Thursday, April 18, 2024

Oh My “Godwatch”, Wonder Woman Gets Heavy and Personal

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The “Godwatch” arc began in issue #16 with an introduction to Veronica Cale, the businesswoman-cum-supervillain harrowing Wonder Woman and her allies in the present-day timeline of the odd-numbered issues. That lone issue explained that although she was never a fan of Wonder Woman, Veronica herself had no malevolent plans for world domination or Diana’s death. She was focused entirely on her own company and her daughter. The only thoughts she spared for Wonder Woman was a brief debate with friends over breakfast. Unfortunately, the evil gods Deimos and Phobos appeared, stole her daughter’s face (Ugh) and forced her to try and steal the location of Themyscira from Diana’s mind. Not only did her desperate attempt fail, but it cost the life of her best friend and confidant, Adrianna Anderson, and her daughter’s face still remains missing.

Not a good day for her.

Now, in the second issue of “Godwatch”, we are a year past the event, and Veronica is being forced deeper and deeper into her role as a supervillain. She has set up schemes to divide Wonder Woman from her allies, is manipulating the people in Diana’s life, and is crossing all the lines of science and morality in her desperate attempts to save her daughter and retain whatever connection she can with her old friend.

The issue opens with the “official” birth of Dr. Cyber, the digital construct Veronica made from whatever she could save of Adrianna’s mind during the disastrous attempt to steal information from Diana. Veronica needs help if she is going to get the location of Themyscira after all, since Deimos and Phobos still demand it from her. At the same time, she is also desperate for the return of Adrianna herself.

The previous issue made it clear that there was not a whole lot of warmth in Veronica’s life. She did not have a large circle of close friends or family even before evil deities began pressuring her. Her daughter and Adrianna seem to be the only people she was close to.  Having lost both of them at once, with her daughter a faceless husk and Adrianna just plain dead, she had no one in her life left. After that, even more than a worker or assistant, Veronica needed her friend back.

Apart from showing us the new origin of Dr. Cyber, a longtime foe of Wonder Woman originating in the Silver Age, this sequence emphasizes Veronica’s role in the series. She is not Lex Luthor, sitting in her evil underground lair, maniacally laughing to herself as she plots Wonder Woman’s destruction. She is alone, hurt, and desperate to have even a shadow of her friend back. Somebody she can speak to, confide in, and, yes, rely upon to help her with her work. This and later scenes frame her as just as much of a victim as Wonder Woman in the machinations of Deimos and Phobos, just from a different angle.

The scene then switches to Diana and Barbara Ann Minerva. They have a small, almost inconsequential conversation about the trustworthiness of the Greek gods that I love to the bottom of my heart.

The pointless fickleness of the Greek gods is a mainstay of Greek mythology. Once you take away their Righteous Smiting of those who break their laws or affront them in some way, there are still countless stories of the gods messing around with people for absolutely no reason. Even their most devout and subservient followers are not exempt from Random Dickery. Some are killed or cursed for crimes as bizarre as being too devout and too observant to what the gods say. So, when Barbara Ann speaks about the wonder of the gods and how great it will be to learn about them, even Diana’s own obligation to the Patrons of Themyscira cannot keep her from telling her how much of a bad idea this is.

Unfortunately, Barbara Ann will not be dissuaded. Even though I know it is going to end poorly and comes from a slightly tainted place within her, I personally love her unstoppable thirst for knowledge. The desire to know, to understand, to see what’s out there. For Barbara Ann, the chance to get answers to life’s mysteries and the Big Questions is worth almost any risk. And it’s good that she feels that way, because risk is definitely what she’s in for. After leaving Diana, she meets with Veronica Cale herself in the hopes of getting her to fund her research and expedition looking into Urzkartaga.

Veronica agrees to fund the expedition in full, and then sabotages it oh-so-subtly, disabling the GPS distress beacon Diana gives to Barbara Ann so that she can call for help if things go awry.  This is a decision which Veronica agonizes over doing before giving the order. She clearly regrets it afterward, as well, but she still goes through with it.

This is where the issue subtly yet perfectly sets up the fundamental difference between Veronica Cale and Wonder Woman. Veronica is very much a victim here, and she never wanted any of it. But, when it came down to it she decided that her people (her daughter and Adrianna) counted for more than Diana’s people. She felt bad about it, and she didn’t want to go through with it, but whether she wanted to or not, she did it. This is a decision Diana never could have made.

To be fair, I’m not saying I wouldn’t have made the same choice Veronica did. I’m not saying that Veronica is evil because of this decision, either. Almost any parent worth the title would have made the same choice if their children were in danger. But regardless of the justification, regardless of why she did it, Veronica still made the choice to sacrifice Barbara Ann to a fate worse than death. She chose to sacrifice her to Urzkartaga.

And then she went on a worldwide terrorist spree.

They had to keep Wonder Woman busy, making sure she did not decide to pop in on Barbara Ann even without the distress signal. So, the newly-minted Dr. Cyber put her technological prowess to work and decided to wreck as much of the planet as she could. In addition to showcasing a gorgeous double-page splash panel of Wonder Woman’s heroism, this scene also hints that Adrianna came back wrong when she was resurrected as Dr. Cyber.  She’s positively gleeful as she endangers dozens (Hundreds?  Thousands?) of innocent lives all just to keep Wonder Woman distracted. None of Veronica’s self-doubt or regret remain. Dr. Cyber, on the other hand, enjoys being able to flex her computer muscles to create as much havoc as she can.

Adrianna–the real Adrianna–was a close friend of Veronica who was willing to risk her own life to help Veronica’s daughter rather than let Veronica take the chance instead. It’s hard to reconcile that deeply emotional and caring person with the violently indulgent, chaotic character we see here. The comic does not draw any extravagant attention to it, nothing as blatant as Veronica shrieking “The Adrianna I knew would never have been this evil!”, but there is just enough there for us to put the pieces together to realize that this really isn’t the Adrianna we saw before. Veronica was right at the start of the comic. This is something different.

The issue closes with two separate scenes, one with Diana and one with Veronica, each of which is heartbreaking in its own way. In the first, Diana returns to the location of Barbara Ann’s dig after she has succeeded in halting all of the other disasters around the world. There, she discovers that Barbara Ann has been converted into the inhuman, cannibalistic Cheetah. In her rage and self-hate at having already been driven to kill and eat people, Barbara Ann throws all the blame she can at Diana, especially since it looks like Diana ignored her call for help.

In the present-day timeline of the series there have been a lot of references to Diana’s supposed betrayal of Barbara Ann back when she first became the Cheetah. There’s also a lot of talk about how it was not what it looked like, nor was it what Diana intended. This is the first time the readers have learned what actually happened. We now know why Barbara Ann blamed Diana for what happened to her and why she accused Diana of abandoning her. We also know just how badly Diana wanted to be there to help. Unfortunately, nothing we know can change what happened, and their relationship is sundered for a decade as Barbara Ann struggles against the monstrous desires of the Cheetah.

As heartbreaking as that is, it almost pales in comparison to how Veronica and her daughter close out the issue.

As I said, Veronica Cale is not an evil woman, everything she has done was to save her daughter. But Deimos and Phobos apparently popped away, leaving her daughter faceless. Now that Veronica sees it was all for nothing, the weight of everything comes crashing down on her. The loss of her best friend, only to be resurrected as an apparently evil–or at least amoral–computer copy. The betrayal and literal sacrifice of Barbara Ann Minerva to Urzkartaga. All for nothing. She cannot lie to herself anymore, rationalize it away, or claim that her goals were noble. She has to admit the dark truth that she might not have been an evil woman, but by god did she do a lot of evil things.

This issue was fantastic, plain and simple. Fantastic and heartbreaking. After seventeen issues of implication and buildup, we finally learn just what it was that turned Barbara Ann against Wonder Woman. We learn her history with Veronica Cale that the more recent issues have implied. We also got a great focus on Wonder Woman, despite her having only relatively brief appearances in this issue.

I spoke about this in my review of the previous issue, and despite focus elsewhere this issue, the series stepped up the game. Wonder Woman is definitively the main character of the series and the focal point of the story. Everything that happens revolves around her. She does not need to be in every single panel in order for her presence to be felt. In fact, the development of these other characters helps sell the fact that there is a great big wide world out there without losing the series’ central focus.

This issue also continued a theme which has been present throughout the entirety of the past-timeline: Diana’s ongoing assimilation into our society and culture, with a special emphasis on language. She is still not a native speaker of English. Although she is conversationally fluent she still gets tenses and word forms wrong, and sometimes struggles to get her exact meaning across. Barbara Ann can easily figure out what she meant, but Diana is still learning.

You have no idea how beautiful that is to me. I’ve written a 240,000 word fanfic that has so far taken place over nine months, and my characters still aren’t perfectly fluent in English (Or Québécois) despite being completely submerged in the local language. By showing Diana stumbling over which precise terms to use despite having been in “Man’s World” for almost two years, it emphasizes that she is learning about the world by literally learning about the world. She is not getting regular Patron Updates who zip new knowledge into her brain. She has to listen and experience and understand on her own.

All told, the only thing missing from this issue is some sort of farewell scene between Barbara Ann and Etta Candy. It has been all-but-confirmed that the two of them were dating before the regrettable Cheetah situation separated them, so this would be their last chance to be together. They could not know they were going to be apart for ten years, but Barbara Ann would still be gone for weeks or months on a normal expedition, so where is their tearful goodbye at the airport? Their last night together? A special dinner to mark the occasion? A few panels of them being together was all that would be required to add just another dimension of heartbreak to what comes later.

Still, apart from that one area this issue gave us everything, and it also took everything away.

Images courtesy of DC Comics.

Wonder Woman #18 Credits

Writer: Greg Rucka

Pencils: Bilquis Evely

Inks: Scott Hanna

Colors: Romulo Fajardo Jr.

Cover: Evely & Fajardo Jr.

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