Wonder Woman’s “Godwatch” arc has come with a heavy dose of emotional torque and a glimpse into the villainous origin of Veronica Cale. The arc has been speeding through Diana’s first ten years in “Man’s World”, giving us brief examples of her heroics and her friendships along the way, and we have begun to learn the motivations behind Veronica’s vendetta. Each issue peels back a little bit more of exactly how and why she got involved, and how it all ties together into the simultaneously-published future arc being explored in “The Truth”.
Issue #20, part 3 of “Godwatch”, takes it a step further, and seems to finally give us the Big Answer: what she is after, why she is after it, and how it is that she seems to be the main threat of “The Truth” when she started as a civilian impressed into villainy by Deimos & Phobos.
The issue also brings back perennial Wonder Woman foe Circe with a new look and style, and wraps it all together in a comic that is simultaneously fun, heartbreaking, and cheekily amusing.
The issue opens with Veronica seeing the last in what is a very long line of doctors that she hopes could do something to help her daughter, whose face had been stolen by Deimos and Phobos many years ago. Unfortunately, not only can this doctor not help her (let’s be frank here: what could medicine do for a stolen face?), but he tries to recommend another doctor that Veronica had already seen many years ago. The doctors had referred her from one doctor to the next without anything being accomplished until she wound up here, who wanted to send her back to the beginning. Realizing that mortal medicine will not be able to help her, Veronica turns to the supernatural instead.
This opening scene is not something extraordinary in and of itself—it is just two people talking across a desk—but this scenario is something that I love to see. Veronica Cale is a billionaire businesswoman; it makes perfect sense that she bring her faceless daughter to doctors and specialists around the world to try and find a cure. She has resources and connections that most people in the world could never dream of having. By showing her at the end of the quest, this one single page manages to convey the years of effort and fruitless work that has lead to this point without getting bogged down in repetitive scenes. It also explains why she is willing to delve into the supernatural when it has had terrible consequences before: she has tried the mundane options and they have failed, so she is now trying whatever she has left.
The scene then jumps to Wonder Woman in battle with the Cheetah—her becursed close friend Barbara Ann Minerva—to give us both a touch of action (this is, after all, a superhero comic book), and also a look into how their relationship actually worked when the Cheetah was around. When the Cheetah first appeared in the “The Lies” arc, she and Wonder Woman teamed up almost immediately and broke her curse so we never got to see them as adversaries. Characters spoke about it in retrospect, but this is the first time we have seen what they were like during the many years while the curse held Barbara Ann in thrall.
They fight, but as they fight, Diana is still trying to reach Barbara Ann’s humanity, and trying to forge a connection to the person the Cheetah used to be. It is a small scene, but it establishes that Diana had never stopped trying to rescue Barbara Ann from what had happened to her, even when they were in opposition.
After the brief interlude with the Cheetah comes where the issue manages to really shine: the reintroduction of Circe.
Circe has been a recurring foe of Wonder Woman’s since the 1940s, and obviously she makes perfect sense given her roots in Greek Mythology. She has had several different character designs, personalities, and MOs throughout the years, ranging from deadly enemy to sort-of-pseudo-ally (kinda, but not really). Personally, I’ve always been partial to her big bandstand appearance in Justice League Unlimited, where she was voiced by Broadway legend Rachel York.
Full disclosure: I have that song recorded and on my playlist as part of my standard music shuffle.
The version of Circe presented here is not a radical reintroduction, but it is still unique: She is cheeky and flippant, dressed fashionably, speaking lasciviously, and eyeballing everybody. Instead of Old Fashion Glamour, she comes across more as Freewheeling Fun. Everything about her presentation says that she would be a fun person to be around, and also that while you are having fun she would be doing something unspeakably untoward before you even realized it. Speaking just for personal preference, I love this design and characterization, and I already want to see more of her.
Veronica wants Circe’s help in restoring her daughter’s face and punishing Deimos & Phobos. Circe agrees for a price, of course (the usual esoteric magical payment…gold coins, hair from Veronica’s head, blood from her daughter. You know, the usual). The unexpected part is what comes next: It works.
Without a hitch or bizarre side-effect, either. Veronica summons the gods, Circe works her magic, and before you can say Presto-Chango the former deities have been transformed into two rottweilers at Veronica’s mercy. Of course, the whole affair was a little more complicated than Circe saying ‘presto-chango’—she needed to harness the power of Wonder Woman’s golden lasso for one—but the fact of the matter is that this is not one of those “be careful what you wish for” or “You’re meddling in things beyond your power” situations. Veronica wanted revenge, she researched how to get it, and she got it. It makes no difference that the targets of her vengeance are a pair of gods, all that matters is that they stole her daughter from her.
Things are not perfectly resolved for Veronica of course—it turns out that Deimos & Phobos actually no longer have her daughter, so they cannot return her—but this emphasizes that being a ‘god’ is not what makes you a threat in this world: it is intelligence and drive that makes somebody dangerous. Veronica Cale has both to spare, and she is now turning them against Diana and the Amazons.
This issue filled in almost all of the questions that have still been hanging open so far, some of which I did not even realize had been left unexplored until they colored in the blank spaces. It explains the origins of the two dogs Veronica has in the future timeline of the series and shows part of her transfer from a “normal” businesswoman to somebody who is fully steeped in this world of magic and deities. It also finally reveals to us just what it is that Veronica is after, and the connection to the Mysterious Evil Tree that has popped up on Themyscira. It seems that Deimos & Phobos do not have Veronica’s daughter because she has been imprisoned with their father Ares, and to free her, Veronica must likewise free Ares from his prison on Themyscira. To Veronica, if that is what it takes, then that’s what it takes.
The story is now seven years into Diana’s adventures in “Man’s World”, which means it has been five years since Barbara Ann’s transformation and six years since Veronica lost her daughter. They have had to live with these situations not just for a few weeks or months, but for long enough for it to change who and what they are. We get to see that here: Veronica has become full-bore supervillain, and Barbara Ann has become her cooperative henchman. We also get to see more of Diana’s adventures as Wonder Woman, albeit briefly: Apart from fighting the Cheetah, she is shown protecting fleeing civilians in war-torn Qurac.
Qurac is a mainstay of the DC Universe: a fictional Middle Eastern country which has been used as a stand-in for any number of real-life nations over the years. Here it is apparently in the midst of vast internal strife (Again), and Circe describes the gunmen we see as having “dedicated themselves to extinguishing the light of an entire people”. Wonder Woman is having none of that, though, and is protecting the victims. However, because she is Wonder Woman she is also trying to save even the gunmen themselves from Circe. She does not accept summary execution when there are other alternatives, no matter who they are.
All told, Wonder Woman #20, “Godwatch” Part 3, gives us everything we could ask for. It gives us action, it gives us drama, it gives us bits of DC Universe continuity and history, and it presents it all in heartwrenching, compelling story. Plus, and I simply have to talk about this, it gives us Circe’s expression as Wonder Woman ties her up with her lasso.
Admittedly, being tied up by the lasso is a necessary part of their plan, but still. Knowing the history of the Wonder Woman character, the conception of the magic lasso and and the intertwined themes of sexuality and submission that have been integral to the character for decades, the fans who read this comic must have been hooting and waving their arms around like mad at this panel. If it had a speech bubble of Circe saying “Oh, no, I’m tied up, I’m completely at your mercy…you could do anything you want to me…anything at all…” this would be absolutely indistinguishable from a post on tumblr (I’ve seen that kind of post on tumblr many times before. Heck, I’ve seen that kind of post on tumblr today).
This issue comes, sadly, just as Greg Rucka has revealed that he will be leaving the series after the conclusion of his planned storyline. The good news is that he says it is by his choice—no editorial shenanigans this time—and it will be after the complete planned arc. The bad news is that this means we will lose the beautiful magic that this series manages to capture with Wonder Woman. The, dare I say it, wonder of who she is. I’m saddened that we are nearing the end, but still overjoyed at what we have managed to get so far.
Wonder Woman #20 Credits
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Bilquis Evely
Colors: Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Cover: Evely & Fajardo Jr.