something to her she never expected to receive again: an apology.

It’s hard to say what Pandora’s course will look like next month as her solo series and the Trinity War with her at the center of it begin to unfold. After so many years, what does someone like that become? Does she maintain innocence, and seek true redemption? Or will she deign to commit a crime fitting of the sentence, vengefully earning the hatred she couldn’t escape?

While for now it’s predominately guesswork, one last sliver of a clue has been given to us in the closing moments of Team 7, a flashback-style series which recounts the earlier days of a team which (told you I’d mention them) featured Trevor and Waller among others. Presumably issues #7 and #8 recount the acquisition of the Box which Pandora would later steal, previously in the hands of a crazy dictator whose entire city is wiped out by the hero Majestic. Before they can kill the dictator (and his many followers), Team 7 is shown a vision by a group of creepy bald precogs, one in which Majestic is dueling with Pandora and characters like Slade Wilson are possibly villains (surprise surprise). Lynch, the narrator of the issue in which the vision appears, notes that he is terrified by Pandora and what she is capable of.

Two paths are before us as we look forward to the working out of Pandora’s plan, a plan which has been in the making for over two years and which entails the entirety of the DCnU, past, present, and future. In one, she is the redeemed and redeemer, exonerated of her false guilt and responsible for saving the universe from an extraordinary threat. In another, she is the truly damned, responsible in the most tragic of ways for her own, and the universe’s, undoing. And in some ways, the same can be said for DC in general. With so much preparation going into it, Trinity War is the chance DC has needed to justify the New 52 or rectify the parts of it which haven’t worked (you know, with more “strengthening” of the universe). On the other hand, this is also the chance for DC to ruin the good they’ve managed to build in the last two years. Only time — malleable as it may be — will tell.

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