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With Wonder Woman #20, it’s time to ask the big question; month in, month out, is this DC’s most consistently brilliant title? Ever since the title relaunched with writer Greg Rucka at the helm, the series has been moving from strength to strength, redefining the title character for the Rebirth era as one of the most relatable and enjoyable icons in super hero comics. And all this right before her movie opens. And this issue is emblematic of the kind of strong creative vision that has made the title both innovative and classically enjoyable.
Rucka and his rotating art team (this issue features the stellar work of Bilquis Evely) have committed to a structure for the series so far that has been a hugely effective storytelling tool, which is to alternate issue by issue between two story arcs, one set in the present-day and one set in the early years of Wonder Woman as she defines herself in the modern world. This could just be a gimmick, and an awkward one at that, capable if poorly executed of robbing both narratives of their momentum and flow. But this creative team crafts each narrative to reflect and reveal more detail about each other,r so that rather than having two separate narratives, we get one big intertwined one.
Wonder Woman #20 is part three of the “Godwatch” arc, set in the past as Veronica Cale tries to extricate her daughter from the control of gods Phobos and Deimos, who in turn are forcing Cale to act against Wonder Woman. This is juxtaposed with the other ongoing arc, “The Truth”, which sees Cale and her organization years later continuing its war with Wonder Woman, albeit for far more personal reasons. The brilliant thing Rucka continues to do with the alternating approach is to reveal the motivations and histories of characters in dramatic ways that see the reader become invested in them, utilizing the past sequences to give depth and emotional impact to what could otherwise be fairly two-dimensional characters. The team’s approach also bestows heft and depth to Wonder Woman’s universe without resorting to tedious exposition. What could otherwise be a tedious villain monologue for Veronica Cale and her associated instead becomes a tragic story that gets the reader involved and invested.
And that’s just the main plot. The subplots also include the title’s ongoing examination of the tempestuous and tragic relationship between Dian and Barbara Minerva, aka Cheetah. This issue features their relationship at its most fractured, and not only allows for a great action sequence, but continues to bring home an antagonism that grows ever richer. Wonder Woman #20 also introduces a wonderfully fun version of Circe, recasting the perpetual Wonder Woman rogue as an eccentrically wacky and hip amoral nut job, but in the best way possible. If Rucka can cement this interpretation solidly, then I’ll be happy to see her hang around as the crafty thorn in Diana’s side.
The art is superb throughout the issue. Evely delivers the goods with a masterful command of communicating emotion and action with expressive, distinctive characters. Circe’s fantastic depiction (and design, which is a really cool modern/antiquarian merger) is proof enough, but the way she also brings Cale to life renders her as individual and complex as Rucka’s writing wants to put across. The action scene with Cheetah contains this nice little touch where Cheetah’s claws bunch up the costume around Diana’s ribs, which is a subtle touch, but I really thought it was cool. And there’s a fantastic splash page of Wonder Woman vs. Circe that is worth the cover price alone. Every also manages the always difficult job of making women in comics look attractive and appealing without making them into pinups, a welcome and necessary attribute or any Wonder Woman artist.
The sheer command of style and approach on display with this title, no matter what collaborator Rucka is working with, demonstrates what a team with a singular and personal vision can accomplish, even with a corporate super hero title. Wonder Woman #20 has emotional impact, a killer narrative and stellar art. While it may not be a perfect issue, it’s perfectly thrilling and engrossing fun. 9/10