Sunday, June 16, 2024

Wonder Woman and Veronica Cale go on a date in Godwatch Part 4

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The main plot of Wonder Woman #22 is not going to win any points for originality, since the story follows Diana as she auctions off a date as part of a celebrity charity drive for ‘Amnesty Trust’.  However, though that plot has certainly been done a thousand times before—maybe even enough to call it an out-and-out cliche—this issue manages to give it just enough flips and flair to be entertaining, enjoyable and a little bit fresh. Not just the fact that it is her arch-nemesis Veronica Cale who buys the date, either.  No, what makes this issue work despite the played-out premise is its fun glimpses into life in the DC Universe, and its unique position in the immediate Wonder Woman series.

In issue #21, which was part of the future-timeline followed in “The Truth”, Diana and Veronica Cale had finally come to direct blows and a surprising potential peace. Jumping back to this specific evening in the next issue, the first time they ever met face-to-face, helps flesh out their relationship from the perspective of a ten year conflict, and helps set the stage for the upcoming climax of the entire affair.

The issue opens at the charity auction itself, where Diana is apparently the pièce de résistance of the evening. Bidding runs hot (Including a back-and-forth war between noted billionaires Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor, who I will get into later), but at the end Veronica Cale steps forward and snatches the evening for a donation of fifteen million dollars. Whoof. Veronica tries to play off the donation, claiming that it is for the cause itself and joking that she wanted to save Diana from needing to spend an evening with either Wayne or Luthor, but obviously there is more to it than that.

Then comes the date and…this needs to be said right up front: This evening is rife with sexual tension. Even with the extra knowledge that we have as outside readers of the comic—maybe even especially because we have this knowledge of their relationship—this does not look like anything except an actual date.

Even though we know that Veronica is here as part of her plan to work against Diana, and even though we know that Diana is smart enough to figure that out, it is still a date.  The two of them are a little bit unsure of how they should behave and nervous as to the protocol going forward, yet they’re excited, as if feeling their way into the beginning of a brand-new relationship.  They decide that they should have their date tonight, now, because if they don’t do it now their schedules will probably never align again. So, they change into clothing a little bit more practical for a night out on the town and head out. Veronica pointedly leaving her private security detail behind.

Diana and Veronica head out, and the comic leads into all the minutiae that makes up an average first date between any two people: they go out to eat, they talk about their histories, and (As undeclared enemies) they do a little bit of verbal sparring.  Diana explains that she knows something about Veronica’s history—particularly her prior involvement in the Amnesty Trust charity and what was apparently a paid-for rescue of human trafficking victims the year before—and Veronica uses that as a smokescreen to explain why she dropped such a large stack of cash for tonight’s event.  Apparently the trafficking organization she helped close down a year ago has tried for retribution, which is the official reason she has hired Colonel Maru, and she wants Wonder Woman to deal with them tonight.

The traffickers arrive, Wonder Woman does her usual heroic bits in a nice-looking double-page spread, and then they call it an evening when Veronica explains that she hopes to get one of the men to give information in exchange for a deal with the authorities. Diana flies off, Veronica stays put, and there you go. That would have been an okay place to end the comic (not a great place, but okay), since the date between Veronica and Diana was entertaining in and of itself.  Something less epic than this series might have chosen to take that route and let this issue stand as just a bit of flirtatious fun.  However, this comic doesn’t end there, and the final pages are what bring the whole issue together.

As I said back at the beginning, Veronica is obviously doing this for some malevolent purpose, and it turns out that she set the whole thing up so that she could be close to Wonder Woman during combat and get science/magic readings off of her magic lasso. She was shown fiddling with her phone, and Dr. Cyber, throughout the encounter. Now she hopes to track these energy readings to be able to find Themyscira, and from there free her daughter (and, by extension, Ares).

What happens next in these final pages is that Wonder Woman shows up as Veronica and Adrianna are discussing this. She flies right up to Veronica’s office building in full superhero regalia and explains that of course she had pegged that Veronica was up to something the night before.  She had even said that she knew a great deal about Veronica, and Veronica clearly underestimated just how much that was. She might not know exactly what Veronica hoped to gain, but she is not the clueless mark that Veronica clearly believes she is. After their verbal back and forth Wonder Woman reveals one last truth bomb, and then flies off: she knows that Veronica is connected with what happened to Barbara Ann Minerva—the Cheetah—and Wonder Woman will be watching her.

That last encounter altered everything that had come before.  It shows that Diana isn’t too blind to see what is obviously happening right in front of her, and I love that the comic takes the time to point that out.  Too many comics have the hero be a fool because they apparently equate “Good” with “naive” (Or even “stupid”).

Here they had Diana happily accept the money for charity, and she fulfilled her end of the bargain, but she had already put together the puzzle pieces. Presumably she had figured this all out years ago, when Barbara Ann was first transformed, and has simply been biding her time on how to act.  She is not ruthless, and she is not the person to exact bloody vengeance when she does not know exactly what happened, but of course she would not have let what happened to one of her best friends go uninvestigated.  She probably had Veronica pegged as a participant right away. Especially considering the watch.

The broken watch that Wonder Woman gives to Veronica Cale at the end of the issue is the same watch that she had given to Barbara Ann before she was transformed into the Cheetah. A signal watch so that Barbara Ann could call for help if necessary, and which Dr. Cyber had jammed when she did need help so that Wonder Would would not be able to save her. This watch is symbolic of all the heartbreak and pain that Barbara Ann has suffered, symbolic of her and Diana’s broken friendship, and Diana had picked it up from the jungle floor when Barbara Ann was first transformed. Now, she passes it on to Veronica so that Veronica knows that she is not blind to what has happened

Wow, that’s a heavy hit at the end of the issue, and I can’t wait to see how it all turns out in the rest of the arc, but there was a lot more that happened in this issue than just the Big Points. Let’s go back over some of the small parts earlier in this issue that might not have been quite so grande, but which had their own import.

First, there is the little glimpse into the personalities and lives of billionaires Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor, both of whom were bidding on Diana’s date at the charity auction.  The two of them go back-and-forth in ever increasing amounts, and these scant few panels say so much about both characters.

After Bruce Wayne’s first bid, the MC for the event jokingly asks how his dates would feel about him bidding on another woman. However, in the panel itself you can see that the women seem delighted by what’s going on, laughing and carrying on with him. As readers, we know that Bruce is not in an actual relationship with any of them, and this entire affair is part of his projected cover as a flighty, shameless brat. With that knowledge, we can figure out that these women were probably hired specifically for the night, and they don’t expect this “date” to last past the dinner and ceremony. It’s explicit canon in the DCU that many of the “girlfriends” Bruce has are aware that he is only going out with them for show, and some are models and actors who have a solid business deal to act out a part.  They don’t think they’re in a relationship, and they don’t expect to start one, so for them this is all part of the same show. Hence why they are simply having a good time.

Lex Luthor’s date, on the other hand, looks absolutely crushed at his bid. Lex doesn’t put on the same type of front that Bruce does, he actually tries (Or at least pretends to try) to woo a woman that he is going out with.  It’s still a front—he never reciprocates these feelings and will cast them aside at any moment—but it’s a front to the women as well, who think they really have something special.  To this woman, whoever she is, she came to this evening thinking that she had a real connection with Lex Luthor, and him smugly bidding on Diana at that (just look at his smirk) is crushing.

Bruce also knows Diana, has worked with her as Batman, and so is obviously trying to step in and rescue her from being forced to go on a date with Lex Luthor. Whether she would have wanted that help is another question; after all she did let Veronica Cale win the bid and she knew there were problems there. But it is easy to see what he intended.

This isn’t an important scene in the sense of being story-related. Batman does not show up later in the comic and neither does Lex’s latest Doom Machine. But these panels say so much about Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor and their lives.

Then there is the page where Veronica and Diana meet up in their casual street clothes after the gala, and Veronica sees that while Diana has been waiting for her, she has been signing autographs for fans on the street.

Before Diana notices her, Veronica looks at the scene with a heartbroken expression. Because she sees Diana doing something so mundanely good, being friendly with everyday people and dong what she can to make their night a little bit better, and she knows that she is going to hurt her. Veronica isn’t heartless, and seeing that Diana is just this fundamentally sweet person, even to people who aren’t billionaire charity donors, makes her regret everything she is doing…but then she puts on a forced fake smile as soon as Diana looks her way, because no matter what regrets she has, she isn’t going to stop.

This is echoed later on in the evening, when Diana observes that Veronica seems to be personally angry at Wonder Woman for not doing more to help the world. Veronica’s impassioned response is that she doesn’t hate or blame Wonder Woman, in fact it’s quite the opposite. The good that Wonder Woman and the other superheroes do, especially the big flashy heroics, are what enable normal people to do more mundane heroics like raise money for charity and help through society.  Her hate is directed towards the governments and large organizations that enable the ‘petty’ evils of the world, like human trafficking, and who stand in the way of real social change.

That speech is a metaphor for Veronica’s situation itself: her daughter is essentially a kidnapping victim, her face stolen by a pair of Greek gods. That is why she is active against normal human trafficking.  The other gods of Olympus have done nothing to stop them or help her, and that is why she rails against the human institutions that turn a blind eye to such atrocities in the real world.  And she knows that Diana didn’t actually steal her daughters face, and Diana isn’t her enemy, but that doesn’t matter. Whether or not Wonder Woman is her enemy, she is in her way, and Veronica is not going to let anything stop her from getting her daughter back.

It all sets up Veronica as somebody who sees that she is on the wrong path, but will not turn aside because it is the only path the leads to where she needs to go.

That covers just about everything of note in this issue, except for one last bit: The goodnight kiss Diana gave Veronica before flying off.

Despite everything else that happens before and after, and everything else that I have written, this is exactly what it looks like: An honest kiss at the end of a date, and it is framed as exactly that. Diana doesn’t hate Veronica, maybe she even had fun tonight, and she knows that Veronica is honestly and sincerely hurting from something (Even if she doesn’t know from what). To her, this is the only natural way to end the evening, and to say goodbye. The comic never once tries to deny or cover up what is happening this evening, never has either one of them go on at length about “Oh how great it is to be out with a gal pal instead of a man” or “I’m so glad we’re friends and I don’t need to worry about romance”. Those are very common tact is in media to be able to set up plausible deniability that anything romantic is happening. Here, the comic accepts the situation for what it is.

Diana and Veronica Cale’s relationship is never going to progress past this one evening in a romantic way, they both have too much going on in their own lives even if they weren’t enemies, but for now, for this one night, they went out together, and the comic recognizes that.

Wonder Woman #22 Credits

Writer: Greg Rucka

Artist: Mirka Andolfo

Colors: Romula Fajardo Jr.

Cover: Bilquis Evely & Fajado Jr.

Images courtesy of DC Comics

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