There have been a half-dozen independently named arcs in the Wonder Woman series since the relaunch as part of Rebirth, but they have all been in service to the two ongoing stories that have run concurrently throughout the series. The Past followed Diana after she left Themyscira and entered “Man’s World”, also covering the ten years since. The Present focused on the much more immediate conflict with Veronica Cale, and the fallout therefrom. For the past several issues the two stories have grown closer and closer together — with the Past establishing what has directly lead to the Present — and they finally collided in issue #23 during the climax of “The Truth”.
Issue #24, the epilogue to “Godwatch”, sets the stage for what is still in store for Diana and her friends.
It opens apparently right after the conclusion of the previous issue, and with the seemingly-innocuous time caption “Now”. I say “seemingly” innocuous because the “Godwatch” arc has previously been part of the Past story, with all of the time captions stating how long it has been since Diana first left Themyscira. The time jumps had been getting progressively closer and closer to the present, but it is not until this issue that the two arcs officially merge together, with an issue from one arc picking up right where the other arc ended.
Steve Trevor is anxiously waiting for Diana’s return from beyond the Mysterious Evil tree that has been popping up, and is surprised when Veronica Cale comes through alone. He accosts her to figure out what happened to Diana, but in what I feel is a great subtle display that Steve is more insightful than a brutish thug, he recognizes from her expression that something serious has happened. He doesn’t know what it is, but he backs away and even apologizes. Keep in mind, the last Steve knew Veronica was still The Enemy, so there is no bond of familiarity between them. Nevertheless, when he sees so much in her eyes, it merits a quick apology.
Diana comes through next and she and Steve have their happy reunion, then Diana explains that the mysterious girl with no face was Veronica’s daughter. As they are distracted by their reunion Veronica makes her escape, and Steve tells Diana that Barbara Ann Minerva — who he insists on calling Cheetah — had left as soon as the day turned to night. Together they decide that it is time for them to take their own leave of this cursed place, and then we learn that Cheetah had not truly left after all.
It seems that Cheetah had not abandoned the motivation that had been driving Barbara Ann for more than a decade, and she returns to the Mysterious Evil Tree in order to find a way in. Several earlier issues of the series had covered Barbara Ann’s academic and adventurous search for the supernatural and the divine, and throughout the series she has wanted to discover what was Out There. She wanted to find the secrets that most of mankind did not even realize were out there, and that curiosity had gotten her trapped in this hellish existence as the Cheetah. Now, with the Tree right there, it seems like her goal is finally at her fingertips. She can finally get the answers she has suffered and sacrificed for, if only the Tree will let her pass through to the other side
The tree says “no”, vanishing into dust after tossing her aside (literally). Themyscira is beyond her reach, it will always be beyond her reach, and at this final rejection the Cheetah swears vengeance on the Amazons and gods alike.
The scene then switches over to Steve and Diana recuperating at Etta Candy’s home and begins to fill in some of the missing info from the series as a whole. Sasha Bordeaux, who had been replaced with a robotic duplicate by Veronica Cale, is recuperating in a hospital after she had been rescued earlier in the series. Ferdinand the Minotaur (kythotaur) has gone his own way and left a message with Etta that Diana knows how to reach him if necessary. The filling-in-the-details bits lead into the next conflict, however, when Etta confronts Diana and Steve over leaving Barbara Ann behind, still stuck as the Cheetah.
This picks up the argument that Steve and Etta had been having across several earlier issues over whether or not they could trust Barbara Ann. Etta is obviously not impartial — Steve even directly telling her to try and take her personal feelings for Barbara Ann out of the equation — but that doesn’t mean she’s wrong. Steve had never trusted Barbara Ann after she was rescued from the curse the first time, and he was quick to blame her and doubt her during situations where she was just trying her best to help her friends. It’s clear that he is just as slanted in his perceptions as Etta is, and Diana steps in and points out that Etta is right: They did abandon Barbara Ann.
They could have stayed and looked for her at the location of the Tree, they could have called in their military or civilian contacts to help search the area, but instead they decided that they had had enough and quite literally went home. Diana cannot let things stand that way, and so she decides to seek out Veronica Cale and resolve everything once and for all.
Veronica in turn is having her own existential crisis as she deals with the total, final loss of her daughter. She knows that she is never going to get her daughter back — ever — which makes everything that has happened up until now completely pointless. All her hard work, all of the pain she caused others, everything she sacrificed, was all for nothing. She even lashes out at Adrianna, pointing out that she is not really Adrianna, just a digital copy, and so Veronica truly has absolutely nothing left in her life.
The Cheetah chooses this moment to reveal her presence and launches an attack on Veronica. Whether you can call this vengeance, punishment, or judgement, she is not here to force Veronica to change her back, but only to kill her. And she would have succeeded, too, if not for Wonder Woman’s arrival.
Throughout their fight, Wonder Woman continues to plead for Barbara Ann’s re-emergence, continues to plead for her to return to her old life, and when the Cheetah refuses, Wonder Woman defends Veronica Cale with all her might. She saves Veronica’s life despite all that has happened, because that is what Wonder Woman does. However, also despite all that has happened, Veronica pointedly throws in Diana’s face a declaration that they will never be friends. She cannot move past their history, cannot let go of the anger and blame that fills her, and so she will never be able to move on or forge new connections elsewhere in her life.
This issue as a whole focused a lot on who characters are. Both who they are to other people, and also who they are to themselves. Cheetah claims that being the Cheetah is who she is. She says that Barbara Ann Minerva is gone, never coming back, and that she doesn’t want Barbara Ann to come back anyway. She even claims that one of the reasons she is trying to kill Veronica is because she is the only person who can change her back, and wants to sever that possibility.
However, despite all these claims and actions, Diana does not accept that this is who Barbara Ann truly is. She continues to believe that this is the influence of the curse affecting her mind and her judgement, and that she knows Barbara Ann better than that.
And Diana might be correct. When Barbara Ann was last cured of her curse, she returned to her old non-cannibalistic, non-villainous self. She did not continue to bear any of the grudges she had nursed as the Cheetah, not even for any of the beatings she had taken at Diana’s hands (And let’s be honest: She had to have been badly beaten on several occasions given that she was fighting Wonder Woman). The Cheetah really was something imposed on her from outside, not an expression of her own nature. However, it’s also possible that maybe Diana is wrong, and now Barbara Ann really has been lost within the Cheetah this time. She no longer shows any desire to break the curse, and she has suffered setbacks that would have scarred and traumatized even her non-transformed self, so it could be she’s now taken on an honest hatred of others. Maybe if the curse is broken she will still have all this anger inside of her that Diana cannot do anything about.
Veronica has to face the same internal debate, but instead of facing off with Wonder Woman who sees the good in her, it is the Cheetah telling her that she has to accept that she isn’t good.
Everything Veronica has done has had a noble goal: To rescue her daughter. Even Diana would have called that a righteous cause. But in pursuing that cause she has done horrible, horrible things to countless people across the planet. As trite as the old cliche is, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” holds true, and her hope of rescuing her child has long since doomed Veronica to that selfsame hell. She has convinced herself that everything she did was worth the cost if it meant rescuing her daughter, but now that she can’t rescue her daughter, now that she knows there is no validation coming, Cheetah tells her that she has to face the facts: She has killed, and tortured, and maimed, and she is not the hero of this story.
The issue itself is relatively light on action, but what there is manages to work. We see just how easily (relatively speaking) Wonder Woman can suppress the Cheetah when it comes to sheer martial prowess, which again reinforces that Diana has never wanted to hurt or kill Barbara Ann. She could have done so long ago. What drives the story this time is the personal conflicts, both internal and external, as the different characters struggle with accepting what they have done and where they can go from here.
Just about the only thing which did not work for this issue was the reunion kiss between Diana and Steve Trevor, and to be honest I’m not sure I can articulate why. It just didn’t have it. It seemed almost perfunctory, as though marking off a box on a checklist: After “Happy Reunion” comes “Big smooch”. It doesn’t derail the whole issue, it is a slightly-off-groove story.
The issue closes with the perfect setup for both the end of Greg Rucka’s authorial run on this series (Which is coming up way too fast) and for the beginning of the next story: The literal caption of “What now?” Veronica Cale has been defeated, with various law enforcement agencies seizing her Evil Assets and without any solid motivation to continue her vendetta anyway. Diana has subdued the Cheetah and can now work with Etta Candy to find a way to break the curse and return her to being Barbara Ann Minerva. Covered in the preceding issue, Deimos and Phobos are no longer a threat, and Diana knows that there is no point in even trying to find a way back. All (Or at least most) of the plot lines have been answered, and that leaves the question up in the air.
Things aren’t finished, far from it, but as to what is going to happen to Diana tomorrow….who knows?
We’ll have to read to find out.