Reading “The Wicked + The Divine #28”

This issue wraps up the Imperial Phase Part 1 story arc (which, as you might guess from its title, is just one half of a larger year long arc), and given the nature of the Imperial model of Recurrences that David Blake lays out at the end of issue #27, things have to start falling apart really fast now.  A lot of plot threads that were set up for this arc remain dangling, like the problem of the Great Darkness (the date that Baal set on his calendar for when that was supposed to come to a head, May 1, is still a full two months away from where the story leaves off here) and the question of what the stupid murder machine does (you’d think all the blades and saws would make the thing’s purpose more apparent, but it’s made out of god magic, so who knows?).  A lot of character subplots develop significantly in this issue without any major resolution, and some new mysteries get introduced.  It all feels very much like a major turn in the longer story just because there are so many inflection points centered on what happens here.

Let’s get to them.

This is probably the most somber I’ve ever seen Amaterasu. She almost looks like she know what she’s doing. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson; Image credit: Comic Vine)

Featured on this cover is Amaterasu in her full regalia looking suitably sun god-ey.  Perhaps surprisingly though, she’s not really doing the happy radiant pose you would expect of someone who could most aptly be described in this arc as being on a white savior manic power trip.  Amaterasu’s been making a lot of poor choices for a while now (beginning most firmly with issue #15 where she, y’know, performed a solar flare over Hiroshima while she was in the middle of a fight with Cassandra), and her descent during this arc has been a little more pronounced than some of the other gods both because she’s not had quite as much panel time as, say, Laura and Cassandra and because she’s starting up her own actual cult so she can spend her remaining months blissed out and providing inspiration to her fans instead of facing any other real problems that are confronting the Pantheon.  This is the issue where my opinion of Amaterasu turns from mildly annoyed at her obtuseness to actively angered by her self absorption.  Minerva’s take on Amaterasu as a selfish coward who can’t be counted on to do anything but look out for herself feels like it bears out following this issue.  ShinTwo(tm) is a crude capitalist spin on an ancient religious tradition that Amaterasu has a passing familiarity with, and she’s completely unmoved by Cassandra’s totally valid critique of what she’s doing (as with all things Cassandra, the criticism isn’t delivered in the most tactful way, but tact requires a level of subtlety that I honestly don’t think Amaterasu grasps).  The more I think about how Amaterasu’s arc plays out up to this point, the more I dislike her; she’s written as an exploration of how white privilege manifests a sense of entitlement so deep that people who benefit from it often are unable to grasp the concept of “This Is Not For You.”

There are other panels where Amaterasu’s manifesting her god powers in this issue, but they aren’t nearly as scary as this “I’m only pretending to smile at you” look. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Cass’s second greatest flaw is that she takes all criticism as a mild annoyance. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

In a somewhat related vein to all that is the subplot of Cassandra rooting around into Woden’s past.  Back in issue #23, Woden mentions in his interview that he’s college age, that his mother isn’t involved in his life, that his father’s only positive quality is actually being a presence while he was growing up, and that he hasn’t contacted either of them since his ascension.  In issue #25, he hints to Cassandra that he’s not white when she calls him out on his Asian girl fetish, and then in this issue we begin with the revelation that David Blake has a biracial son whose Asian mother left them some time ago.  These clues and the laws of conservation of plot simply beg the reader to come to the conclusion that Cassandra does only a few pages later, which is that Woden is Blake’s son Jon.  This is all a fine mystery for the reader to put together, but Cassandra, as someone who exists within the WicDiv universe, crosses an invasive line with someone whom she knows personally.  Like the moment at the Pantheon’s last meeting where Sakhmet snapped at Cassandra for being condescending, Woden’s retort that he’s never sunk to prying into Cassandra’s private life hits pretty true (I hate it when Woden’s right about something).  Cassandra’s chief flaw, which has been elevated and exacerbated by her ascension, is her tendency to flatten everything into a problem to be solved without considering the human cost of her actions.  Woden’s dig about Cassandra’s pre-transition life is cheap and wrong on its own, but his point that Cassandra fails to respect the boundaries of everyone else when she’s working a problem is valid.

The last major character development in this issue (which is sort of a misnomer because everyone who appears here has a pretty big moment of character development) goes to Laura, who after a couple months of purely self destructive behavior finally finds herself directly confronted with the consequences of some of her actions, and it’s enough to jar her out of the numb pleasure seeking she’s been pursuing nonstop since New Year’s.  On Dionysus’s invitation, Baphomet shows up for Amaterasu’s party at the ShinTwo(tm) shrine (the friendship between Baphomet and Dionysus really doesn’t get enough space in the book), but as soon as he sees that Laura is also there he bolts.  Laura, frustrated that Baphomet has been avoiding her since their last tryst at Christmas, catches him outside to demand an explanation for his ghosting her.  In the struggle to get away from Laura, Baphomet’s shades get knocked off his face to reveal bruises and scratches that the Morrigan has inflicted on him.  That whole mess deserves some dissection by itself, but the focus in this issue is Laura’s realization that she’s not just been screwing up her own life while she deals with her grief.  We’ve seen a few inklings of Laura’s misgivings about her behavior as she’s tried to make tentative emotional connections with Sakhmet (which Sakhmet always effortlessly bats away).  It’s easy to see why Laura would seek out a bond with Sakhmet; trauma’s not exactly uncommon among the members of the Pantheon, but Sakhmet’s approach of aggressive hedonism in order to numb pain is likely appealing to Laura, who’s shown signs of anhedonia since before her ascension.  The big downside to Sakhmet’s coping mechanism is that it requires total indifference to everyone else, and for all Laura has tried that strategy, it just doesn’t seem to be in her.  Seeing that her casual sleeping around has helped intensify the problems between Baphomet and the Morrigan serves as enough of a shock that she bails on the party, leaving Sakhmet and Amaterasu alone with a bunch of fans, which leads directly into the issue’s major hook for the second half of the Imperial Phase macro arc.

Aw, Laura. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

As if all of that stuff weren’t enough, the issue ends with a stinger that flashes back to the moments just before Laura began her assault on Valhalla in Ananke’s quarters.  We see Ananke, in tears, writing a farewell letter to an unnamed addressee where she lays out her fears about being unable to manage the current Pantheon and the continuing threat of the Great Darkness.  It’s obvious that Ananke expected to be killed, and we’re now left with the mystery of who her co-conspirator might be.  Woden is immediately out, since he almost interrupts her reflection with the news that Persephone is coming.  The only hint we get is in the final panel where the letter, left rolled on Ananke’s desk, disappears in a flash of purple starlight.

Reading “The Wicked + The Divine #25”

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.

Minerva gets a cover! It’s a good one, and suggests that she’ll be more central to this issue instead of just… being… a… McGuffin. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson; Image credit: Comic Vine)

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.

Well then. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson)

Laura says, “Dying is easy compared to what I can do to you.” This is probably some of the most explicit cruciform imagery used in WicDiv, and here it combines with the coloring and the threat to underscore that Laura’s alignment is murky at best. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

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 rules 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.

Look closely and you can see the motion lines around Woden to indicate that he’s trembling. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

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.

Never change, Cassandra. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Reading “The Wicked + The Divine #24”

I don’t know how long the Western plot diagram has been a standard part of language arts classes (probably a while), but in case any of my readers aren’t familiar, here’s a brief explanation.  In Western stories, the plot structure typically resembles a two dimensional pyramid; things start slow, and tension continues to ratchet up until the point of climax roughly halfway through, and then the remainder of the story explores the consequences of that central inflection point (typically when you teach the plot diagram, you pair it with a Shakespeare play because the ones taught in high school follow this formula extremely closely).  There are variations on the model depending on who’s writing the story, but these are the broad features.  The phase of the plot just before the climax is called the rising action.

Anyone who’s been paying attention up to this point understands why this matters.  Gillen titled the last story arc, where Persephone makes her big debut and rips up the Pantheon’s status quo, “Rising Action” because it culminates with the series’s primary climax; we’ve had a bit of a break from that with the 1831 and magazine issues, but with #24 it’s time to start unpacking the fallout.  Appropriately, the first panel has the infamous four count in reverse as we begin Laura’s second year entangled with the Pantheon.

Countdown to consequences. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Is it bad if I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Karamo wearing a similar bomber jacket on Queer Eye? (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson; Image credit: Comic Vine)

This issue is all about Laura and where she is following her cannonball into the bloody revenge pool.  Her outsider status presumably explained why there’s hardly any discussion of her in the magazine issue beyond Baal mentioning that the two of them are dating; we’ve been in suspense about what Laura was thinking when she kliked her fingers and tore Ananke to bits.  I mean, there’s the obvious extreme grief and the need to get revenge for Ananke murdering her family (oh man, that bit where Laura reminds us about her sister, whom I think we only saw in one panel previously in the entire series, just kills me), but we have to see what’s left.  We’re looking down the barrel of Hamlet‘s final act here if the Danish prince hadn’t ended up getting himself and everyone else in the court killed along with Polonius.  Laura was driven by one specific goal in the last arc, which she accomplished, and before that she was driven by a different goal, which she also accomplished.  She’s a character who has gotten everything she wants, and now we get to see Gillen play around with what that will do to her.

What we see here is that Laura’s kind of rudderless three months after her big triumph.  She’s partying with the rest of the Pantheon, although it’s absent the joie de vivre that other more carefree characters exhibit (Amaterasu’s tipsy come-on is pretty adorable, even as it contrasts with Laura still being deep in the ennui).  What comes most strongly to mind for me at this point is the bit early on in the series when Laura discusses her lack of a plan for after she finishes school.  She’s all in on burning out on divinity because she’s also coping with chronic depression; there’s so much trauma packed into Laura’s story from issue #1 going forward that it’s easy to forget she had some issues she was working on before Ananke screwed up her life.

Amaterasu is feeling very invincible thanks to those two great intoxicants: alcohol and youth. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

What we specifically see Laura doing in this issue (besides being perpetually on point in her fashion choices) is a form of dissociation.  The popular concept of disassociation involves a person acting without being consciously aware of what they’re doing, but more typically it manifests as either derealization, which is when a person is aware of their actions but feel disconnected from them as though they’re in a dream, or depersonalization, where they stop viewing themselves as a person.  I think there’s a bit of derealization going on with Laura’s actions at the New Year’s party (she’s not at all present in the moment when Amaterasu finds her out on the ledge), but the more obvious manifestation is depersonalization.  Twice in the issue Laura embraces her identity as the Destroyer, each time just before she decides to do something potentially self destructive.  The first time is easy to overlook because divinity grants the gods all kinds of superhuman abilities, but she does hop on a motorcycle and speed off through London without a helmet.  The second time comes at the issue’s conclusion, where she decides that despite Woden’s threat to bring the entire Pantheon down with his evidence that they all conspired to cover up Ananke’s murder she’s going to threaten to kill him.  Laura’s actions betray a sense that she’s completely devalued herself in her decision making.  This goes beyond the typical teenage sense of immortality that’s reasserting itself now that the gods don’t have Ananke hanging their imminent demise over them.

Apparently my criteria for liking a character is snark, a sense of superiority, and having good raised eyebrow game. I think this might be a problem. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

In the midst of all this wanton self destruction we have Minerva (some two years into the series, she’s finally displaying a little bit more personality than simply “the sardonic wise kid”) serving as author surrogate to inform us of relationship dynamics like the fact that Baal still isn’t over Inanna (big surprise) and to explicitly point out Laura’s self destructive streak, just in case we couldn’t pick up on it through other things.  It’s nice to see Minerva taking on a distinct role in the story that’s not just “macguffin moppet,” although she leans a little heavily on the wisdom god thing here.  It feels like a believable character beat though, what with Minerva being so young in comparison to everyone else; she’s more likely to fall back on prefabricated roles to model how she should act around all the grown ups (if you can call anyone in the Pantheon a grown up).

The issue ends on a cliffhanger where Cassandra is totally making that face that people on reality television make in response to something that the producers really want to be shocking but it just isn’t.  Laura’s pointing her clicky finger at Woden menacingly with the implication that she might just kill him on a whim, complicating things ever further for everyone in the Pantheon, but the fact that it’s Woden sort of ruins the effect.  I’ve tried to imagine what the reaction to this issue would have been when it first came out, but even with the prospect of waiting a month to find out if Woden’s going to lose his head, I have a hard time seeing anyone really biting their nails about the suspense here.  Oh well, I guess we’ll find out next time (spoiler: Woden totally doesn’t lose his head).

Reading “The Wicked + The Divine #22”

The end of the “Rising Action” story arc ends with about as much spectacle as we’ve seen from its beginning in issue #18.  McKelvie presents us with an array of spreads and splash panels (heavy emphasis on the splash) that hammer the major moments of the fight between Team Underground and Team Valhalla.  We see Ananke finally brought low, and we get a little bit more explanation for why she’s been so murder happy since the story’s beginning; more importantly than that (because Ananke’s nonsense, as interesting as it is, is secondary to the question of how these characters react to extreme and not-so-extreme circumstances), Laura gets a little bit of catharsis for the trauma of her family’s murder, and we end on a major question.

Be more creepy, Minerva; I don’t feel guilty enough about your impending trauma yet. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson; Image credit: Comic Vine)

The cover for this issue features Minerva for the first time, and unlike the other entries in this cover series, she’s not shown in the midst of a performance, but peering at the reader from behind the guts of the mysterious machine that Ananke intends to use to sacrifice her.  The cover’s lighting tips us off that we’re looking out from the machine’s inner workings which, if you want to get super critical (in the academic sense), suggests a kind of complicity between the reader and Ananke’s ongoing sacrificial project.  Minerva is the last god Ananke is trying to off to achieve her ends, and this cover puts the reader at the center of the method by which she intends to consume Minerva for her own ends.  When in doubt about textual criticism, assume that stuff is about the creative process and the audience is probably doing something harmful to the creator or a creator surrogate.  Thanks, Gillen & McKelvie.

It’s definitely not better. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Seeing as this is the resolution to the arc, there are a lot of ends to tie up, so the pacing of the issue shifts from luxuriating in action sequences to getting the primary conflict wrapped up quickly so there’s room for a big interpersonal confrontation among the gods in the depths of Valhalla.  We’ve had enough whizbang to last us for a while in the preceding issues, so instead of spending a lot of pages on finishing the fight, McKelvie gives us a double page spread that captures all the individual fights that carried on in the last issue before zooming in on Woden, who decides he’s reached the battle’s inflection point.  The readers know that Woden has been party to most of Ananke’s machinations, even if she kept him in the dark about specifics (like the point of all the murders), but the rest of the Pantheon don’t, so he arranges to throw the fight in a way that gives him plausible deniability in case Ananke somehow manages to pull out a win.

The main event of the issue is the extended conversation among everyone who’s not unconscious (Woden allows himself to be incapacitated and Sakhmet gets knocked out by Baal after she refuses to agree to a ceasefire) in the depths of Valhalla before Ananke’s murder machine.  Ananke goes on a pretty good tear complaining about the general dysfunction of the gods and her frustration at having to manage them for millennia.  It’s exhausting keeping the Pantheon from running amok while she tries to orchestrate sacrifices for combating the Great Darkness.  We still don’t have any clue what she’s talking about with that beyond her vague descriptions of the pre-civilization gods; Ananke seems to be serious about this particular problem, so maybe there’s something to it, but on the other hand she’s also really good at manipulating everyone into getting themselves killed.  Whether this is a legitimate problem she brings up or one last gambit to get the gods to release her will have to wait for further explanation later.

Well, that’s certainly one reason for all the murder and decapitation. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Out of all the back and forth of the basement discussion, a pattern of motivations emerges.  Laura and Ananke are in direct opposition to one another (beyond simple enmity) because Laura, in her new role as Persephone, represents the complete disruption of Ananke’s imposed order.  Persephone is the thirteenth in a Pantheon of twelve, defies the normal rules for miracles (she can affect Cassandra and break Valhalla’s walls; perhaps her particular talent is breaking down obstacles in her way), and she’s looking to take Ananke out.  She resists manipulation in a way that makes it very hard for Ananke to work around her–if the situations were reversed, Ananke would absolutely kill her.  Even though it’s hard to tell what precisely Ananke’s ultimate goals are, we know that she has them, and she constantly works to make her goals happen.  She gives the gods a purpose (whether they like it or not); under Ananke’s guidance, we know that the Pantheon means something.

Said every frustrated adult ever. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Cassandra’s role is less in conflict with the others so much as just trying to slow everything down so the gods can get some answers.  She wants to keep everything grounded in reality, but she’s actually really bad at it.  This is what happens when you have a nihilist trying to wrangle a bunch of gods.  Still, she jumps into the role of “grown-up” with both feet quite readily after everyone confirms that Ananke is trying to kill them all.  One begins to wonder if Ananke’s relatively quiet frustration at the gods’ behavior is just Cassandra’s rage after being worn down by multiple millennia of herding a bunch of extremely destructive cats.

This moment is supposed to be really horrifying and gruesome, but I can’t help getting the giggles when I look at Baphomet and Dionysus’s faces. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson)

Ultimately Laura overwhelms all other points of view; Ananke killed the Wilsons as simple collateral damage, and she has to pay for that.  Persephone is the “Destroyer” and she lives up to it, showing total indifference to what the rest of the Pantheon wants.  The order of Ananke is over, and now, without anyone left to act as a guide, Laura declares a free-for-all.  Theology of necessity makes way for a messy existentialism.

Reading “The Wicked + The Divine #20”

I don’t think it’s much of a secret that out of the entire Pantheon, I have something of a soft spot for both Cassandra and Baphomet, so an issue that centers around Cassandra learning that Laura is alive while also giving us a ton of new information about what Baphomet was up to after Ragnarock is going to be right up my alley.  Besides featuring a couple of my favorite characters, this issue has the bonus of being the mid-arc breather in the middle of The Wicked + The Divine‘s version of an action movie.  While it’s not exactly accurate to say that all the plot stuff stops, the focus has decidedly shifted back onto character interactions and complicated feelings over McKelvie drawing awesome fight scenes.

This is the most dignified Cassandra gets to look in this issue; every interior panel involves her being angry, confused, or recovering from the effects of getting miracle-whammied. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson; Image credit: Comic Vine)

Apropos of this issue being Cassandra’s reintroduction following the hiatus between the third and fourth arcs, she and the other Norns get the cover for the issue.  Like the others in this set, they’re depicted in the middle of a performance, although unlike in their debut at Ragnarock there’s a hint of color to it this time.  The whole image is far less abrasive than that stark black and white splash page from issue #10, but it still conveys a certain imperiousness that Cassandra would find very satisfying (especially since one of the series’s best running jokes is her undignified indignant tantrums whenever someone does something against her perfectly reasoned advice).  Since all the covers in this set are more about showing the gods being dynamic instead of just posing in static glamour shots, it makes sense that these would be the way they most want others to see them.  I find Cassandra so endearing because she’s perennially frustrated with not being taken seriously, and this cover’s a chance for her and the rest of the Norns to project how they see themselves.

Aw, Laura. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

The frame for this issue is Laura’s reunion with Cassandra in the rubble of what was formerly the Wilson residence.  It’s emotional in all the ways you would expect for Cassandra, who is only comfortable with the open expression of feelings like contempt, anger, and resignation, while Laura is much more reserved.  That reservation is understandable; in the past couple issues we’ve just gotten a few glimpses of Laura’s emotional state in the aftermath of Ananke trying to kill her and blowing up her home.  She’s on a mission right now, and that’s what she’s trying to focus on.  The brief moment that she and Cassandra have here is just a small outlet for all those pent up emotions that we’ve only otherwise seen conveyed through Laura’s performance at her premier (“Persephone’s in hell” is not exactly a subtle message).

Other important details that we glean here are the fact that not only do Laura’s powers work on Cassandra (remember, Cassandra has the unique talent of being immune to all divine performances because she’s a stone skeptic and nihilist) but they work at a distance via other god technologies.  An established thing about the Pantheon are that their fans have to see them in person in order to experience their miracles because they don’t transmit through recordings; yes, you can handwave that Owly is special because it’s something that Minerva created (probably with Woden’s help; I’m not sure if that’s ever been made clear), but the fact remains that Laura can miraculously communicate over distances with even the most divine-averse individuals.  She’s not an official part of the Pantheon, and there’s good reason for that (one other small evidence to throw onto the “Persephone is something weird” pile is the fact that she was able to break through the walls of Valhalla, which, given the mad scrambling that the Morrigan and company did while trying to escape, is probably not something that just anyone can do).

“This is strange and scary and definitely not how things are supposed to work.” -Cassandra’s brain at this moment. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson)

The main event of the issue though is the flashback to what happened the night of Ragnarock.  This entire sequence is done in this lovely three color palette of white, pink, and blue that helps keep everything firmly grounded as not just a flashback, but Laura’s memories of what’s happened the last couple months.  Gillen cheats a little bit with the narrative here, because so much of this flashback is about scenes that Laura only heard about after the fact from Baphomet, but that’s honestly a minor quibble.  The important thing is that Laura is using her powers to dump a whole lot of exposition into Cassandra’s brain, and the coloring that Matt Wilson does here helps immensely in keeping that fact front and center.  A few of the pages here are composed of recycled panels from issue #11 (in at least one case, there’s an entire page reproduced exactly); it’s a common trick that Gillen discusses frequently in his writer notes of seeing how the creative team can creatively use artwork to expand the page count of any given issue where they’re working with a specific production budget.  I haven’t bothered to count the pages in issue #20, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a little longer than average because of all the artwork that Wilson only had to recolor instead of McKelvie reproducing it from scratch.

Besides showing that Baphomet was actually extremely upset about the Morrigan being captured, this panel also nicely showcases the two ends of the color spectrum used in the flashbacks: neon pinks for heat and rich teals of various values for cool. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Production wonkery aside, the important story beats to gather from this sequence are that Baphomet ended up having too much of a conscience to go through with murdering Inanna (but not enough of one to not blow up a church), Inanna ended up being the person who was murdered in Laura’s place when he and Baphomet showed up to rescue her, and Laura spent over a month in a dark pit while she hid in the Underground with the dude with the worst PR in the whole Pantheon.  There was also some canoodling because Baphomet, pulling a page directly out of the playbook that Marian used to comfort him after his own parents died, tells Laura way more about himself than he probably should, including the fact that he is not actually Baphomet (he’s really Nergal, which is the name for a bunch of Underworld type gods in various tabletop RPGs; this is the kind of obscure thing that absolutely would bug Cameron endlessly even though no one else would know or care; heck, I’ve googled this factoid multiple times, and I’m still not sure which Nergal he’s embarrassed to be associated with, although my personal headcanon is the dude from The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy).

I can’t stop laughing at this panel. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Anyway.

This is friendship. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

This issue is full of feels for several of my favorite characters, and it does a lot to recontextualize Baphomet’s actions during the “Commercial Suicide” arc so that he doesn’t seem like quite the selfish jerk that he came off as at the end of issue #12.  Laura is drowning in grief on top of her already manifest depression (pretty sure suddenly becoming a god doesn’t do anything to alleviate already present mental health issues), and Cassandra is still the best person to rant about everyone else’s stupid decisions.  Next issue will get back to the regularly scheduled mayhem.

Bonus panel! This exchange precedes Laura initiating sex, because who doesn’t think nerd pedantry is the hotness? (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Reading “The Wicked + The Divine #18”

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.

I love this upcoming series of covers. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson, design by Sergio Serrano; Image credit: Comic Vine)

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.

And… cue catchphrase! (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

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.

“You became a crappy orphan, Baphomet. Please spare Minerva the same fate.” (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

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 sky gods react very much in character to the news that they’ve been dropped into a punching book for the next five issues. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson)

This isn’t just insulting to the Goddess of Wisdom; it’s insulting to a regular thirteen-year-old. Kids understand hypocrisy pretty early; it’s why they often have a fascination with authenticity versus “fake.” (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

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.

Children model their behavior on what they observe. Here, Minerva lies, just like the only adult figure who we’ve actually seen treat her with something like real compassion. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Reading “The Wicked + The Divine #11”

This issue is equal parts fun explodey stuff, quiet conversation, and sad explodey stuff.  We’re focused on just four characters here: Baphomet and Inanna having very different levels of investment in a fight to the death, and Laura and Ananke discussing why Laura wants so badly to be part of the Pantheon.  All of these events follow immediately from the incident at Ragnarock in the previous issue when Baphomet attempted to assassinate Cassandra.  As you might expect from the issue cover, there’s murder afoot.

It was never going to be okay. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson, cover design by Hannah Donovan; Image credit: Comic Vine)

The face off between Baphomet and Inanna serves as the action heavy set piece of this issue (much like the conclusion of the first arc, this issue has to have some pyrotechnics just to assert that this is not purely a mystery story, and you will occasionally get to see the gods do cool stuff while fighting one another).  It’s a nice opportunity for McKelvie to show off his chops as an action artist (I never read his and Gillen’s run on Young Avengers, but I imagine that he did some pretty spectacular stuff on a straight up superhero book), and Wilson’s colors get to shine too with Inanna’s copious use of his miracles in fighting off Baphomet.

While the two are fighting to the death, we get to see the contrast between Baphomet and Inanna’s outlooks on their circumstances.  This arc is Inanna’s time to shine as a character; his friendship with Laura underscores his happiness with the way his life has gone.  Because of his ascension, Inanna feels free to live exactly the way he wants; he fully embraces his sexuality and genderqueerness in a way that the flashback to his ascension implies was formerly unavailable.  Despite knowing that his longevity is severely curtailed by becoming a god, he’s pleased that he’s reached a kind of self actualization that was previously unknown to him.  This all contrasts with Baphomet, who puts on a lot of swagger but feels especially insecure about his new identity and the cost of assuming it.  In a moment that’s rife with subtext about the insecurity felt by white straight cisgender men, Inanna directly speaks to Baphomet’s inability to be happy with himself even as he tries to steal Inanna’s life away.  Inanna is a queer person of color who’s totally content with the state of his life, and it eats at Baphomet that this person whom he believes should be even more miserable with the state of his life just isn’t.  It’s a real low point for Baphomet as a character, what with the murder and all.

Don’t be fooled by Inanna’s casual enthusiasm for fighting with Baphomet; this won’t end well for him (though maybe he’s so cheerful here because he’s getting an eyeful of Baph’s abs?). (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Baphomet’s miraculous anti-conscience strikes me as a manifestation of his reliance on toxic masculinity to guide his actions. He’s really confused about a lot of things, and the only internal compass he has available to him constantly urges him to attack women and genderqueer persons to try to improve his own situation. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Despite the clear moral failure that Baphomet experiences here, I can’t help sympathizing with him a little bit.  Where he came off as a pretty shallow jerk in the first arc, his developing friendship with Laura highlights some genuine feelings of isolation and uncertainty.  Where Inanna is all perfectly polished interactions and careful practice of good social skills (the moment in the last issue when he apologizes to Laura for hugging her without her permission is precious), Baphomet acts like a jerk to cover up for the fact that he lacks confidence in interpersonal interactions.  It’s almost like his ascension has forced him into a position that mirrors the way Inanna felt prior to his divinity.  The destructive aspects of Baphomet’s public persona serve to highlight how he’s poorly equipped to handle this newfound stress, and it contrasts directly with Inanna’s own careful social graces; he has so many marked facets of his identity that he never would have been able to get away with using antagonism as a deflection from genuine intimacy with others.  This is why Inanna seems so at ease playing the role of the socially conscious free spirit and why it still feels like a role: Inanna is so well-practiced at managing the emotions of others that he continues to do it despite projecting the idealized attractive self that he’s always wanted people to see.  Baphomet hasn’t developed that same skill set, and he’s unaccustomed to being in a position where he has to use it.  That’s a sucky position to be in, and it’s one that a lot of white straight cisgender men, when they encounter it for themselves, choose to double down on instead of putting some effort into becoming more socially responsible.  I think that Baphomet at least subconsciously understands how terribly he behaves and wants to be better (see, again, his entire awkward friendship with Laura), but he’s also stuck in an anxiety loop that makes it extremely difficult for him to make responsible decisions.

Inanna’s not wrong. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

As for Laura and Ananke, this issue is the big moment where they finally address Laura’s desire to become a god.  Ananke tries to comfort Laura with the knowledge that not being a member of the Pantheon means she has a nonzero chance of a long life without all the intense angst that gets packaged into the two year deal of godhood.  Laura’s willing to admit that the price of divinity is exceptionally steep, and despite that knowledge she would still take it if it were hers (this attitude is a total reversal from what we know about Baphomet, who’s serving as something of a foil to Laura throughout this arc, and his feelings about godhood).  Then, because we’re on the last issue of a story arc, Ananke does something that forces us to reconsider a lot of previously established things: she transforms Laura into Persephone.  This development upends a lot of implied rules about the nature of the Pantheon, like the fact that there must be twelve members during each Recurrence and that they’re specific people destined to be incarnations of the gods.  Laura, had she not become involved with Lucifer and determined to solve the mystery of the judge’s murder, might never have gotten close enough to the Pantheon for Ananke to determine her divine potential at all.  While we’re still busy trying to grok all of that though, Ananke pulls out another twist and straight up murders Laura while she’s performing (all that talk about gods being at their most vulnerable when they perform now becomes clear as the foreshadowing that it was).  It’s quite a shock.

It’s a trap, Laura! (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

In quick succession, this issue completes a heel turn for Baphomet, rewrites some major implied rules about the Pantheon, kills off another god, reveals Ananke as a villain, and just for fun kills off the series’s chief perspective character after making her a god too.  It’s issues like these that make me very glad I didn’t read this series on a monthly basis as it was coming out, because these are the sorts of developments that would have had me anxious to read the next issue and cursing that Gillen and McKelvie were going on hiatus (they’ve been taking a few months off after every other story arc since the series’s beginning, and we’ll see that there’s always a major status quo shift to accompany these long breaks).  That’s all kind of moot now because I’m current on the series, and at this point they still have a year’s worth of issues planned to finish the story.  Here’s hoping the wait isn’t too painful.

Reading “The Wicked + The Divine #10”

Because this issue features Baphomet on the cover, blood running salaciously down his face, you might expect things to take a very dark turn here.  It has been five issues since the last major character death, and a very significant plot point of issue #9 was that Baphomet was informed by Ananke that he could extend his lifespan by murdering another god.  Also, Baphomet set his sights on the newly ascended Cassandra, so that doesn’t bode ill or anything.  Fortunately for everyone involved, this is not an issue where someone dies gratuitously.  Instead, it marks Cassandra’s triad debuting as the Norns and Laura hitting on some serious introspection about what she wants out of her life.  Also, Baphomet tries to kill Cassandra, but really that’s a relatively minor part of the issue.

The most unsettling thing about this cover isn’t the blood; it’s Baphomet’s eyes. All the gods have some feature that marks them as otherworldly on these covers, and since Baphomet is inclined to always wear aviator shades, seeing his eyes is especially off-putting. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson, design by Hannah Donovan; Image credit: Comic Vine)

However, since Baphomet does grace the cover, we should talk about what’s going on with him a little bit.  Obviously, attempted murder is pretty bad, and the fallout from his actions here will carry on through the next couple of story arcs.  The frame of mind that he’s in at this point seems to be profound regret.  His conversation with the Morrigan (we learn here that her real name is Marian) at the issue’s start implies that she was responsible for bringing him to Ananke’s attention.  That’s an odd detail, given that the process by which gods are identified has been pretty much totally unspecified up to this point.  In the last issue Ananke mentioned that she usually has trouble finding the twelfth god, but there’s nothing much to go on beyond that.  That Baphomet and the Morrigan knew each other before their ascensions (as well as Lucifer and Amaterasu, although that’s not a relationship that’s been dwelt on very much) opens up questions about the nature of the gods’ incarnations.  Obviously they seem to incarnate in close geographic proximity (no one is weirded out that all of the Pantheon are apparently kids from around London), but the possibility of previous connections actually influencing how Ananke finds the gods is a new one.  It leaves you to wonder if Baphomet would have ascended if he hadn’t known the Morrigan of if it was all fated.  Combined with Laura’s whole one time miraculous cigarette thing, there’s space to speculate if there’s potential for lots of mortals to ascend to godhood during a Recurrence, and if Ananke has the power to pick and choose how she wants each Pantheon to be constructed.

Anyway, that was a tangent.

I really relate to Baphomet’s self-doubt, but his emotional maturity is seriously lacking. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Regardless of larger questions about the nature of the Recurrence, it’s clear that Baphomet at least holds the Morrigan responsible for his current situation, and there are some strong feelings of resentment.  Based on what else we’ve seen about Baphomet and the Morrigan’s relationship, we can get a pretty clear picture that there are some unhealthy features.  Fortunately or unfortunately, Baphomet doesn’t share his thoughts with the Morrigan so that she isn’t a party to his whole “murder Cassandra” plot.  It doesn’t stop her from intervening at Ragnarock to save Cassandra and help Baphomet escape from Ananke, but I can’t help feeling like if the two of them were just able to have a more honest conversation about how they’re coping (or not) with their situation, things might have turned out very different for the two of them.  As it stands, Baphomet tries to shoulder the burden by himself, and the consequences are him and the Morrigan being on the outs with the rest of the Pantheon.  I sympathize with what he’s feeling, but he really makes things a lot worse here (and also, he doesn’t learn his lesson about attempted murder, since the issue closes with him plotting to attack Inanna next).

Laura gets out of her head for a minute, and what we see is that she’s quite a lovely person. Also, this is a heck of a pep talk to have to give a nihilist who believes she’s going to die within two years without being properly understood by anyone. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

More central to this issue is Laura.  The last issue ended with her just beginning to cope with the fallout of Cassandra’s ascension (I don’t think she’s even gotten the news yet at that point; she just feels that something big has happened that affects her).  It’s a pretty rough spot to be in (isn’t it always when you’re still reeling from something that disturbs your hopes for the future?)  The time skip between these issues helps a little bit (Laura has pretty much the entirety of July 2014 to process what’s happened; it’s probably good that Gillen elides that period) so that Laura’s meeting with Cassandra after her performance isn’t just a mass of Laura dumping her bad feels out at Cassandra’s feet.  Instead, Laura offers the kind of comfort that only a true fan can: she encourages Cassandra to use her gift to tell everyone what she needs to say.  This moment is probably the most genuine expression of why Laura wants to be a god; yes, she wants the fame and adoration, but more she wants people to listen to her.  That she comes to the conclusion here that she probably doesn’t have anything meaningful to say is a pretty significant insight.  Regardless of what else is going on with the gods, Laura’s encounters with all of them highlight that they all have a message they want to impart.  Those messages involve varying levels of self absorption, but they all carry a core of trying to convey a sense of meaning to people (even Cassandra’s aggressive nihilism has a defiant note of human solidarity to it).  Laura, in contrast, is portrayed as someone desperately searching for any kind of meaning; it’s no wonder she’s a superfan of the whole Pantheon.  Laura’s offering Cassandra a bit of comfort after her show doesn’t elicit the response she was hoping for (I’m not sure what Cassandra wanted; maybe uncontrolled sobbing at the futility of existence?) is an unusually positive note to leave her story on with this issue.  You know that it means something really bad has to happen soon.

Other developments in this issue include Laura having a conversation with David Blake, a Pantheon scholar with whom she butted heads at Ragnarock the previous year; the revelation that the guys who tried to assassinate Lucifer way back in the first issue were a couple of folks in Fandom who seemed to just be making a play at the Prometheus gambit with an unusually elaborate cover story; and Laura finally telling someone about her episode with the cigarette (in front of Ananke).  The first part of the murder mystery from the first arc closes without much fanfare (still no hint of who killed the judge), but other threads get planted that will become important in both the near and far future.

I’m absolutely crying. Also, Ananke totally ruins the moment by standing in the background like that. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Reading “The Wicked + The Divine #6”

The fifth issue of The Wicked + The Divine marked the end of the series’s first arc.  It ended without much of anything resolved; Laura still doesn’t know who killed the judge, and Lucifer, who was everyone else’s prime suspect in that murder, has been summarily executed by Ananke for being troublesome.  Everyone knows that the gods aren’t faking their miracles now, and Laura has inexplicably shown a bit of a divine spark herself in the form of lighting a cigarette with a finger click–once.  The resolution is mostly just an emotional one (Laura has been through a remarkable ordeal what with getting an up close view of her new friend’s head disintegration) as we’ve been given the dime tour of the world and (Gillen and McKelvie hope) a reason to want to know what happens next for our protagonist.

In a sea of glam headshots, Inanna’s is perhaps the glammest. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson, design by Hannah Donovan; Image credit: Comic Vine)

Fortunately, I super dig The Wicked + The Divine, so we’re going to keep going.

Issue six picks up a month and a half after Lucifer’s death with Laura trying to resume a normal life.  She’s failing miserably, as one might imagine a person does after having several near death experiences and seeing someone else’s violent death up close.  While going about her life, she constantly clicks her fingers, hoping that she’ll perform another miracle.  A chance encounter with some fellow Pantheon fans who are wearing cheeky postmortem Lucifer tribute merch leads to her vomiting in a dumpster (twice).  She feels unable to talk with her parents about the traumatic stuff she’s experienced.  Laura is not coping well, and it’s not only because of what happened with Lucifer.

Just imagine walking around all the time clicking your fingers and hoping that you accidentally light something on fire. That’s pretty much what half of Laura’s life has been like since the last issue. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Naturally, because this is a fantasy story, Laura doesn’t get to fade back into fandom obscurity as someone who just had a weird thing happen in her vicinity that one time; she ends up getting contacted by a member of the Pantheon whom we haven’t yet met in person (although we have heard a few bits of gossip about him).  The god in question is Inanna the Queen of Heaven, the kinder, gentler pansexual member of the Pantheon and Baal’s ex-boyfriend (if you haven’t grokked it by this point, The Wicked + The Divine is delightfully queer).  His visual design is highly reminiscent of Prince with a strong preference for shades of purple matched with gold accents; there’s a strong sense of spectacle associated with the character as McKelvie and Wilson showcase three different outfits for Inanna in this one issue (most of the Pantheon members we’ve met so far have stuck to more or less one central look with small variations throughout the first arc).  Inanna likes to be seen, even when he’s trying not to draw attention to himself (Laura mocks his choice of low-profile meetup attire as he’s hanging out in a graveyard in a purple trench coat with matching tiger print boots).

Tell me you don’t look at this face and instantly want to trust him. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Despite the ostentatious quality to Inanna’s mere presence on the page, he comes across here as an incredibly warm, caring person.  He’s mindful of personal boundaries (before comforting Laura with a hug he asks her explicit permission), he explains that he remembers Laura from before the Recurrence (they were both attendees at the previous year’s Pantheon fan convention Ragnarock, an affair that has mostly been the gathering place of stuffy academics but will most assuredly be a giant party now that the Recurrence is in progress), and he’s genuine in his praise of the positive qualities he sees in Laura.  Inanna’s talent is making the people he’s with feel like they’re the most important thing in the world to him, and while that level of charm should normally engender some feelings of caution, it’s hard to dislike him.  On the spectrum of artifice to authenticity that all the Pantheon members exist along, Inanna rings in strongly on the authentic side.  He’s so good at authenticity that it’s easy to overlook the fact that he’s also performing.

Laura does, but she’s also been through a really terrible month. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

The actual plot points of the issue are relatively thin.  Inanna discloses to Laura that he’s divined how the men who attempted to murder Lucifer back in the first issue relate to the Pantheon: they weren’t religious extremists but fans.  Because it’s divination, the details beyond that are extremely fuzzy, and Inanna charges Laura with trying to find more information about them.  Laura agrees and reluctantly uses her newfound status in Pantheon fandom to start connecting with other fans in the hopes of figuring out what’s going on.  The rest of the issue is devoted to explaining a little bit of Inanna’s background (he saw Laura arguing with an old dude who hates Millennials at Ragnarock and was impressed with her fearlessness, and now that he’s a god with less than two years to live he never wants to be afraid again) and showing the personal fallout of Lucifer’s death for Laura.  It’s a remarkably thin chapter if you’re here for the murder mystery, but Inanna is such a delightful new character that I feel inclined to overlook that (I am, of course, also inured against the frustrations of month-to-month comics reading since I stick to trades).

All told, the arc we’re moving into will best be read mostly as the second half of a larger story that Gillen and McKelvie began in the first five issues.  Lucifer’s death was a good point of resolution in miniature, but there are lots of things that still need to addressed with regard to the plot that was set in motion at the beginning.

This outfit feels more like a color variant on a Michael Jackson ensemble to me, but Inanna’s not about being boxed in by what people expect him to be. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)