The jungles of Africa contained many strange yet beautiful creatures. They also contained a huge creature that was just bizarre. He was a creation of the God of War, and Mars had come to reclaim him. The War God’s astral self floated above the thick jungle foliage, and he spoke one sharp command.
“Come forth! Your master has need of you.”
Those words and that tone combined to bring forth a weird being whose appearance no longer gave any trace of any possible — if seemingly unlikely — human origins. He stood, or rather loomed up high in the air, his sixteen pairs of legs waving threateningly above the dense greenery. His skin was bright green, though his name was the Crimson Centipede after the red outfit he wore, which was now in tatters. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: The Crimson Centipede’s first and only appearance was in “Wonder Woman Battles the Crimson Centipede,” Wonder Woman #169 (April, 1967).]
Whereas he had once been not much larger than a man, albeit with many arms and many legs, the Crimson Centipede had continued to grow over the years into monstrous proportions even as he lost almost all of his human intellect. Over several years he had also gained certain other offensive abilities, which meant he no longer needed to carry firearms as he’d done originally, when Mars had first transformed an ambitious but very human bank robber into the mutated creature.
“Mars!” he hissed.
“Indeed, ’tis I. I have need of you. Go forth as I command and occupy the Amazons. You may kill as many of them as you wish,” said Mars.
“Amazons!” hissed the monster.
Mars frowned. He has lost any mind he ever possessed, yet still he shall serve as a masterful distraction while others steal the babe Diana!
Meanwhile, on Paradise Island, Queen Hippolyta gently rocked her child. “And the three sons of Hypnos, God of Sleep, bring dreams to all each night. May they bring you only the best and brightest of all dreams, my Diana,” she cooed.
She was a remarkable woman who had been a warrior queen, a regal monarch, and — long ago — a passionate woman and lover. Yet for so long her identity had been defined as merely that of queen of the Amazons and nothing more. The career of her daughters Diana and Donna in Man’s World had made her the mother of Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl to many of the heroes who fought beside Hippolyta’s heirs.
Yet she was more than all of these things, and her efforts to live up to the needs of her subjects, her daughters, and her goddess all made the beauty pay a severe price. She had lost the natural bond she and Diana had enjoyed by withholding much information and even precious memories from Diana all in an effort to preserve her from possible harm. That deception had hurt their relationship, as had other small things that together added up to silence and distance. Now, with a second chance to raise Diana, she vowed to never fail again.
She would lose all else before risking Diana. So she allowed others like the trusted Mala, Melippithe, and Selene to conduct some of her lesser duties. She vowed to use her gifts and experience to cement a lasting bond with Diana that could never be broken by male or mortal, hero or god.
Thus she was by her child’s side when the Crimson Centipede, now only a monstrous beast and no longer a human male at all, attacked her isle along its coast. As he fired red rays from the stalks that rose from his armored head, fire erupted in the harbor as the screaming women rushed to save their boats and fishing gear.
“My Queen! This beast rose from the depths and may reduce all our fishing ships to ash!” cried one woman.
Hippolyta gave orders with ease. “Keep the creature at bay with arrows! Do not venture too closely to him. I’ll summon help!” she said as she held Diana tightly.
The Amazons followed her orders, and expert bows-women fired volleys of arrows at the green monster with expert aim, but all the shafts fell off his thick, armored hide.
His ray blasts ignited all they struck, and several Amazons had close calls as they darted in and out of the inferno along the shore.
One warrior named Thalia, who came too close, was snatched by a waving limb and promptly consumed on the spot. Her sisters cried in anger, looking skyward for help.
“Athena guide us!” yelled Mellisande.
Hippolyta knew of the loss, but she was reluctant to act herself. Diana’s safety took primary priority. She hushed the infant and sent a message to the JLA via the Amazon communications devices.
From the JLA Headquarters, the attractive Black Canary responded and immediately sent the message to Nubia, who — with anger on her flawless features — now approached Donna Troy Long.
“We may end this here by trial of combat!” cried Nubia.
Donna scowled. “If necessary, then you’ll find me more than woman enough to teach you who is a true child of Hippolyta’s!”
Nubia halted as her tiara transmitted a JLA signal. “Wait! Paradise Island is threatened by a monster. Our mother summons me homeward!” she announced and raced for the JLA transponder tube.
“If mother needs help, let me join you!” said Donna.
Nubia nodded. “Come via the transport device on the roof.”
Donna followed, and they soon reached their island home through the wonders of Thanagarian technology.
Donna gasped as she saw the bodies along the shore of Paradise Island and the hissing giant monster looming high above them that was responsible for the carnage. He shattered one wooden craft with a blow from his many limbs.
Nubia sneered, “This creature carries the taint of Mars about him!”
Donna bit back the words, “You should know!” as she watched her fellow heroine leap into action. She’s fiery enough — brave, too, she mused.
Nubia charged, hurling her tiara across the air to slice off the nearest limb of the huge beast.
“Wonder Woman!” he hissed and fired his rays toward the lovely woman.
Donna jumped forward and deflected the ray with her own bracelets as Nubia whirled to catch the returning tiara.
“I did not need your aid, but I thank you!” she said as the beast struck to the left.
“Do you know this thing?” asked Donna.
Nubia nodded, “By repute alone. It is the Crimson Centipede, a creature of the War God’s making, though it has changed much over the years!”
Donna jumped high in the air and kicked the beast directly in the face as she twisted to avoid an acidic spray from its hissing mouth. “Terrific!” she muttered.
Nubia smiled warily as she admired Donna’s speed and skill. She is worthy of the title, too! she thought.
Elsewhere, Hippolyta held Diana and watched tensely from the balcony as her children and sisters dueled with death.
She little suspected that she was not alone.
Donna rolled across the sand in a tight ball until she reached the limits of the creature’s reach. She glanced to the palace. Odd, Mother is not armored and riding into battle, she thought.
Nubia had the same thought. The Horsewoman should be leading her sisters, not hiding within!
The monster called the Crimson Centipede spat venom and caught Nubia’s shield, which melted to scrap. She sliced off another limb with the remains of the shield and noticed that his own acidic discharge seemed to hurt his outer shell.###
From within it does no damage, but it burns his carapace as well as my armor! she mused.
Donna shoved her aside as the beast crashed down where Nubia had been pondering the actions of the monster. “Keep moving! That thing is deadly!” cried Donna.
Nubia nodded and said, “If it comes from Mars as I suspect, and its own venom affects it, then I suspect my Mars-forged blade would do as much damage, too!”
Donna smiled. “Mars would not want a puppet that was beyond his own control.” She danced toward the monster and, with superb agility, struck its shell front and pried loose one huge scale. “Here!” she yelled, even as the beast hit her.
Nubia hurled her golden blade toward the bare spot, and it struck true. The monster yelled in agony, and the dazed Donna slammed her full weight into it as it reeled and crashed into the ocean.
It did not emerge again.
“We did it!” cried Donna.
“You moved with the speed of Artemis herself!” said a smiling Nubia.
“You also proved yourself to me,” said Donna as they helped their fallen sisters reach medical care.
In the palace, the sultry Callisto had struck from the rear, and Hippolyta lay stunned at her feet.
She hushed Diana and cradled the infant. “Come, Princess, to dwell with your new master, Mars,” she said, smiling broadly.
Then from the silken curtains came a swift figure who brought a gleaming mace down across Callisto’s skull and ripped Diana from her arms.
Hippolyta rose slowly and turned toward the new arrival. “Thanks be to Aphrodite that you saved her!” she said.
The tall redhead smiled. “Yes, indeed. It would never do for the babe Diana to fall into the wrong hands.”
As she handed Diana to Hippolyta, Callisto vanished at the command of Mars.
The tall, lovely redhead watched Hippolyta coo to Diana and greet her incoming daughters.
“Not yet, anyway,” she whispered.
Later, as Queen Hippolyta sat before Nubia and Donna, she felt it necessary to explain her own conduct.
“Let me thank you both for coming to our defense so readily,” said the beautiful blonde ruler. “I am proud of you both. I also want to say that I am sorry that my poor handling of the situation left you feeling alienated, Donna, and placed you in a defensive situation, Nubia.”
“Mother, I’m sorry, too,” Donna said as she bounced baby Diana on her lap. “It was all so much to deal with at once. I respect Nubia’s right to be Wonder Woman now.”
Nubia smiled at the little princess at play and said, “I was not sensitive to your feelings, Donna. I admit that being raised by Mars has left me sadly lacking in social skills or tact. Perhaps that is why I relate so well to a Martian. The male I’ve grown closest to in the Justice League is J’onn J’onzz, and he seems far from your typical male of any world.”
Donna smiled. “Still, I need a new name. I’m too mature now to be called Wonder Girl. I want to take one, much like a friend of mine did. He honors his mentor and his past while forging an identity of his own as well. Perhaps I could use the name Titania?”
Nubia frowned. “Or Nike? As in Goddess of Victory?”
Hippolyta said, “Honor Diana by calling yourself by another name suggestive of her own. If Nubia is Wonder Woman, then you can be Diana by another name.”
“Diana Prince?” said Donna.
“No, Artemis!” said the Queen, indulgently ignoring Donna’s joke. “She was Diana’s Greek name. The Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt.”
“That’s perfect!” said Nubia.
Donna nodded. “I like it. I wonder if I could modify my costume to some way reflect Diana’s as well,” she pondered.
Hippolyta said, “I’m sure our sisters can design something you’d like, if you so choose.”
Baby Diana gurgled happily as her sisters laughed.
The tall redhead dressed as an Amazon had slipped off. Her true name was Knockout, and she worked for an entirely different mistress who had plans for the Amazons — dark plans. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: Heroes and Villains.]