After I spent a lot of time mulling over the second volume of The Wicked + The Divine, I more or less read the third volume and then put it on my shelf without too much reflection. I always intended to do a write up of what I thought about it, but that was back in the spring of 2017, and a variety of things seemed a little more worthy of my intellectual attention, not the least of which was my impending move across the country.
Once we arrived safely in Portland, one of the first things I did was order the next volumes in the comics series that I’ve committed to following closely for now: Ms. Marvel and The Wicked + The Divine. Ms. Marvel partially felt like a duty purchase; my issue-to-issue series on that book is ongoing, and I have to have copies of the comics if I’m to read and analyze them. The Wicked + The Divine was more of a personal enjoyment purchase. Every time I read a volume, I want to spend some time thinking deeply about what’s going on. The first two volumes elicited long posts from me as I tried to figure out what I thought. The fact that the third didn’t seemed like it was more a result of it being a sort of standalone collection of side stories. After Gillen and McKelvie ended issue #11 with Laura Wilson’s apparent death, I wondered where the series was going to go, and the subsequent five issues felt a little bit directionless. There was also the fact that Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson took a break from doing the art for the series, and the look that they gave it is so iconic in my mind that fill-in artists, regardless of their skill, just wouldn’t be able to compare. I enjoyed it as a volume, but it didn’t capture my imagination the way the first two trades did, and I wasn’t sure if the fourth volume would hold a similar disappointment.
I don’t have much to say about The Wicked + The Divine‘s third volume, Commercial Suicide at this point other than it’s a fun exploration of the backgrounds of a bunch of characters who don’t receive much attention and development in the first two volumes; Tara’s issue is particularly affecting since it explores the intense pressure that celebrity must exert on artists who have to contend with their fans’ constant attempts to impede on their personal boundaries and their own artistic impulses. Tara’s largely a mystery throughout the main story, and her one spotlight issue demonstrates that the extreme revilement she receives from the public stems from a profound failure of pop culture consumers to engage with her work separate from what they want her to be.
As for the fourth volume, Rising Action, I can sum it up at best as an extremely action movie sort of story arc. Laura makes her grand reappearance (we discover that reports of her death were greatly exaggerated, and you can stuff a lot in the gutters between two panels) and succeeds in exploiting the already deep divisions within the Pantheon to recruit allies in the war against Ananke. It turns out that everyone loves Minerva because she’s still a kid (all the gods are still kids, but that’s beside the point; Minerva is the kiddiest of the lot) and they don’t take kindly to the idea that Ananke is going to sacrifice her for some still poorly defined purpose. I mean, most of them don’t; Baal is too caught up in his (misplaced) anger at Baphomet killing Inanna and Sakhmet only cares that there’s a fight she can join. Woden has a sudden blooming of moral shame, but it’s only enough for him to sabotage Ananke while maintaining plausible deniability that he had anything to do with Laura’s faction getting through their defenses. All of this is built up around a metric ton of spectacular moments that McKelvie and and Wilson work hard to present (in the bonus material at the volume’s end, Gillen notes that this arc is the most reminiscent of the team’s work on Young Avengers which would obviously have been a much more action-oriented series).
The result of all this is an arc that’s much less meditative than previous ones (besides the flashback to explain how Laura survived and Baphomet didn’t kill Inanna; also, he’s apparently not Baphomet but Nergal, which seems like a way more legit deity except that that’s also the name of a character from The Grim Adventures of Billy And Mandy, which I’m assuming is the reason Baphomet objected so strongly in the first place) with a lot more happening in rapid succession. Laura’s insurrection ultimately succeeds, and she kills Ananke in retaliation for the loss of her family (sadly, the part where Ananke killed Laura’s parents and burned down her house did happen the way we thought), leading to the sudden realization that the Pantheon now exists without a mentor to guide their actions.
Ananke’s end is an interesting one, because her breakdown just before Laura kills her hints at some deeper things that are going on in this world. On the one hand, Ananke seems to legitimately fear the potential that Laura as Persephone has to disrupt the process that she’s maintained for millennia. On the other, it’s clear that she actually holds the gods in supreme contempt, and she views them as a necessary component in a plan that she believes is necessary to stop something much worse from happening. Also, as we’ve seen more and more ascensions over the course of the series, it’s begun to appear as though Ananke doesn’t seek out reincarnations of deities in the way that we think about it, but she brings out the divine potential of people she thinks will make useful additions to the Pantheon of each generation (in one of her monologues, she explains that the gods she’s murdered so far have been a combination of convenient sacrifices and necessary removals of hard to control upstarts). It’s still not clear what Ananke is trying to prevent, but I suppose that’s something that we’ll see play out more fully in the coming arcs, since the gods now have no really constraints on their behavior, and the only grown up in the room is Cassandra, a role I’m sure she absolutely relishes (no, no she doesn’t like that prospect at all).