So we’ve made it to the end now.
Somewhere on the internet more than a few years ago now, I read a very smart person detail a theory of story that centers one specific part of any narrative: the ending. The context there had to do with the issue of religious texts, specifically the Christian Bible, and the need for a story about a world that is ongoing to imagine some kind of ending as a way of imposing meaning on the thing that is still in progress. The New Testament ends with Revelation, an apocalypse, because the tradition of apocalyptic literature has always been about presenting the end of one thing and its replacement with something new. John of Patmos’s Revelation is as much a political document as it is a religious one, serving as a manifesto about the injustices of the Roman Empire at the same time that it presents this fantastical vision of old suffering passing away into new flourishing. The modern reading of the text as a vision of a literal future robs Revelation of much of its depth and consequently cheapens the whole of Christian visions for the future. Perhaps it’s human nature that compels us to try to flatten out the Divine into something limited and containable. We’re just as hungry for endings as we are repelled by them because on the one hand they bring closure and on the other they eliminate mystery.
The Wicked + The Divine is a series that I had to work to get into. I’m pretty sure I’ve written in the past that my first reading of The Faust Act was underwhelming and more than a little confused. I knew that Jamie McKelvie’s art was totally engrossing, but I had so many questions about the world by time I reached the technicolor splash of Lucifer’s not-actually-exploded head that I wasn’t sure why this particular series was the new hotness. Perhaps the most fortunate thing about the timing of my picking up WicDiv is that it came at a point where I didn’t have much expendable income, and my relatively small library of comics demanded that I spend more than a single read-through with them. The second time through things made more sense, and I felt some deep affection for Laura as she struggled with feeling like the sooner her life ended the sooner she’d be done trying to make sense of it.
In the intervening years I’ve become a fairly dedicated fan of Kieron Gillen’s comics writing. My first exposure to him was his X-Men run, which revolves around the Schism, the thoroughly gonzo Generation Hope, and the Asgard-inflected crossover event Fear Itself. He did some wild stuff in there, and that was within the constraints one of Marvel’s biggest serialized IPs. To this day I’ve still not read his and McKelvie’s Young Avengers, although it sits on my to-read list. I have read the entirety of Phonogram, and I continue to have the nagging feeling that I need to go back to it again. Die is excellent, heartbreaking fun. His extended Star Wars saga begun on his run in Darth Vader and carried on through parts of Doctor Aphra and the main title of the space opera series is deeply engrossing. Something about Gillen’s style and subject matter seriously clicks for me as a reader. Moreso than his style though, I think I’ve come to appreciate a core part of his ethos as a writer: Kieron Gillen doesn’t like mystery.
I don’t mean that in the sense that he doesn’t like to write mysteries; unanswered questions are one of the great pleasures of going through any of his extended narratives. What I mean is that Gillen is a writer who always and forever sets out to demystify what he does as a writer. It might be a holdover from his earlier career as a journalist or just a tic in the way he processes his craft; I don’t know. The point is that even if he doesn’t want readers to know what’s going to happen next, he always works very hard to let you know exactly what he’s doing with a story. My great joy in reading The Wicked + The Divine was always to go back and re-read the series after each major revelation; new facets in this ornate, crystalline structure would suddenly come into view and there’d be another layer waiting to be found in the old issues. The only real worry was that as the end approached, the limits of the story would show. You can’t have undiscovered country forever. The mysteries, planned to become obsolete with time, would eventually give way to the full meaning of the work. We’ve been warned this was coming for years; it’s still not easy to accept.
In the middle of the last arc of The Wicked + The Divine, my mother died. This was back in May, so it wasn’t too long after issue #43, the one where Laura finally shows the others how to break Ananke’s cycle, was published. I was in the middle of doing a re-read of the series on Twitter, and somewhere in the jokes and the half-clever insights I sort of hit a wall of realization. My relationship with my mom was left in a holding pattern for most of my adult life because I never figured out how to communicate with her in a way that invited deeper understanding about who we were as people. We were affectionate to each other, but the relationship felt shallow, at least to me, and I had settled into a kind of complacence about it all. The finality of her death shocked me, not precisely because her life was over, but because the possibility of adding new dimensions to our relationship was gone. The end came, and now there’s just the meaning of our shared time to turn over until my own life is done. It’s no wonder that Gillen’s chosen to end The Wicked + The Divine with a funeral; how else could you finish something so preoccupied with mortality and ephemerality and the search for meaning in chaos?
They’re so cute together. (Cover by Olivia Jaimes)
Turning to the issue itself (what a long preamble), I feel slightly wary of posting an image of the cover here because it resolves one of the great tensions of the series: does Laura survive? Monthly readers already know the answer to this; she does, and she has a long life after all the business with the Pantheon. Trade readers, like I was before I decided I just couldn’t wait for the final arc to be done, don’t yet know what happens, and the twisty, turn-y nature of WicDiv kind of demands that the spoiler wall be respected. Also, it’s been pretty clear in the online milieu that Gillen and McKelvie have wanted to keep the cover under wraps for now as well. What can be posted here is the alternate cover by Olivia Jaimes which nods towards one of the most delightful turns of the epilogue, the eventual romance between Laura and Cassandra. While their friendship has been pretty central to the story at various pivotal points, this last revelation marks it as a key anchor point in Laura’s character arc. Issue #44 ended with the implication that Laura and Eleanor were OTP, but Gillen swerves that ship pretty deftly in the finale. It’s most beautiful specifically because the elision of Laura’s life from the end of the Pantheon up to Cassandra’s funeral leaves plenty of space for anyone who prefers Eleanor and Laura together to imagine the shape and length of that relationship. We only know that it ended; the rest is up to the individual’s headcanon. There is a little bit of undiscovered country left for us to sit with.
The question of Laura’s series of one-and-onlies points towards the larger theme of this coda: all the survivors of the Pantheon, while bound together by the shared experience, have gone on to lead whole other lives independent of what they did when they were cool teens. For readers, the great mass of The Wicked + The Divine is the story of the eighteen months between Laura’s attendance at Amaterasu’s New Year’s 2014 concert and her incarceration for Ananke’s murder after the confrontation with Minerva at Valhalla in mid-2015; for the characters, there’s forty years after that which both add layers of significance to their youth and diminish it as a part of larger lives. The meaning of it all isn’t clear to them because they kept going, and examining, and living. Cassandra’s death is an occasion to pause and reflect on the facet of the cast’s lives that the readers care about, but while it signals one kind of closure, everyone else continues on with other things. There’s no great secret or meaning to be found here beyond the usual reaffirmations of human connection and bonding. Zahid still mourns for Valentine and his ruthless love; Umar is haunted by spirits from his past; Jon can’t help but continue to make things just as Aruna has persisted through everything to make art; Zoe and Meredith have moved on from a moment to which they were never sure they belonged. Everyone is just busy living because they’ve no idea what to do with an ending.
And it’s okay.