Sunday, April 14, 2024

Does Greg Rucka’s final Wonder Woman issue live up to the title “Perfect”?

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Greg Rucka has shepherded Diana of Themysicra through nearly 30 issues of Wonder Woman as part of “DC Comics: Rebirth,” and sadly the time has come for him to let somebody else take the reigns.  Issue #25 will be his last entry on the title, an epilogue which comes on the heels of the end of the “Godwatch” arc, and which addresses some of the last few dangling threads of the ten-year-adventure we have followed.

Most of the pressing storyline of the series have been wound up, but there are always a few complications left over.  Set an unspecified time after her encounter with Ares beneath the Tree at Themyscira, these dangling complications continue to plague our main cast of characters.  They have to deal with the logistics of reforming and rebuilding their secret agent organizations, the legal fallout of their adventures, and way their own relationships have been forever altered by what has happened.

The issue opens with one of the few bits of “standard” superheroics that we have seen in this series: A group of superheroes are battling the Shaggy Man in the desert of Western Sahara, approximately 50 km away from Imlili (BTW: Points for naming an actual town in the region, and not just saying “Somewhere in Africa”).  The group includes Superman, Batman, the Flash, Cyborg, and several Green Lanterns, and despite the presence of these heavy hitters, they are still hard-pressed in the fight, since the Shaggy Man is one of the Big Threats of the DC Universe (Well….sort-of).  As they struggle to contain the Shaggy Man and desperately wonder where Diana is, Wonder Woman flies in and makes a respectably dramatic entrance.

Wonder Woman is in a bad mood today and wastes no time at all in subduing the Shaggy Man.  By the time the other heroes manage to catch up to where she knocked him to, Diana has knocked the Shaggy Man out, and the heroes stare dumbfounded as she coldly turns and flies off to deal with other matters.

The comic then cuts away to ‘The Picket,’ the military/government headquarters that Steve Trevor and Etta Candy used to operate from before Veronica Cale’s mercenaries killed everybody involved.  Sasha Bordeaux has returned to duty after being held prisoner and impersonated by Cale, and she is struggling to return to ‘business as usual’ given all that has happened.  Etta Candy is briefing her on their current status — including the fruitless search for Doctor Cyber in the vastness of cyberspace — and also offers her some words of encouragement for surviving her trauma.

These words only offer so-much comfort, but “so-much” is better than nothing

Sasha takes her words to heart and then orders Etta to make the search for Dr. Minerva (The Cheetah) a top priority.  She says to involve Wonder Woman if necessary, and Etta evades the suggestion, saying that she would prefer not to involve Diana in the search if possible.  This exchange is something I have Deep Thoughts about, which I will get into later.

We cut over to Veronica Cale being questioned by the FBI as to her involvement in recent events, with her getting the usual “Don’t say anything” instructions from her lawyers as she sits there with a grin on her face.  As established in the last issue — and mentioned by Etta & Sasha in the preceding scene — the odds of any criminal charges being leveled against Veronica are low.  She managed to cover up her involvement very competently, at least when it comes to provable offenses, so even though everybody knows she was involved, they will likely never be able to prove it in a court of law.  Hence why she has the big, wide, smug grin on her face.

It’s all an act, though.

After the FBI and her lawyers leave, Veronica’s face droops into what I’m sure is a much more natural expression for her; sullen and angry and a little bit sad after all of her plans came to such a pointless end.  She leaves her empty office for her balcony, where Diana is there to confront her.  This is where she flew to after subduing the Shaggy Man, and which she apparently considered more important and pressing than an unkillable monster on a rampage.

Diana asks Veronica for help in tracking down Barbara Ann Minerva, and help in changing her back into her human form from the Cheetah.  Veronica’s response, though, lets loose all of the anger that she must have been repressing while facing the FBI.  That and then some.

The two women tear into each other over their guilt and responsibility for what has happened, with Barbara Ann serving as a microcosm for everything that they have both been through.  Diana points out that Veronica left another woman in cursed agony, and that she should help for her own sake if for nothing else.  Veronica in return points out that Barbara Ann agreed to be turned back into the Cheetah, and that what Diana is really asking is for Veronica to help Diana.

The two of them make no headway with each other, and before they can go around again, Diana is interrupted by a radio call from Superman asking for a meeting.  Seeing that Veronica is not going to help her, and that there is nothing more to gain from an argument right now, Diana flies off to meet Superman and Batman.

Like the conversation between Etta and Sasha, this is an exchange which has Deep Meaning, and I’m going to dig into it later.

When Diana finally does meet up with Superman and Batman she seems to be heading straight for another argument, but Clark and Bruce put on the brakes: They have noticed that Diana is not acting as she normally does — angry and out of character.  They are not suspicious, they are concerned, and so she gives them the Cliff’s Notes version of what everything that happened has meant to her: Her Patrons, the Gods of Themyscira who gave her her abilities and sent her out into Man’s World, lied to her for years.  It does not matter how or what their intentions were, all that matters is that they abused her trust and devotion, and she is still reeling from this realization.

So then Superman and Batman give a basic bit of friend-advice: Talk to the Patrons.  The fact that they are gods does not matter, figure out why they lied to her, what it was all for, and try to come to an understanding.  They know it will be hard to make contact, of course, (They are gods after all) but they also know that Diana is the one who could pull it off.

When Superman asks “What are you waiting for?”, you better have a good answer.

So Wonder Woman flies off to…somewhere…to find an entryway where she can talk to the gods.  I’ll be honest, I feel like I’m supposed to recognize where this location is, some obscure location from DC Comics mythology or an example of real-life Greek Mythology, but for some reason, I’m drawing a blank.  Wherever it’s supposed to be, it’s mountainous and wooded, and after she tears up a tree by its roots, she gains entry to a cavern where she speaks to embodiments of the Patrons.  Two embodiments to be precise: An old crone and a young girl.  Or rather, as is later revealed, Hera and Athena.

This is a point where I would like to say “I’ll get into this later” as I’ve said twice already in this review, but we’re getting close to the end of the issue so I will just tackle this now: Diana gives vent to her anger and resentment over how she was treated by the Patrons, and the Patrons explain why they did what they did (In riddles, of course, since they’re still gods and gods never give a straight answer).  They talk of their love for Diana, their respect for what she has accomplished, and the amazing strength she has shown in enduring all that she has endured.  None of their lies changed who or what she was, and they couldn’t have changed her even if they wanted to. What the Patrons don’t do, however, is apologize.

Generally speaking, pretty much everybody does.

There is zero give in anything they say.  There are comfort and respect, even love, but they do not back down on what they did.  They believed that their actions were necessary, and they still believe that their actions are necessary, so there is no coddling or false-sympathy.  What there is is real sympathy, because even though they think they did the right thing (Even though it may really have been the right thing), they recognize that it hurt her.

In return, Diana does not suddenly stop resenting the lies that he Patrons told her, but she no longer hates them.  The issue does not explicitly say if she has been convinced to actually agree with them or not, but it almost does not matter; she once again recognizes them as her Patrons.  In the midst of this, as Diana once again recognizes who she is and what she is meant to do in this world, the Patrons return the Lasso of Truth to her.  The lasso, also called the Golden Perfect in this series, was left behind when Diana used it to bind Deimos and Phobos, but now the gods once again let it rest on her hip.

Now I am going to jump back to earlier in the issue, to the two points that I said I would come back to.

The first, where Etta Candy told Sasha Bordeaux that she would prefer to not work with Wonder Woman in the search for Barbara Ann Minerva.  That exchange, as I said, conjures up some Big Thoughts because it reveals so much in such a short space of time: Etta Candy blames Diana for Barbara Ann’s transformation into the Cheetah.  She blames her best friend for the loss of her girlfriend, and that loss is eating at her and might very well have sundered the friendship that existed between them.  And, like the later exchange between Diana and the Patrons, she may not be wrong.

Now hold on, I’m not saying that she isn’t wrong.  Personally, I think that Etta is lashing out and looking for someone to blame, and Diana makes a convenient target given how wrapped up in the situation she is.  But the thing is that it doesn’t matter if she is wrong or right, she believes it, and that belief makes it real to her.  Right now she is distrustful of Diana, she is resentful of Diana, and she does not want to work with Diana.  Even if tomorrow she wakes up and realizes that Diana is not to blame for Barbara Ann’s situation, these connected emotions are not going to just vanish into the ether.  Like Diana and the Patrons, this is something that will need to be worked out between the two of them.

Hopefully, the two of them will be able to resolve their issues, as Diana and the Patrons were able to, but the fact of the matter is that they need to do that.  As it stands, they are not going to be palling around any time soon.

The second point I wanted to come back to was the argument between Veronica and Diana, and whoof is this one a doozy.  Their arguments, each from a different perspective tell so much about their own histories and motivations and everything they thought during their ten-year struggle.

Veronica’s point is that Barbara Ann chose to become the Cheetah again, that this is both her own fault and her desire, so Veronica bears absolutely no responsibility or guilt for this.  This connects, as everything inevitably does with Veronica, back to her and her daughter.  Her daughter didn’t make a choice to have her face stolen by Deimos and Phobos, her daughter had absolutely no involvement in mystical affairs, and so by throwing Barbara Ann’s own choice in Diana’s face, she is saying “My daughter suffered when it wasn’t her fault, why should I care about the suffering of somebody as a result of their own decisions?”.  What she neglects to mention, of course, is that Veronica was threatening to kill Barbara Ann’s friends and loved ones if she did not agree to the procedure and that Veronica had also promised to make the experience less of a burdensome curse.

Veronica spent ten years rationalizing away her actions while she tried to get her daughter back, and she is continuing to do so.  By not accepting any measure of guilt for what happened to Barbara Ann — a woman she betrayed not once but twice — she continues the exact same patterns that she has been stuck in for a decade.

On the obverse, Diana’s pleas to Veronica help reveal her own core nature: She asks Veronica to help for Veronica’s own sake.  For Diana, it is inherent in her to want to help.  She knows that not everybody feels the same way, she is not so naive as to think that there is no such thing as evil in the world, but she also believes in the goodness of the human spirit.  She is wracked with guilt over what happened with Barbara Ann, and so she thinks that Veronica must be hurting on that account as well.  She also sees that Veronica is still in pain from the loss of her daughter, and Diana hopes to help heal that wound as well by having Veronica help heal Barbara Ann.  Two birds with one stone, as it were, but she cannot reach Veronica to make this connection.

Like Diana and the Patrons, and Diana and Etta Candy, Diana and Veronica are coming from the problem from two completely different angles: Veronica thinks that Diana is trying to make herself feel better, while Diana is trying to make them all feel better.  Until they can realize what they each don’t realize, they are never going to connect.

I had a half-dozen other points I wanted to raise about this issue, but I’ll be honest: After hitting the high notes, they just don’t seem necessary.  I was going to talk about how easily Wonder Woman subdued the Shaggy Man and the way it was Batman and Superman who noticed that Diana was not wearing the Golden Perfect, but I honestly feel like getting bogged down in these details isn’t a necessity.  They serve as examples of her physical strength and friendship she has with those two people, but the same information is given in every single panel throughout the entire issue.  It all serves to portray how strong she is, how connected she is to people, and the way it all pulls together.

So now, with the issue at a close and everything revealed, does it live up to its title?  Is this final issue ‘perfect’?  Yesand no.  It gives the emotion, and it gives the closure-but-not-closure that the series needed heading into a new creative team, and knocks those out of the park.  But from a  technical perspective it also completely glossed over the Cheetah’s escape from custody (which was so glossed over that I glossed over it myself in this review), which is glaring considering how critical her capture was to the previous issue.  For something which serves such a central position in every section of the story, why wasn’t that given any information?  But, to be fair, is that one minor point enough for me to knock down the whole issue….yes, yes it is because the issue is so good that this minor problem seems huge in comparison.

For now, we are bidding farewell to Greg Rucka and this current storyline, and we will have to see where the new series takes us.


Wonder Woman #25 and all images courtesy of DC Comics

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