Delighted by the oeuf offering, Hippolyta allows a tournament, at which rival Amazon Eleka shows Diana just how much she hates her. A distressed Diana runs off to the forest, where she meets the god Ares, who introduces himself as War. He tells her that the lessons of her sisters are not enough - she needs to learn the ways of the Olympians as well as the Amazons. The pair agree to meet each full moon and for the next 11 months Diana takes on board everything her patron has to show her, eventually deciding that she wishes to use a real blade, not a wooden training one.
War explains that if a warrior picks up a metal knife they had better be prepared to use it, and agrees to let Diana fight him with steel - to the death. Unsurprisingly, War bests the teenager, but despite his words, he holds back from striking a killing blow.
One month later, with her 13th birthday approaching, the god sends Diana into a labyrinth to find 'the greatest treasure' as Hippolyta's tribute. Inside, Diana meets the Minotaur, and after downing the beast is invited to strike the killing blow - what warrior queen mother could want more than a daughter prepared to slay an injured foe?
But will she murder the Minotaur?
I really rather liked this issue. Writer Brian Azzarello, who also stars as War, approaches his story with a breezy narration, claiming it's a reprint from 'All-Girl Adventure Tales for Men' #4. Introduction over, there's a William Marston-style narration and old school thought balloons. And how I loved the latter - sure, they're not naturalistic, but they add to our understanding of the characters and anyway, this is high fantasy. Azzarello keeps his habitual punnery to a minimum, concentrating on building up the characters of Diana ('Can my mercy be a tribute to my mother?') and War ('The purpose of war is to end conflict. You must strike.')
Appropriately, the young Diana is a less-arrogant character than the adult self we've seen in the DC New 52 series, and a million miles from the brutal harridan of Geoff Johns' Justice League. She's naive enough to secretly become the ward of the war god, and merciful enough not to take on board his final lesson. She's been raised to be the best, to please her elders, but she eventually makes up her own mind about War's wisdom. The story sets up the later antagonism between War and Diana in assured style.
There are a couple of mysteries - a watching owl, likely indicating the interest of Athena, and a training Amazon who looks for all the world like Starfire (that's almost certainly me over-reaching).
And this Before the New 52 entry is simply lovely to look at. Regular artist Cliff Chiang's young Diana is a wide-eyed child, intelligent, eager and plucky. She hurtles across the pages, taking on every challenge that comes at her with with grace and power. As for the most fantastical elements, Chiang's take on the harpy and the Minotaur, more traditional than the regular series' interpretation of things mythical, is a delight. As for War, he's as scary as he should be, even when acting tenderly towards Diana.
The colouring by Matt Wilson is as terrific as ever - I particularly like the blues of the sea and sky around Themyscira - while Jared K Fletcher digs into his font baskets to summon the appropriate comic book memories. There's at least one typo, and a misused word, both of which will hopefully be fixed by editors Chris Conroy and Matt Idelson for any reprint.
Altogether, though, this is a well-crafted, enjoyable look back to a formative period in the future Wonder Woman's life.