Wonder Woman #18
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Bilquis Evely, Scott Hanna and Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Lettering by Jodi Wynne
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
What do you call an issue that barely has the title character, only has a tangental appearance of the central villain, and instead only focuses on the machinations of a handful of tertiary supporting characters?
If it’s Wonder Woman #18, you might just call it a work of art. Writer Greg Rucka and artist Bilquis Evely weave together a truly compelling story about Veronica Cale, as she starts the domino effect that will cause the transformation of Barbara Minerva into the Cheetah. It speaks to Rucka’s skill as a worldbuilder - and as someone so confident in the tropes and cadences of classic mythology - that this issue is able to not just survive, but thrive, even in the absence of its central characters.
A recurring theme in the Wonder Woman saga has been about the meddling of the Greek pantheon, and it’s that same spirit that Rucka channels with his storyline here. From the very first scene, featuring the birth of Doctor Cyber - literally beginning with an A.I. brought screaming into our world like a newborn - you can’t help but marvel at the way that Rucka is inverting the classic dynamic, with humans becoming the divine progenitors for digital creations. Yet as Veronica Cale plays god with the holographic ghost of her one-time colleague, there are still others pulling her strings. It’s Rucka’s introduction of the twin gods Deimos and Phobos that gives this book a true villain to root against, as they menace Veronica’s child, rendered faceless and nearly catatonic thanks to Olympian black magic. It’s a creepy premise, but it’s one that gives some depth to Cale as well - she might be doing some terrible things, but she has a profoundly compelling reason to do so.
But the other great thing about Wonder Woman #18 is that this script ratchets up the suspense with each scene - having had decades of back issues to fill us in, we readers know exactly what Barbara Minerva’s ambitions are going to do to her, but Wonder Woman can’t possibly know that. So it becomes a much more tense experience when Diana tells Barbara that her research has become an “obsession,” while you can’t help but want to shake Barbara when she says denying her research would be like “asking your new friend the Flash not to run.” We know curiosity killed the cat - or in Barbara’s case, transformed her into the Cheetah - but Rucka organically sets up this no-win situation in a way that might have been inevitable even without Veronica Cale’s interference. It’s actually telling that Wonder Woman’s actual appearance is the least compelling part of the narrative - sure, Doctor Cyber distracts her from rescuing her friend in a double-page montage - but ultimately, this story is about manipulation, of people being played by their deepest and truest instincts.
This has been said before, but watching artist Bilquis Evely, it’s astonishing what a great successor she is to Nicola Scott. Aided by the colors of Romulo Fajardo, Jr., which keeps a consistent and warm tone throughout, Evely’s characters feel expressive and human - sometimes painfully so. Watching the digital spirit of Doctor Adrianna Anderson writhing in agony is a tough image to look at, but Evely doesn’t let us off the hook there, showing the sadness and shame Veronica herself feels for exhuming this restless spirit. There’s a tenderness to Veronica and Adrianna’s reunion that winds up being almost cauterized by Evely’s quick shift in body language, as the bleeding and horrified Adrianna transforms into the eerily calm Doctor Cyber. Meanwhile, an interlude featuring Veronica and her daughter might be equally as heartbreaking, while a series of silent panels of Veronica deciding someone’s fate speaks volumes. If there’s any instance where Evely trips up, it’s with the reveal of the Cheetah herself - while she’s clearly comfortable with the human characters’ expressions, the monstrous Cheetah doesn’t quite have the horrific bite that Liam Sharpe gives his take on the character.
Still, if these middling critiques are the worst I can say about Wonder Woman #18, we’re clearly in for a treat - that is, if your name isn’t Barbara Minerva. Rucka and Evely do a great job at reminding us that there’s more avenues for telling superhero stories than just wall-to-wall action - there’s plenty of drama to be mined by manipulation and betrayal, as well. It’s a testament to this book’s creative team that even with the title character - and even her main villain! - largely sidelined, this comic winds up being as tightly constructed and well-conceived as this one. If you only pick up one DC book this week, make it Wonder Woman #18.