“This Is Worth It”

I have to admit that after the first time I read The Wicked + The Divine I wasn’t totally sold on it.  I liked the premise in theory, but finishing up the first volume left me with a lot of questions that I felt like I shouldn’t have by that point.  It took a second reading for me to get really invested in Laura and Lucifer’s story, but after that I was pretty much hooked.  I’ve wanted for the better part of 2016 to read more of this series, and getting some gift money from my family was a good excuse to go ahead and buy Volume 2.  I have not regretted this decision.

Spoilers for The Wicked + The Divine Volumes 1 and 2 will be freely discussed.

Really, I was invested in Volume 2 from the first few pages; the promise of Laura continuing to cope with her depression and idol mania in the wake of Lucifer’s death was a strong pull, and the added enticement of meeting more of the gods totally sold me (never underestimate the appeal of seeing new characters with interesting designs).

Now, here are some thoughts on the volume in no particular order.

Lucifer and Inanna seem pretty clearly modeled to resemble David Bowie and Prince respectively.  It’s kind of eerie that they’re the first two gods to die, in the same order as Bowie and Prince.  Obviously this is all coincidence; it’s not like Gillen and McKelvie knew back in 2014 that two years later the model for a couple of their characters who were supposed to die within two years would be a couple of the major deaths of 2016.  It’s still eerie though.

Clearly something is going on with Ananke that is yet to be explained; she’s manipulating Baphomet into attacking the other gods, and the rules for the Recurrence are not as hard and fast as originally implied.  I want to go with the theory that Ananke actually manipulates the gods in order to extend her own life, but I also get a vibe from her that she genuinely believes the failure of the Recurrence would be catastrophic for human civilization.  Either way, she has motives that are not what she’s presented to the public.

Aww, Baphomet. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson)

Tangentially, while I’m thinking about Baphomet, I have to say that he’s a pretty fascinating character.  I re-read both volumes the other night while getting ready to write up this post, and I noticed that he has a lot of trickster characteristics which actually remind me of the activities of the Satanic Temple.  Baphomet’s modus operandi appears to be scandalizing others with transgressive, but ultimately harmless, behavior much like real life Satanists.  Take his personality along with the deity he represents (Baphomet as we now recognize it is a relatively modern invention from the late 19th century; Cassandra even points this out when she alludes to Baphomet’s origins as being partly founded in the mysticism of the occultist Aleister Crowley), and there’s some strong evidence that Baphomet’s actions are meant to be sympathetic, even when he’s acting in ways that are genuinely destructive.  Beyond all that, I find it particularly interesting that one of the miracles Baphomet can perform is the equivalent of the devil on the shoulder: he snaps his fingers and his worst impulses are given voice in a way that helps him overcome his moral compass.  Baphomet isn’t evil, but his portfolio of power encourages him to be.

Contrast Baphomet with Woden.  We get an issue that spends a large amount of time explore Woden’s character and explaining some things about his powers and motivations.  As best I can tell, Woden’s portfolio prohibits him from using his power to benefit himself.  He can make fantastic tools for others, but attempts to create things for his own use apparently backfire catastrophically.  This caveat serves to explain why Woden wears a mask (clearly modeled to resemble one of the helmets that Daft Punk wear) and keeps his Valkyries around (besides the obvious creepy fetish he’s indulging); he needs proxies to use his devices or he risks serious personal injury.  All this points to Woden having a nearly inverted problem from Baphomet’s; his powers are exclusively meant to aid others, but because of his own selfishness he’s incapable of taking real joy in what he can do.  Woden’s a miserable person, and in this volume we see him do an incredibly ugly thing to a woman whom he used up and cast aside.  No amount of personal tragedy makes him sympathetic.

And while we’re discussing gods with bad deals (okay, that’s kind of all of them), I have to touch on Dionysus.  His issue here is utterly spectacular.  I love the art design, particularly as the count up motif echoes the gods’ habit of counting before they perform miracles and serves as a visual representation of the concept of a steady music beat.  One thing The Wicked + The Divine does that I find consistently amazing is come up with purely visual ways of conveying the idea of musical performance; it’s a difficult trick to pull off in comics, and McKelvie, Wilson, and Cowles always make it work here.  Anyway, I love Dionysus’s issue not just because it’s a visual treat, but also because it’s a largely positive issue about Laura letting off steam and becoming more genuine friends with the members of the Pantheon.  Then you get that stinger at the end where Dionysus explains that he hasn’t been alone in his head since his divinity manifested and he no longer is able to sleep.  I don’t know if anything more will happen with Dionysus, but if this is it for him, it’s an incredibly memorable sketch of him as a character.

I’m growing more and more curious about Tara; she’s the only member of the Pantheon who hasn’t made an appearance yet, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what her deal is.

The back end of this volume revolves heavily around the ascension of Cassandra (named after the seer who was never believed by anyone) to the twelfth spot in the Pantheon as Urðr (pronounced with a voiced ‘th’ sound), one of the three Norns (a Norse analog to the Greek Fates).  This is an interesting development since Cassandra’s defining trait since the series’s beginning has been her overwhelming skepticism of the gods; even when she ascends, her profile as Urðr molds her outlook to be one of profound nihilism.  She’s living the experience she would need to believe, but even as a god she remains incapable of believing there’s anything greater to the Recurrence.

Lucifer immediately after her ascension. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Willson)

This ultimate skepticism serves Urðr well as a foil for both Laura and, somewhat surprisingly, Lucifer.  In the first volume, before Lucifer was killed by Ananke for breaking the rules, there was a clear line of tension between Cassandra and Lucifer as influences on Laura.  Laura is an unmitigated fangirl, and it’s rather ironic that her two closest allies initially are the skeptic and the rebel, both roles that delight in undermining the sanctity of the Pantheon.  Cassandra and Lucifer actively dislike each other (rooted at least partly in Luci’s casual dismissal of Cassandra’s identity as a trans woman), but they bear remarkable similarities as gods.  I’m particularly fond of the visual parallels between them; Urðr’s design is almost a total chromatic inversion of Lucifer’s.

Urðr after her ascension. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Besides her clashes with Lucifer, Cassandra is also a character whose motivations stand in sharp contrast with Laura herself.  This volume goes a long way to help crystallize the differences between Laura, who fits the definition of a SMoF (Secret Master of Fandom) with her almost spontaneous close ties to most of the Pantheon and her ability to fangirl over pretty much all of them regardless of how their profiles and personalities clash with one another, and Cassandra, who notes in the first volume that she’s seen all the gods in action but has felt absolutely nothing about any of them.  The discovery that both Laura and Cassandra are incarnations of different gods with nearly opposed relational perspectives on the other gods goes a long way in clarifying this (to wit, Laura is Persephone, who straddles the line between the celebrated pop gods and the more esoteric underworld gods, while Cassandra is Urðr, a goddess whose chief characteristic is her insistence on the ultimate futility of finding meaning in existence; Laura finds all the gods inspiring, and Cassandra would be content if they were all shams).

The last, biggest twist of the volume is Laura’s sudden ascension as a thirteenth god in the pantheon, and her immediate murder at the fingers of Ananke.  This is a really drastic development, especially since Laura has been the point of view character since the series’s beginning.  As far as we know at this point in the story, death is a permanent thing for the gods; Laura’s position as Persephone, a goddess who splits her time between the sky and the underworld, might make for a plausible exception (to say nothing of the fact that she gives evidence to the lie that there can only be twelve gods in a Pantheon), but I’m really curious to see if that comes about.  More immediately, I’m wondering who the new perspective character could be.  Inanna wouldn’t be a bad choice since this arc has him and Laura become pretty good friends, except that he’s murdered by Baphomet at pretty much the same time Ananke is doing in Laura.  Baal is a possibility since he seems to stand apart from the rest of the Pantheon as an especially independent character (also, his unresolved drama with Inanna would make for some interesting character exploration going forward), and his friendship with Laura was growing in a way that would leave him invested in learning what happened to her.  Alternately, the focus might shift to Cassandra, since she’s still all about finding the truth, even as a fate goddess.

Either way, I’m pretty much on board to see this series to the end now.


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