Things have been building for a while in Wonder Woman‘s “The Truth” arc, and it all began to explode in the last issue. Issue #19 came with the action and plot twists to be expected of a superhero comic, and finished bringing the series back to its main Wonder Woman adventure. It also ended on perhaps the biggest note yet for a cliffhanger in this series: Wonder Woman was shot straight through the back (and out the front) by Colonel Maru.
That left us with mouths gaping open in shock, and a question burning in the minds of readers for the next few weeks: Just how is Wonder Woman going to survive this? In my own review of that issue, I wondered how the comic could extricate her and Steve Trevor from this situation, and how she could recover from her wounds. The shot was clearly shown punching completely through her torso, it could not be waved away as “just a flesh wound”, and that meant they would need to deal with this. Issue #21 picks up where the last issue left off, right smack in the middle of Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor’s fight against Maru’s mercenaries, where it turns out…oh…they just waved off the shot and did not need to deal with the injury at all. Diana just gets up and seems to be fine.
Huh. I’m gonna be honest, I did not expect them to go in that direction.
What is extra-odd is that this scene is actually pretty good; taken by itself it is a great action piece to open the comic. Having Steve tackle Diana to get her out of the way of Maru’s next shot would normally establish that her shots are a threat, unlike the very common scene of Superman standing still as enemies waste thousands of rounds against his impenetrable skin. If this was where the fight began it would be a great start to a conflict, and I would be on the edge of my seat. Unfortunately, by having this come after she has already been shot — literally shot right through the chest — it looses all of its impact because we already know that Maru’s bullets are not that dangerous after all.
Getting shot admittedly seems to be painful, but Diana is walking and talking only a few seconds after taking the first round, so we cannot say that they are debilitating. They seem to have no more of an impact on her than a strong punch does to a normal human: enough of them might kill her, but unless it is placed just right it is going to take quite a while, and when you have super speed and super strength on your side…well, there is not much of a challenge here.
And, true to that, once she gets her feet beneath her Wonder Woman manages to take out Colonel Maru and her team without much of a struggle.
As I said, this is a good scene, but it completely undercuts the drama of the cliffhanger that closed the last issue, and I wonder why they chose to go this route.
Anyway, the comic does not get bogged down in this fight for too long, and when it moves on it leaves behind the baggage that weighed down the opening confrontation. The rest of the comic manages to get just about everything right.
It continues Veronica Cale’s search for Themyscira, and jumps to them landing on the same mysterious island in the Black Sea that Barbara Ann Minerva had discovered many years before. Barbara Ann had thought the island would lead to the Amazons she had been researching before she ever met Diana, and Diana had been tricked and deluded into thinking it was her own home. Even though this island is not Themyscira itself, it clearly has some sort of supernatural connection, especially with the presence of the Evil Tree which has recurred throughout the entire series so far. Veronica is here to find out what this connection is, and to save her daughter.
It was revealed in issue #20, set in the “Godwatch” arc, that Izzy’s face (Her soul?) is held in the same prison which holds Ares beneath Themyscira. This is what Veronica Cale has been about all this time. All of her efforts, all of her machiavellian machinations, have been about finding a way into Ares’ prison so that she can return her daughter’s face to her. These panels help emphasize that point: She is not after power, she has no grand plan or designs on the world at large, she just wants to save the only person she has left to love in all the world. Everything comes down to that.
That does not make her actions justified or right, but her pain is easily understood.
Inevitably this devolves into a superpowered fight as Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor arrive to stop them, and Wonder Woman and the Cheetah come to blows. Veronica hopes that the Cheetah will somehow OPEN the doorway to Themyscira, even though she has no idea how that is supposed to work, and Wonder Woman tries to reach the person who Cheetah was before. She remembers the friendship that she and Barbara Ann Minerva had had for years, and the way they renewed their friendship just recently after her curse was broken, and she hopes that they can still make a connection.
Unfortunately, the dark magics which turned Barbara Ann into what she is now have gotten their hooks into her very deeply, and they are not easily removed.
What does finally begin to break through is not any reference to Barbara Ann herself, but to Etta Candy. Etta, her former (current?) girlfriend, who missed her and mourned her during all the years that she was transformed into this animalistic creature. Etta, who wanted her all along, and accepted her instantaneously once she was rescued from her cursed existence. Who, unlike Steve, never doubted her loyalty or questioned whether she could be trusted. That gets a reaction out of the Cheetah. Unfortunately, not enough of one, nor quickly enough, because they continue to struggle throughout this conversation, and a single drop of Diana’s blood falls on the Evil Tree of the island….
It always turns out that there is magic in blood, so this is what seems to activate whatever it is that the Evil Tree happens to be. And when this Tree activates…well, it has been easy to forget that what we have been dealing with in this series have been the Patrons of Themyscira, the literal Gods of Olympus. A lot of times the scale is relatively down-to-earth: enemies can be punched because they have physical bodies, and their attacks can be blocked for the same reasons. Even Veronica Cale, one of the greatest and most persistent threats that Diana has faced alone, is a mortal woman with mortal means. Here, though, we get a reminder that the scale of things is So Much Greater as the Tree opens into some place…beyond.
Diana, Veronica and Izzy are all sucked into the place beyond the tree, and here is where we get the presumably final major reveal of “The Truth”: Izzy’s face is indeed here, now restored to her body, and so is Ares. Shackled and bound, the God of War sits in his palatial cell and amicably welcomes Diana to his prison. This is where it ends, leaving the conclusion of the arc for issue #23.
Apart from its stumbles in the opening scenes, this issue comes together quite nicely. It reiterates Veronica Cale’s motivations without becoming repetitive, and it gives Diana a chance to try and forge a connection with Barbara Ann, just as she did in issue #20 (The last issue to show her actually fighting the Cheetah). The imagery of the Evil Tree opening was also something special, it brings to mind the truly cosmic scale appropriate to Diana’s mythology. This is the realm of gods, of beings who are not constrained by human dimensions and human experiences, and who exist far beyond ourselves. Something of this scale would not be out of place amongst the pantheon of Jack Kirby, or in the eldritch horrors of HP Lovecraft. It’s big.
Where the issue really shines, though, is in a few key characters pieces. They are small, almost background, but that makes them some of the most important pieces of all. First is the fact that Diana did not “fall” into the portal of the Evil Tree: she leapt, deliberately and knowingly, to save Izzy. At this point Diana does not know who Izzy is, she has no idea if she is good or evil or innocent or complicit, but that does not matter. All she needs to know is that there is somebody about to fall into this Unknown, and that means she is going to do her best to save her.
Then, a bare few panels later, when Diana and Veronica are both in this place Beyond the Evil Tree and she finally hears that Veronica is searching for her daughter, she offers her hand. Just like that. Without hesitation or condition, Wonder Woman stands forward and says she will help.
I hope I can make you understand just how much this means, because this scene is Diana. It is Wonder Woman. Not just this one particular version of the character, this is an essential core of the character going back to her first iteration. In fact, this is very close to a scene from Gail Simone’s run on the series that I have always held up as the epitome of what Wonder Woman is supposed to be. So close, in fact, that I think it must be a deliberate homage. In issue #19 of that volume, Wonder Woman found herself facing a Green Lantern who had been consumed by his vendetta against the Khund, the generally evil race of alien conquerors that recurrently threatened the DCU. When Diana came to oppose him, he tried to strike her down, over and over, overwhelmed by his anger and his hatred and his guilt, until he could not raise his arms any more…and he saw that she had extended her hand…
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In both that scene from a few years ago and this new issue just today, Diana stands before an enemy, somebody who has done great harm to her and to others, and she is not interested in revenge or punishment. She does not care about causing pain herself. All she wants to do is help, and she extends her hands in compassion and friendship, because that is who she is. That is something that nobody else can ever change.
This issue does leave us with quite a few questions, though, primary among them being the nature of Ares. This is a very different God of War than we had seen earlier in the series during the “Year One” arc. That Ares was in his full maniacal package; clad in malevolent armor and wreaking havoc on Earth. Here, though, he is bound and prisoner in this place that is supposedly beneath Themyscira, and the imagery seems more evocative of an actual Grecian deity than the usual Evil Spikes of Villainy looks Ares often has in comics. Why the change? Is this the same being? Is this a different being? Is the Ares we saw before the “modern” Ares that has been created by our world’s violence, and this one the god of a time long past? Are they two different facets of the same being? Is this simply what Ares has become in the years since we last saw him?
I suppose we will need to wait and see.
Wonder Woman #21 Credits
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Liam Sharp
Colors: Laura Martin with HI-FI
Cover: Liam Sharp & Laura Martin