I’ve begun to notice a pattern in how Gillen and McKelvie tend to structure issues of The Wicked + The Divine. Gillen has a penchant for relatively long talking heads sequences (especially during arcs like this one where we’re coming down from a lot of major action), but he tends not to write each issue as just one distinct chapter of the ongoing story. More often, what we get is an extended bit that builds on something that happened previously before shifting to a new scene that’s following a different thread. In the last issue it was the switch between Laura’s New Year’s Eve bender to her talking with Cassandra and Woden about what the murder machine in Valhalla does. There was some thematic connection there as the impulsivity Laura displays in threatening Woden is clearly a symptom of her depression, but as a plot point it’s wholly divorced from her dalliances with the more promiscuous members of the Pantheon.
We get to see that dynamic repeated here, although in much stronger relief as the majority of the issue focuses on Laura and Cassandra negotiating how to keep Woden in check (spoiler: it mostly revolves around Laura, who breaks all kinds of divinity rules, terrifying Woden to the point that he decides he has no choice but to cooperate; if Woden weren’t such a jerk you’d feel bad for him falling from one coercive relationship into another). The second part of the issue is significantly shorter, and serves as a lead in to a new revelation and cliffhanger: the Great Darkness is totes for real, and it’s trying to steal Minerva.
The connective tissues between these two scenes relates to Laura’s curiosity about how Baal is so convinced that some parts of what Ananke told the Pantheon weren’t lies. The whole thing about the Great Darkness, which we’ve heard rumblings of periodically throughout the series, is one of the big question marks of the explanation that Ananke gave Cassandra back in issue 9 about why she exists to guide each successive Pantheon through their two years on Earth. It was originally implied to be a metaphorical description of the descent of civilization in the absence of divine inspiration (at least, that’s how I read it based on Ananke’s story about the failure of the first successful Pantheon to preserve their legacy), but here we find out that it manifests as a big honking monster–comics! This is one of those turns in the story that I still find really perplexing because my impression of The Wicked + The Divine has always been a story that’s certainly superhero inflected in terms of tone and trappings, but the conflict was never so externalized as heroes fighting literal monsters. Ananke’s the apparent villain of the story, but even her motivations, as far as we understand them, are complex. The whole purpose of this arc is to explore how the Pantheon will operate without Ananke there coercing and manipulating everyone into getting along. The sudden emergence of a thing that you punch to death as an antagonist feels like a weird turn.
What doesn’t feel weird is Laura’s continued spiral into self destructive territory. Most of this issue revels in the fact that Laura’s power as Persephone is weird and terrifying to the rest of the Pantheon (or at least, it’s weird and terrifying to Cassandra and Woden, who think of themselves as the intelligent ones in the lot). She doesn’t follow the established of divinity in a few major ways: her powers can affect Cassandra, who has total immunity to the rest of the gods’ miracles (presumably because she believes in nothing just that much), Woden can’t figure out how to replicate her powers or defend against them (remember that Woden is the producer god; his specialty is crafting performances for other people), and she was able to transmit the effects of a performance through a digital medium (the reason Pantheon fans are so enthusiastic about going to live performances is there’s no other way to experience the gods’ miracles besides in person). Also, there was that whole thing with her mimicking Lucifer’s lighter trick way before Ananke even awoke Laura’s divinity, but that’s a thing that Laura wants to keep under wraps for now (the lighter miracle is a fun plot detail because it happened so early in the series before a lot of the god rules had been explicitly established that it’s easy to forget how unique it was). In the Pantheon Laura is totally anomalous, and the only person who seemed to have any idea about Persephone’s deal is now in a bunch of ragged bloody pieces.
While there’s certainly more of Laura’s depression on display here (in a text exchange with Cassandra she pointedly describes herself as “no person”), what comes more to the forefront in this issue is the fact of how scary she is as Persephone. Her mode of persuasion with Woden is to drag him into the Underground for an indeterminate amount of time and terrorize him so badly that when we see her step out of the shadows to explain what he’s going to do, Woden is shivering on the ground curled up in the fetal position. Given that Woden has been calm and collected in the face of other gods who are much more casually violent, his total disarray after an hour or two alone with Persphone points to the completely different level of threat she poses to him.
Other disparate things of note in this issue: Woden suggests to Cassandra that he’s not white (the question of Woden’s true identity will be a minor subplot in this arc), McKelvie draws some of the best “Cassandra is flustered and outraged when people don’t listen to her” panels in the series so far, Baal uses his powers to cook toast (this is an insignificant but adorable character beat), and Minerva holds a totally justifiable grudge against Amaterasu for that time she bounced without Minerva after Ananke murdered the girl’s parents in front of them (I maintain that Amaterasu is a very sweet, very selfish person who has trouble thinking about the effects of her actions beyond herself). Next time, we’ll get a monster fight, because that’s definitely what the series needs after the recent unpleasantness.