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Lady Shiva

(Profile #2 - Denis O'Neil The Question take)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

“She was fantastic. I’ve never gone against anyone so quick, so coordinated, so cunning, so absolutely *sure*… I threw her twice, but I think she let me. I learned a tremendous amount, I’m twice the fighter I was an hour ago…”
Dinah Lance, after sparring with Shiva.

Context

This profile covers Lady Shiva as she appeared during the 1980s. It is firmly intended to be read after the , which covered her 1970s appearances and some important basics.


Background

  • Real Name: Sandra Woosan
  • Marital Status: Single
  • Known Relatives: Carolyn Woosan (sister, deceased), Cassandra Cain (estranged daughter, will become Batgirl III)
  • Group Affiliation: None
  • Base Of Operations: Transient
  • Height: 5’8” Weight: 115 lbs
  • Eyes: Brown Hair: Black


Powers and Abilities

Lady Shiva is thought to be the best martial artist on Earth.

When she fought Batman, clearly established as one of the greatest hand-to-hand fighters in the world, she had the advantage despite Batman’s far greater mass and strength. Batman stated that she had both the hitting power of Ra’s al Ghul and the speed and agility of the Sensei. Even in the most realistic, gritty stories she is essentially invincible.

Though she was first seen as a swordswoman, Shiva evolved toward simple peasant weapons. As this era starts she has further evolved and fights empty-handed, though she might occasionally use throwing knives when facing opponents with firearms.

Shiva is impossibly tough. It took and extended pounding from Batman and Robin (with Robin always hitting her in the back) to take her down. And even after that she could resist Batman’s truth serum without him noticing.

Let the universe do the walking

Shiva knows many things related to the martial arts. This includes ninja stuff, Chinese knight-errand stuff, herbal medicine, acrobatics, meditation, philosophy, etc.

She stated that her ability to heal was the same thing as her ability to harm. Her esoteric knowledge of anatomy and chi  allows her to produce seemingly impossible minor effects. Frex she can :

  • quickly fix simple fractures with her hands
  • inflict wounds that are impossible to use using modern Western medicine
  • strike blows that seem like a tap but will inflict excruciating pain 90 minutes later

Shiva’s perceptive abilities are abnormal. Somehow she effortlessly groks  everything and understands people with a glance. She’s nearly one with the universe, and understanding just lazily floats in her way. Sometimes it even seems that she is prescient as events arrange themselves in odd manners to fit her goal, as she knew they would all along.

One of the few persons who knows her, the Question, assumed that Shiva would always know when a person is lying due to her harmony with the Tao.

Though she looks young, it seems that Shiva has already been everywhere and done everything.

Just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not

It is entirely possible that Shiva’s vast esoteric knowledge is, in game terms, magic. Even in the relatively mundane genre of The Question stories, some of her feats hover in a grey area between being amazingly skilled and the paranormal.

  • She likely has, in practice, some occult knowledge (in DC Heroes RPG terms Occultist (Occult knowledge): 04).
  • Her extraordinary intuition might occasionally be equivalent to foretelling (Occultist (Precognition) costing nothing but under the GM’s control).
  • Some incidents evoke the use of the Synchronicity Highway, though the effects are not as dramatic as they are with somebody like John Constantine.
  • Some of her healing techniques might be effectively magic as they are not scientifically explicable (Ritual with Regeneration and/or Occultist (Build artefact, limited to teas and poultices)).
  • During this writeup she starts preparing a unique tea that is able to resurrect dead people.
    Though it is the post-O’Neil version of Shiva that uses it, it strikes me as a reasonable extrapolation based on healing feats witnessed during the O’Neil era, and the fact that after the O’Neil series she starts operating in a more fantastic genre.
    There are a number of limitations for this brew :

    • preparing it it took years
    • it was specific to a single person (who possibly had to be a close blood relative of hers)
    • the corpse had to be very fresh and not missing any important bit
    • she could only do it once
    • it required very specific and rare components, etc.)
    • and there were probably other obstacles
  • She likely knows a healing trance technique (Regeneration: 03 Ritual with a Limitation that she has to sleep about 20 hours a day whilst this is active). Her daughter could do it, and Shiva is a master of healing and chi focus.
  • She almost certainly knows delayed death touch techniques. Shiva is repeatedly demonstrated to be able to do precise and occasionally delayed bad things to the physiology of people she hits. A blow triggering severe internal bleeding (or, in higher Genres, catastrophic chi disruption) seems well within her abilities.
  • The “leopard blow”, which will become a signature move of Shiva after the era covered by this writeup, seems to simply be something marking the point when she reaches a higher level of fighting mastery (Martial Artist: 11), and gains the ability to strike with the tremendous deadliness such a skill level brings.
  • Chinese fiction traditions (and the precedent of the O-Sensei) would dictate that she has Slowed Ageing as well.

History

(Continued from the previous writeup)

(At one point, Shiva briefly studied with the great Otomo Sensei, who also taught the Black Canary early in her career. There is no way to determine when Shiva and Otomo-san crossed paths, though – it may very well be in the earlier parts of Shiva’s career, covered by the previous writeup.)

Woosan continued her solitary path across the world. She continued to build herself as Lady Shiva and as the perfect warrior and martial artist. Ever looking for new knowledge — much of it from experience and not teachers — she walked in temples and in blind alleys, among coteries of assassins and in dojos ancient and recent.

Increasingly inscrutable and carried by the unpredictable wave of her interests, she gradually became a figure of legend, terror and mystery. She met, fought and defeated numerous fighters in all styles, learning from many of them. She became a sort of modern ronin , a masterless warrior whose mysterious path was governed by whim and fate.

In 1986, she found herself in Hub City, an American town in a dire state of decay, corruption and poverty. Finding the place interesting, she offered her services to whoever would pay.

Shiva thus ended up in the employ of the corrupted puppet master of the Mayor – Rev. Jeremiah Hatch. She did some enforcing work from him, hoping it would put her in interesting situations, though it was abundantly clear that she was only following orders when she felt like it.

The way of the faceless man

One such mission was to confront investigative reporter Vic Sage. After but a few months in Hub City, Sage had already exposed numerous scandals. He was known for his hard-hitting, untouchable approach of journalism and damaging Hatch’s business. Hatch had one of his men arrange for an ambush, and had Shiva go there to beat Sage up.

As it turned out, it was Sage’s alter-ego, the Question, who showed up. A fearsome and talented brawler, the Question could routinely take on packs of thugs, but found himself utterly outmatched by Shiva. She beat him up and he was executed and thrown into a river by Hatch’s men.

However, the Question had aroused the curiosity of Shiva. His anger, his cockiness, his talent for fighting, his courage, his curiosity reminded Shiva of herself when she was young. Furthermore, her extraordinary acumen seemingly made her aware of Sage’s deep identity issues, and of his ultimate potential to become a true master of the martial arts.

Lady Shiva face closeup

She somehow fished Sage out of the river after everyone else had left. Through unknown methods, she knew that he was miraculously still alive. She then used her esoteric medicinal skills to revive him despite his state of clinical death.

Re-enters the Dragon

Shiva decided to bring him to the man who had been a sort of friend for her years ago – Richard Dragon. Richard no longer fought, but would teach. Months later, after Richard had trained the Question, Shiva came to briefly fight Sage. She stopped and left when she was satisfied that her assessment of Sage’s potential had been correct.

Months later, after nearly a century of teaching and reflecting, the O-Sensei summoned one of his greatest students, Shiva. He told her that he had chosen to pass away. Before allowing himself to die, however, he decided to visit three men and to tell to each of them a classic parable, to help them become even greater fighters.

The three men (who, unlike Shiva, Ben Turner and Richard Dragon, had never been students under the O-Sensei) were Bruce Wayne (Batman), Oliver Queen (Green Arrow) and Charles Szasz/Vic Sage (the Question).

The parable, part 1

Shiva escorted the serene teacher from China all the way to America, having smugglers and slave traders arrange transportation. Finding Szazs in Hub City, she had him contact the Batman, and the O-Sensei told him his parable. Shiva could not resist very briefly fighting the Batman before the O-Sensei told her to stop. Still she promised the dark knight that they would fight again, without interruption.

The Batman rejected the seemingly shallow wisdom of the O-Sensei. But a few days later he realised that the parable described the great emotional pain caused by his attraction toward Talia al Ghul, and helped him accept it.

The “inscrutable Asian ancient and his sexy sidekick”, as Queen dismissively put it, then met with the emerald archer in Seattle. At that point Queen was having a personal crisis and his talent with archery had been destroyed. The O-Sensei’s parable gave him the perspective he needed to reforge his bond with the bow.

The parable, part 2

On the side, Shiva noticed that Queen’s companion, Dinah Lance (aka the Black Canary, then retired) was a martial artist. She sparred with her for an hour, leaving Lance with a variety of contusions and gushing enthusiasm about Shiva’s fantastic skill and how much she had learned from her as a fighter.

Years later, she would still remember about that one-hour session as the best training she ever received in defending herself. It had also been an uncannily accurate fix for the weakest points in her fighting skills.

A short time after that, Shiva reunited Batman, Green Arrow and the Question so the O-Sensei could honour his promise to his long-dead wife – that his bones would rest with hers. They eventually did so, in so doing the Question received the last, silent parable.

Duel in Lebanon

Some time later, as Shiva had predicted, her path crossed with the Batman. Batman and Robin (Jason Todd) were looking for Todd’s biological mother. Knowing her first name started with a S they sought three women in Todd’s father’s address book who fitted that clue. One of the three was Sandra Woosan (listed as “Shiva Woosan”).

They tracked her down to Beirut, and then to a pass in the Beqaa Valley . As it turned out, she had just been hired to train a squad of novice militia. After admiring Batman and Robin’s skill in stealthily taking out her inexperienced charges, she casually knocked Robin out and gleefully engaged Batman in a duel.

Although Batman was initially confident, he rapidly realised that Shiva could very well beat him up and was his equal. He started fighting in a way that emphasised his sole advantage over her (his greater mass and physical strength) until Robin unexpectedly recovered and mauled Shiva from behind.

Lady Shiva portrait with her hair in the wind

The two men managed to knock her out for a bit after an extensive beating. Seeing that she was impossible to interrogate, the Batman injected her with a large dose of truth serum, but even then Shiva managed to lie. She told them that she did not have any children.

The next person Wayne and Todd checked on the list turned out to be Todd’s mum, though. However, mother and son were killed by the Joker soon after being reunited.

Brazil then Hub City

Some time later, Shiva ‘toured’ Brazil to test her skills against the numerous masters in this country. She was particularly interest in a maestre de capoeira named Marco, a fellow martial arts nut whom she defeated. She invited Marco to find and challenge her anew when he would be ready.

About three years after she tested the Question at the end of his training by Dragon, she came back to Hub. Shiva was, as always,looking for new and interesting situations and fights to drift into.

After briefly clashing with a few gangbangers, she announced that her services were available for a short period. Though she had no specific plan to meet the Question and just let events flow, they ran into each other after the Question kidnapped a gang leader Shiva intended to meet.

Hub City then Hong Kong

Having a certain base cunning, the man hired Shiva on the spot to defeat the Question, and she immediately accepted. As she was artistically mauling the Question, the gang leader changed his mind and had his arriving men attack both&.

Shiva and the Question promptly allied. Since the pair could thrash all comers, Mayor Fermin leveraged these strange allies to turn two large gangs into a stopgap police force for Hub. The plan ultimately failed, though Shiva had long since drifted away.

Shiva would reappear not too long after that, hunting down the man called King Snake. He was said to be one of the deadliest men alive, and she wanted to fight him. Along the way she allied with a renegade DEA agent (Clyde Rawlins) and taught Robin (Tim Drake) some of her approach to fighting — but this is outside the scope of this writeup.


Goddess of destruction

During the first few pages of her comic book appearances after this profile ends, Shiva seems roughly similar to what is described here.

However, it soon becomes obvious the characterisation has changed. She used to float around as a ronin on a quest to learn more about her art. But after the O’Neil era she becomes somebody with a clear plan, lists of top martial artists, membership in the Monkey Cult, and an obsession with being #1.

Killing was almost an afterthought before and a byproduct of her nature as a warrior. But post-O’Neill Shiva becomes defined as a killer of killers, a sort of super-predator.

She was nearly one with the void and the universe – but post-O’Neill she is described as somebody fascinated by death and with her own sick death wish and a death cult worshipping her. Whereas she was essentially irrational, unpredictable and unknowable, she’s now rigidly obsessive and rather one-dimensional.

Whereas she ignored money and being a mercenary was just an excuse to get into fights, she becomes an occasional extravagant spender and is obviously loaded.

No-Prize Hypothesis strikes again

Though many of those post-O’Neil stories with the new characterisation are pretty cool in themselves, there is the matter of explaining the continuity breakdown. Preferably without resorting to magical spells, doppelgängers or alternate versions of the character seeping in from Hypertime.

That Shiva just lost something and degenerated to her present state is a possibility. But it’s hard to reconcile with the quasi-elemental, flawless, invincible force of the O’Neil version of Shiva.

Painting of Lady Shiva standing over fallen opponents

My No-Prize Hypothesis  would be this. We know that Richard Dragon allowed himself to become a crippled man for several years as part of his own journey as a person and a teacher. Apparently he “switched off” his legs through force of will.

In the same vein, Shiva would have deliberately crippled her spirit for several years as part of her own path toward growth. Perhaps she needed to deeply explore some passions (pride, competition, fascination with and fear of death, adulation by others…) in order to be able to fully let go of them and achieve her own form of purity.


Description

On top of being physically beautiful, Shiva’s unusual level of atunement and peak human level of fitness make her extremely attractive. Few folks interested in women can resist ogling at her.


Personality

Shiva is unbound. She is beyond good and evil. She pays no attention to honour, morality or emotional attachment. She just is, floating around at the whim of her interests, curiosity and quest for martial perfection.

Most of the time she comes across as being as cold as a bottomless well. But there is also a near-constant undercurrent of whimsy and amusement. Shiva also seems to deeply and contentedly enjoy simple things, such as a good warm fire on a foggy night.

One of the few constant about her is that one does *not* mess with Shiva. She will usually reacts sternly and with a violence of surgical precision to a significant assault or abuse. She normally leaves one survivor, usually in severe pain or anguish. I assume this is a deliberate strategy to ensure her rep grows and brings new and interesting situations her way.

We could make a killing

She is generally devoid of pity or consideration for human lives, and has been described as a “gleeful killer”. While she usually lets worthy opponents alive, this is chiefly so that they might grow and learn, and perhaps challenge her later. The main way to survive Shiva is to show a spark, the seed of something exceptional as a fighter.

She also can get interested in teaching truly exceptional people for reasons on her own, as she did with Dinah Lance (Black Canary) and will do with Robin (Tim Drake) soon after the era covered by this writeup ends.

As is notable in her quotes, Shiva’s speech has an extremely precise and sharp quality to it. It sometimes acquires a poetic style as well. Her vocabulary is extensive and her grammar exact. Though she still doesn’t joke, her comments now often have a humorous value. They accurately but very detachedly point out the ridiculousness of some small, everyday detail or practice.

Her comments about the weaknesses in the martial proficiency of her opponents also manage to be at once scornful, accurate, trenchant and detached. Howbeit she will react very positively to somebody with genuinely superior skill. Unfortunately for most, it seems to start around (in DC Heroes RPG terms) Martial Artist: 09 as far as she’s concerned.

A Question of empathy

Shiva always made a big show of not caring for the Question. She was abrasive about his supposedly unsatisfying progress in the martial arts and generally treated him harshly. But she actually cared for Charlie to an unusual degree. His development as a person, a seeker of answers and a fighter was so close to her own, that she could not help but to see herself in him.

Shiva cannot be said to have such things as a “friend”. Yet her banter and brief discussions with the Question may have been the closest thing to friendship she could have as she drifted beyond such things.

There was even a vaguely sexual manner in how Shiva taunted the Question for not fulfilling her need for a worthy opponent. Howbeit, she may just have been making low-key, acidic fun of Sage’s involuntary attraction toward her.

When fate made them work together, she would make a big show about her actions not being motivated by anything but her own interests, but it was fairly obvious that she was lying and actually liked Charlie.

My friend here is known for being… spontaneous

With some exceptions discussed above, Shiva is generally unpredictable and irrational. Even she does not know how she will react in some circumstances, and she makes no effort at trying to predict that. What end would that serve ?

She may develop a sudden and very strong interest in something new and cool (such as a the skills of a man destroying condemned buildings with explosives), or just drift away from a situation for no clear reason as she gets bored with it.

Worse, some of her seemingly senseless actions may suddenly start making sense much later, as new events she couldn’t possibly have known about reframe the situation.

Shiva’s beliefs seem to be roughly Taoist. But she’s definitely not a formal Taoist – whereas Taoism stresses compassion and other virtues, Shiva is completely amoral. Just like the O-Sensei before her, she follows a one-person religion.


Quotes

“Do not torment yourself trying to understand me. Your mind is not ready to understand me. It may never be ready to understand me. Content yourself with this : I am outside.”

(With nearly imperceptible sarcasm) “I despise violence.”

“I provide my services for a fee. I do neither less nor more than I am requested. I was not requested to protect a video tape. Nor to nurture the inept.”

“If you ever touch me again, I shall shatter three bones in your arm – the humerus, the radius and the ulna. I shall shatter them in such a way that shards will protrude into the nerves, causing intense pain. I shall shatter them in such a way that no Western doctor will be able to repair them. Your arm will thereafter dangle from your shoulder like a dead fish. Do you understand ?”

“Do you have a preferred style of combat ?”

“You know I could not help myself. I had to test him. I *had* to.”

(With child-like enthusiasm) “Sensei, sensei… one of them actually cut me. I let *him* live, of course.”

“I do not have an avaricious bone in my body. I am an artist, not a labourer. You may keep the money.”

Question: “If I kissed you, you’d probably break a dozen of my bones.”
Shiva: “Perhaps worse. Neither of us can know unless you try.”

(To the Question) “Put on your mask. It is your true face. It is as you see yourself. And therefore, if you die tonight, you die honestly.”

“Already you have exhausted your store of compliments ? You disappoint me. When leering animals express interest in me, they can usually drool their puerilities for at least five minutes.”

“Ah, the inevitable — the weapons. A gun and a knife. Yes. Normally, guns are considered the more dangerous and so to be disposed of first. To demonstrate my respect for you both, I will deal with the blade.”

“I hope, my faceless one, that you have spent the time since we last met honing your martial skills. Because if you haven’t, the next few seconds will be boring to me. Quite boring.”

“You are stiff. You do not flow. You do not give yourself to the moment.”

(As their duel is interrupted by a large pack of thugs, the Question and Shiva have to fight as allies)
Shiva: “I had hoped for some stimulation from you. But you have lost any claim to being a worthy opponent — and so I may as well seek fulfilment in numbers.”
The Question (almost jokingly despite the pain): “You *do* know how to hurt a guy.”
Shiva (coldly): “Of course”.

“I respect promises. Tell me of it.”

“It will amuse me to accompany you.”

“The truly accomplished in the world shun applause. The truly great shun the world itself.”

“You need not ask my permission. I believe in letting people do as they wish, as do I myself. Sometimes, of course, what I wish to do is kill them and they do not wish to die. This gives life interest.”

Question: “But why [did you help me] ?”
Shiva: “Either because I see in you myself when I was unfocused and undisciplined and stupid. Or because I am basically irrational. Or neither. It makes no difference.”

Question: “Did you leave anyone alive ?”
Shiva: “No one important.”

“How complicated these morals make your life.”

Question: “You coming with me ?”
Shiva: “I have not decided. Perhaps not.”

“We can learn from the rats. They always leave when it is time, and they do not dream.”


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Shiva

Dex: 10 Str: 04 Bod: 06 Motivation: Seeking Learning
Int: 12 Wil: 10 Min: 09 Occupation: Mercenary
Inf: 08 Aur: 06 Spi: 10 Resources {or Wealth}: 002
Init: 034 HP: 075

Skills:
Acrobatics: 08, Detective (Legwork)*: 08, Military science (Danger recognition): 10, Martial artist*: 10, Medicine: 10, Thief (Escape artist, Stealth): 09, Vehicle (SEAL): 06, Weaponry (Melee, Missile)*: 10, Weaponry (Everything else): 08

Bonuses and Limitations:
Some uses of Medicine can be done in minimal time and without equipment, or just with herbs – she has been documented to somehow heal simple fractures with her bare hands and by manipulating the broken limb.

Advantages:
Area Knowledge (The world), Attractive, Expertise (Teacher ; martial arts organisations and schools), Iron Nerves, Language (Japanese, at least one form of dialectal Arabic and presumably many other languages, including several forms of Chinese), Lightning Reflexes, Scholar (Martial arts lore and philosophies ; human anatomy and energies)

Connections:
Street (Low), Richard Dragon (Low), The Question (High)

Drawbacks:
CIA toward martial perfection

Equipment:
Japanese-style throwing knives [BODY 03, EV 03].


Design notes

A few Skills have been inherited from the previous writeup (Vehicles and the second Weaponry) though they are not actually demonstrated during that era.

By Sébastien Andrivet

Helper(s): Max Grind, Roy Cowan

Source of Character: DC Universe

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