Jamie McKelvie is back on art and Laura Wilson is back in the spotlight, and this issue is so gloriously refreshing after the “Commercial Suicide” arc. I probably spent close to a year waiting to start this arc after the last one, and the first time I read my copy of the fourth trade, I think I ran through the whole thing in a single sitting. This arc is very much a “things happen” story, with lots and lots of plot movement meant to contrast with the sort of meandering feeling of the series of one-off styled stories that we just completed. It’s a little lighter on character exploration (but not too much), and traditional action takes center stage a lot more over the typical talking heads that Gillen and McKelvie favor for their characters’ extended conversations about what’s happening.
To mark the new arc, we also have covers designed with a new motif, replacing the focus on the characters’ torsos with a more typical full body shot in a dynamic pose that highlights major features of each character’s divine nature. The series begins with Laura, the first time she’s featured on the cover since the very first issue, now fully ascended as Persephone. Because the classical Persephone’s myth is centered around motifs of death and renewal (she signals winter with her journey to the Underworld every year, and when she returns she ushers in spring), Laura’s miracles all strongly feature a duality between flowering plants and skulls. In a pantheon that Ananke quite likes to divide into sky and underworld gods, this Persephone straddles the line between.
The parallel plots in this issue bounce between Laura at her debut gig as Persephone, which predictably blows up when people realize there’s a new god (one thing that had eluded me until recently was the emphasis on the gods performing live; their miracles can’t be recorded, so the only way to experience the things they do is directly in person) before Ananke shows up to try to eliminate Laura before word can get out about the whole attempted murder thing (which apparently failed, although we don’t yet know how), and the Morrigan’s escape from Valhalla with the help of Minerva and the ever superfluous Baphomet (they were doing just fine escaping before he showed up for a rescue). The issue’s big reveal at the end is that Laura was actually coordinating with Baphomet because they shacked up together underground in the two months that have passed since she ascended.
Those are all the basic details you’d need to get if you just wanted to follow the action: Laura survived somehow, and she’s now assembled her own faction of disgruntled gods looking to get revenge on Ananke for all her manipulations. Hijinks to imminently ensue.
What I find more fun about this issue (and I’m saying this after having read the thing at least four or five times because I am a terrible close reader of comics) are all the little moments that call back to things we’ve recently learned or seen the characters go through during the last arc. Baal and Baphomet exchange serious blows over the abuse they dealt to Inanna and the Morrigan (Baphomet, in typical fashion, beats all the humor out of a joke that didn’t start out that funny, while Baal rams his point home with extreme clarity); Sakhmet and Laura have a moment of ridiculous sexual tension in the middle of trying to kill one another (it’s not clear exactly how long they danced together at Dionysus’s party); the Morrigan can’t resist dressing up a straightforward message like, “I know Ananke’s been lying to you all”; and all the best/worst catchphrases of The Wicked + The Divine reappear. Things are moving along at a mile a minute, but it’s all informed by the rich level of detail that’s been put into these characters after nearly two years’ worth of story.
The character who really gets the most new development here is Minerva. She’s been mostly a background character up to this point with only little hints at what her experience of the Pantheon has been like. She’s significantly younger than the other gods (all the present-day action takes place within about twenty-four hours from the night before through her thirteenth birthday), which grants her significantly less autonomy to get involved in all the drama of her older peers. I think the youngest of the other gods are at least seventeen at the story’s start, which puts them close enough to legal adulthood to let them get into a lot of trouble. Except for Laura’s parents (who at this point are quite dead, sadly), the only real adult presence in the gods’ lives is Ananke, and she is ridiculously permissive for reasons that are still quite obtuse. Not so with Minerva; her parents hover in the background with her at major moments like the Fantheon where she did the god equivalent of signing autographs for money. Laura muses on the fact that Minerva’s parents seem to be milking their cash cow daughter as much as they can before she inevitably dies young; in this issue we see more direct evidence that that’s the case.
The way all this reflects on Minerva shows that she has an extremely complicated relationship to her parents. In the midst of all the chaos of the Morrigan’s escape and Baphomet’s attempted rescue, she begs the underworld royal couple to get her parents out as well. A bit of hesitation (“I… can’t… I mean, I won’t leave them.”) signals that Minerva feels deeply ambivalent about her relationship with her parents; as everyone is fond of pointing out (much to her annoyance), she is the Goddess of Wisdom, so she’s not ignorant of the way her parents are exploiting her for profit. Unfortunately, this plan doesn’t come to fruition since Laura arrives to save everyone from a bad spot (while munching on a pomegranate, because what other kind of fruit would Persephone eat?) and whisks them into the underground without Minerva’s parents in tow.
Yeah, this is a very busy arc.