Weekly Upload 04/23/22

After a week of nearly nonstop rain, we’re having a nice sunny weekend, so it finally feels like spring out here in Oregon. Rachael and I just finished up getting the first round of plant starts for our garden, and things are beginning to look very pleasant outside. Work was fine this week, although the end of year slump is starting to set in, which is a polite way of saying that the kids don’t want to work anymore, and neither do the adults although we’re better at hiding it in front of the people who matter. I’ve been trying to get my head straight because I had a bout of “social media is terrible!” this week with all the bad news about anti-trans and anti-gay legislation that’s going around in the red states. It’s upsetting stuff, and folks definitely should do the work to stop that stuff from happening before it hurts more kids than it already has, but I am confident that I’m not one of those people. Education is my career, and I have queer kids in the classes that I teach who are my most immediate concern. They’re lucky to go to school in a district that has a pretty strong pro-equity policy, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t dealing with difficult situations at home either. The long and short is that I can’t fret about harm to kids I will never meet when there are kids I work with all the time that need my professional attention. Anyway.


I only completed one new piece this week, and it’s the next in my series of scenes from The Wicked + The Divine as I grind on through my very slow re-read of that series. I had fun with it, although elaborate outfits with lots of parts to them do get a little tiresome after a while. Nonetheless, I feel good about this piece, and now I’ve moved on to working on my next one, which is more indicative of how I’ve been spending my free time in the last week. I’m anticipating it making slightly more of a splash than my WicDiv stuff has been because it’s an X-Men thing. I like doing X-Men stuff, but I admit it’s a little irksome to realize I’m doing work because I think it will get attention rather than just being fun. Anyway, I’m still retraining myself on building figure skeletons to match a specific scale, so that’s definitely slowing things down a little bit.


It was a pretty quiet week for comics, although I did enjoy the penultimate issue of Home Sick Pilots. It always goes back to some old controlling jerk in these stories, and I can’t say that’s a bad impulse in plotting. Feels very true to life.

Video Games

I’ve been playing Blasphemous in my free time this week, and it’s a delightful metroidvania that is utter nonsense on the story front. I get that the game’s vibe is Tortured Catholic, and I applaud its commitment to the aesthetic, but I have no idea what’s going on as far as why my character is doing anything. Does he hate the Grievous Miracle? Is he trying to do something to serve it? I got no clue! The platforming’s fun though, and I love a giant grotesque boss.


We finished season 1 of Bridgerton, and it as exactly as dumb and fun as I wanted it to be. Insert boilerplate about the problematic sexual politics of having the core conflict hinge on marital rape (by the woman!) here. I don’t want to think too hard about it all right now, and I honestly just hope that season 2 is as much dumb fun. We’re also working our way through Russian Doll Season 2, which is still fun, but clearly not quite as brilliant as the first season was.

In movies, I have designs to watch The Batman at some point, although every time I mention this fact to someone, I have to clarify that it is exceedingly difficult to find a three hour block of time to watch a movie that I don’t want to impose on other people. While I wait for that to happen, we did watch a documentary last night called Spaceship Earth about the people who conceived of the whole BioSphere 2 project back in the early ’90s. It was oddly moving, since the core impression you get from the interviews is that these folks were basically just a bunch of idealists who happened to get lucky with an angel investor for their big ideas to try to work on ways to combat climate change. The fact that the corporate side of everything decided to turn the marketing for the project into a space travel story with the expectation that everything would work perfectly the first time they attempted this project casts the whole thing in a pretty tragic light. It was nice to see that most of the folks involved with the original idea seem to be pretty happily living on a commune together now though.

Coffee Shops

I have not been to any coffee shops this week, but I did take a walk to the grocery store one day and considered buying a coffee-like drink while there. I ultimately decided against it.

Weekly Upload 04/16/22

Despite being a full week of work with a fair bit that needed to get done, I think it was overall a very pleasant week for me. Granted, we had a freak snowstorm Monday morning that forced a late start, so that general weirdness might have had something to do with my generally positive mood. Mostly, I’d characterize the week as one where I had a lot of small successes at work that made me feel good about my job.


After the really frenetic pace I had with drawing last week, I slowed way down this week to try to figure out some fundamentals that I still feel are really shaky for me. The big one that I’ve been trying to troubleshoot is my habit of making torsos extremely long on my figures. You can see it in the one finished piece that I posted this week where both figures have pretty solid anatomy (in my opinion) except there’s just a ton of body between where the rib cage is supposed to end and where the pelvis starts. If I were trying to do something in a more cartoon style that would probably be fine, but my focus for years has been on getting down realistic body proportions. I spent some time looking at my references on figure building, and I’m trying to key in to a set proportion model to help me not elongate torsos so much going forward. In theory I’m going to be explicitly practicing eight head height figures so that I have a clear reference to check when I’m drawing rib cages and pelvises. I have a piece in progress right now where I’ve been especially careful with measurements for my figures, so I’m hoping they’ll look less like glam slendermen when they’re finished. I think I’m on the right track because I really had to fight my impulse to lengthen the skeletons after I finished drawing them in the new piece I’m working on.

Art practice has also been a little slower this week because I’ve felt pulled in a couple different directions with art projects, and I have a terrible sense of commitment to whatever I choose to work on at a given moment. Essentially, I was having trouble choosing what project to do next for fear of losing enthusiasm for the projects that I didn’t decide to start, which is perhaps the dumbest form of FOMO anyone’s ever described. On the bright side, I’ve begun noodling around with scripts and layouts for my next page of fan comic. The irony here is that I still haven’t posted the last page I did because I don’t like the idea of posting work that may take a long time for me to reach a satisfying conclusion on. Given that it’s been over a month since I did the last comic page, I think that was a wise choice.


It was a relatively light week in reading, although I feel the need to give a shout out to the Spider-Punk #1 that I bought on a whim and which seems to capture a lot of the general vibe and aesthetic of Home Sick Pilots in a Marvel book. I mean, it’s not punk-horror or anything like that, but it’s a lot of fun with art by Justin Mason that feels distinct from Marvel’s usual house style in ways that are a little more reminiscent of underground comix. It still feels very much like a glossy superhero book, but I like that it’s been artfully roughed up to evoke a zine. Other high notes for the week included the Eternals issue that came out; it’s not quite as grand awful melodrama as a few of the other keystone issues of Gillen’s run, but it’s still solidly entertaining, and I really enjoy any book that dares to make fools of the Avengers. I also got a kick out of X-Men this week because like a lot of people I clocked that there’d been a continuity error in an earlier issue where Polaris manipulates Laura like a puppet while she’s unconscious, and as the intro for this week’s Wolverine-focused issue they did a whole page explaining how Laura suddenly had a full metal skeleton and hung a lampshade on the error by saying Proteus had screwed up during one of her resurrections. That kind of playfulness from a creative team is a lot of fun.

In comics-related things, I listened to the episode of Decompressed that Kieron Gillen released with Steve Orlando (because I’m a total mark for X-Men/comics craft/Gillen content), and it was a really fun creator interview. There’s a bit in the conversation where they’re discussing the rhythms of different ways you can write a comics page, and one of them points out that it’s a lot closer to poetry writing over prose, and that’s been rattling around in my head for a few days. I think I’ve had the idea about page writing as being all about hitting certain rhythms to evoke the feeling you want from the page, but something about the poetry comparison just clicked so well. The bit in the conversation about not wanting to give your artist something absolutely horrible to design and draw was also fun since my very humble fan comic work is basically a one-man operation. I now understand the pain of artist-me staring at a script that writer-me put together and thinking this was a huge mistake. I can’t imagine what it has to be like writing pages for a collaborator to draw. Anyway, comics writing is like poetry. I should get a sticker of that.


The Ultimatum is bad reality television. Rachael and I made it to the end of episode three and decided that we just couldn’t deal with it any longer. So much about the production feels incredibly uncomfortable and manipulative. We didn’t particularly like any of the cast members, but that doesn’t mean we felt like it was fun to see them go through the ringer with their relationships for a stupid TV show. So now we’re trying out Bridgerton, which I have to say is incredibly dumb but very compelling. I love a soap opera (come on, I read X-Men), and the small touches the show includes to help ground the social conflict in a more contemporary context make the whole thing very good trash TV. Also, it’s all fictional, so I’m not going to feel like I need a shower after I watch these characters make obviously bad life decisions for my amusement.

Coffee Shops

I have not been to a coffee shop this week. There was a taco truck at work on Thursday, but because it was open to staff and students, I did not get to eat good tacos at work. I did get Taco Bell for dinner that night, so that helped resolve some of the taco lust, although we all know that Taco Bell is its own category of food separate from Mexican.

Weekly Upload 04/10/22

It’s the end of third quarter at work, which means we’re officially entering the most absurd part of the school year when summer is on the horizon and all the adults are trying super hard to care about keeping the kids on track while also being ready to call it quits for a couple months. The weather’s getting nicer, and the grass won’t stop growing, which means that I also have to spend more time outside at the exact moment that it becomes especially miserable for me to be outside. Fortunately, wearing masks is a socially acceptable thing now, so I feel way less weird about masking up because I really don’t want to deal with allergies when I’m out and about.


I mentioned last week that I’m re-reading The Wicked + The Divine, and I’m using it as an inspiration source for art practice. The level of ambition in my pieces has varied a fair bit, but I’m enjoying the straightforward prompt of taking a character or moment from each issue and doing my own version of the same. I only finished two pieces this week, but I like both of them pretty well, so I’ll take it. I also think I might be seeing some improvement in the consistency of my figure anatomy, which is always heartening. Because I’m using WicDiv as my inspiration, I’ve also had fun looking at Matt Wilson’s coloring in each issue and trying to work out the ways that he achieves different effects. It’s wild to be nearly two years into primarily working digitally and to realize I can recognize what filters were used to make the effects (probably).


I took a week to read the second issue of Step By Bloody Step, and I continue to have messy feelings about this story without words. I think because there’s no understandable dialogue, I’m much more aware of the impulse to move quickly through the pages, so I’m actually taking more time to sit with each illustration. Bergara’s artwork is stunning, so it’s not that difficult of a task.

On the X-Men front, it was an incredibly good week of comics. There were four issues that I picked up including two X-Force books, and I enjoyed all of them thoroughly. X-Men Red is the obvious big moment of the week, but it feels like gilding the lily to say that Al Ewing is an excellent writer with a strong understanding of all the characters he’s using. I had a lot of fun with Steve Orlando & Eleonora Carlini’s Marauders. Space stuff usually doesn’t resonate with me, but the creative team is so clearly having fun with the whole pirate thing (and Cassandra Nova coming back at a sadist with empathy is terrifying and hilarious) that I’m down with whatever they want to do next. The suggestion that Erik the Red is actually part of some ancient secret Shi’ar agency meant to hide the deepest state secrets from mutants is really fun since he’s never actually been a real person (as far as I can remember). The two X-Force issues were fun too, and I got a kick out of the annual. If it’s hinting at a new creative team I wouldn’t object; Benjamin Percy is clearly very good at what he does, but his variety of gritty doesn’t always work for me.


It was a week of lots of highly entertaining television. The finale of Severance was one of the tensest episodes of TV I’ve seen in a while, and it ends the season on an exceptional cliffhanger. I’m glad the show got renewed because it’s one of the most fun things I’ve seen this year. In a similar, but not exactly the same, vein, the fifth season of Better Call Saul dropped on Netflix, which Rachael and I are rapidly working out way through. I think we have the same conversation every time a new season comes out, but we’re certain it’s a superior series to Breaking Bad and that the creators clearly learned a lot about how to avoid the pitfalls in their first series. That Better Call Saul is better while being a prequel series is pretty amazing too, since we already know the ultimate fates of most of the characters we’re following.

Rachael and I have also had fun watching a Japanese series on Netflix called Old Enough! which follows children under 5 years old as they run errands for their parents. The difference in cultural norms is the thing we’re most fascinated by, because all of these kids seem remarkably young to be doing anything independently outside the home (many of them are barely more than toddlers), but it appears to be an accepted thing that Japanese families begin teaching their kids how to be independent at a young age, and the communities typically support them. It’s an adorable show.

On the less adorable side of Japanese television, we also watched a three hour special on Youtube about a Japanese comedian named Nasubi who spent a little more than a year isolated in an apartment with nothing to do but enter mail-in sweepstakes to win goods for his survival. The whole thing was a massive event that happened back in 1998, and I admit it made for extremely compelling television. Nasubi apparently didn’t know he was being livestreamed while he was doing the challenge, so he was surprised when the whole thing ended and everyone in the country already knew about him. Also, he was naked the whole time, so that’s fun.

In the trashy TV sector, we also watched the first episode of Ultimatum, the new reality series from the Love is Blind producers. It’s definitely not good, but Rachael and I can’t deny it’s hard to look away from the train wreck. We’re really hoping that everyone on the show is just there to do a thing and bolster their personal brand, because it’s otherwise pretty icky and obvious these are not people who should be using a reality show to help them work through their relationship issues.

Coffee Shops

I have not been to a coffee shop this week. I did pick up boba on the way to see some friends the other night though, so that was good.

Weekly Upload 04/03/22

I’m a day late with my blog because Rachael heard about a big drop of Playstation 5s scheduled to hit GameStop yesterday morning, and we decided on a whim to go do the camping out thing to snag one. We were successful, but it did take most of the morning because there’s not really much you can do while you’re waiting for a store to open.


I had a very productive art week with three new pieces finished. I’ve been playing around with my canvas settings in Procreate since I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with the number of layers I typically need to finish a piece. Procreate limits the number of layers you can use in a canvas based on your resolution and dimension settings so the tablet memory doesn’t get overwhelmed by really complex pieces. Up to this point I’ve mostly been using a default canvas that’s set to the size of my screen with a relatively low resolution (I think it’s been somewhere around 120 dpi). These settings afford me about 120 layers to work with on a piece, but most of what I do is single figure illustrations with minimal backgrounds and relatively simple rendering techniques, so I’m more commonly finishing work with about thirty layers, including the ones I hide, like my paint palettes and my roughs. After I looked at options for prints last week, I decided that I should try working on a larger canvas with a higher resolution, so I’m currently getting used to working on an 11″x14″ canvas at 300 dpi. There are only about 40 layers available, but that’s not presented any problems on the pieces I’ve finished this week. I am in the middle of doing a more complex piece with two figures and (I hope) a rich background, so we’ll see how I have to adjust my workflow to accommodate having only about a third of my usual breathing room. I’m hoping that the benefits of the higher resolution (specifically allowing me to do finer line work) will help offset the new restrictions.

One element I’ve been interested in trying to refine in my work is how I render texture. I’m trying a thing out right now where I actually use a modified copy of my roughs to give some texture to hair and clothing that I’ve not been able to achieve in my finishes before. It mostly has to do with the type of brush I use when I’m sketching versus the one I use for inking, but I’ve been pleased with the results so far this week. We’ll see if it turns into a regular part of my process or if I discard it before too long.

One issue that I do find myself running into with the new canvases is that problems I don’t fix in my figures during roughs are much more readily apparent by the time I get to coloring. There’s a lot about the Emma Frost piece that I really dislike, mostly with regard to the general anatomy. I find torsos endlessly vexing. The whole apparatus of the chest and shoulders plus the pelvis still mystifies me sometimes. I’m convinced it’s something to do with the way that I measure when I draw the initial line for the spine, but I still haven’t cracked how to keep myself from making these absurdly elongated bodies. The rest of my work this week is okay, although there are a few things that bug me about the Lucifer and Laura Wilson pieces as well.


Immortal X-Men #1 came out, and it’s a lot of fun. I’ve been looking forward to this book starting up for months, and now it’s here, and I’m waiting to have the bandwidth to re-read and process what’s going on with it. The reveal that Sinister is keeping clones of Moira to kill and reset the timeline at will raises so many questions.

In a bid to apparently never finish the prose book I’m trying to read right now, I’ve started re-reading The Wicked + The Divine this week. My tentative plan is to do a piece of fan art focused on a character or characters who feature in each issue. It’s an ambitious plan, but I really enjoy this series, and I’m hoping to spend some time pondering the art of it in more depth. I probably can’t overstate how much I want to be able to emulate McKelvie and Wilson’s style. I expect this will be a relatively slow moving re-read, which works fine with me.

Video Games

We bought a PS5. There’s now a stack of games sitting in our living room that we probably won’t actually play until we hit summertime, but it’s nice to now be in a space of enjoying the thing when we can instead of wanting one and never being able to find it. As a side note, the packaged 3D platformer that comes pre-installed on the console, Astro’s Playroom, is a really charming Mario 64 clone that’s also a hilarious ad for Sony’s entire gaming hardware line from the last twenty-five years. The point is supposed to be showing off the functionality of the PS5 controller, but it’s a fun game in its own right.


We finished watching Sex Education, which has steadily increased in quality since its first season. Nothing’s really grabbed our attention yet as the next plot-heavy series to watch, but we are taken with a new anime on Netflix called Kotaro Lives Alone. It’s about a precocious 4-year-old who’s mysteriously living alone in an apartment building and the ways that his neighbors find themselves helping to take care of him.


I think the most prevalent thought I have about the pandemic these days is gratefulness that folks seem to have internalized the idea that it’s okay some people prefer to wear a mask in public spaces. There’s always a small subconscious bracing that happens ahead of going out in public with a mask on these days. It’s an odd thing to feel self conscious about.

Coffee Shops

I have not been to a coffee shop this week. I did read that the creator of Coffee Talk, the visual novel I played and adored at the beginning of the pandemic, died unexpectedly. That’s a real bummer. We have his last game installed on our Switch at the moment, and might play it sometime soon.

Learning Sketchbook 16: Uh…

I’ve been thinking for a while now that at some point I’m going to have to adjust my title scheme for drawing posts, mostly because they feel like they’re going to start coming faster than I’m really improving.  I made some major improvements during Inktober (who knew that making yourself draw a thing every day for a month straight would yield better results?), and it really feels like I’m moving into a period where I’m more interested in doing compositions than studies and practice sketches.  I’m sure this isn’t a permanent shift; I’m constantly thinking about a visualization I saw on Twitter that describes how artists’ perception of their skill compares with what they can actually do and how it relates to the gap between an artist’s ability to recognize what techniques are being used to create various visual effects and their ability to execute those techniques (it’s a variation on the maxim that creators always feel like they suck when they first start out because they have excellent taste and know their own work doesn’t compare to what they like).  I expect that I’m probably going to plateau for a while sometime soon, but I want to push through that to keep drawing stuff.  In the meantime, it feels like it might be disingenuous to continue a series called “Learning Sketchbook” when I may not have much insight to go with my new stuff.  I’ll have to figure that out.

In the meantime, I had to do evening conferences at work last week, and that afforded me a lot of time to sit around and play while I waited for the very slow trickle of parents to come by and chat with me about their students (when you’re the co-teacher of a class, most parents don’t even realize you exist let alone that they can talk with you about their children’s learning).  My explorations with coloring continue apace.


I’ve been feeling just slightly burnt out on superheroes, so I wanted to do something a little more grounded.  The fantastic slice-of-life comic Giant Days just recently ended, and while I’m reading it in trade so I still have a few more volumes to look forward to, I thought it would be a good time to play around with Esther, Daisy, and Susan.  Being essentially a comedy, the book has a very cartoonish visual style that’s been extremely consistent across its entire run, which created a fun opportunity to play with translating characters who aren’t typically depicted realistically into my own style, which is definitely closer to realism if not exactly realistic.  Add to that the fact that each of the girls has a very distinct look to them, and it was a fun experiment to see how I could make them recognizable.

I settled on doing a scene of the three friends after an evening out drinking; Daisy is the very responsible one, but I always feel like she’s the least able to hold her booze, so here she’s being supported by Esther and Susan as they stroll home.  Coloring the figures took me pretty much the entire three hours of the first evening of conferences because I realized it needed to be an evening scene which meant I was going to have to figure out how to shade everything without turning the colors muddy.  There’s a lot of visual dissonance that you have to overcome when you’re coloring a white page for night time.  I feel like I always way overthink light sources and shadows for how simple they end up being in the finished product.  Things seems to coalesce a lot more once I colored the background; it helped immensely to have the pub wall and the sidewalk shaded, even though I did those big areas quickly, and they look a little sloppy compared to figures.  The paper texture showing through the pencils drives me a bit nutty because the whole thing looks a little washed out, but I’m just learning to accept that’s how colored pencils are going to look, at least for me.  Maybe someday I’ll actually learn how to scan my drawings instead of just snapping pictures on my phone to see if that helps things look a little more vibrant.


Also, because adding color tends to obscure the definition of the pencils, here’s a picture of the finished drawing before I started coloring it.

On the second night of conferences I was way less ambitious (it takes a long time to color a whole page).  I still didn’t want to do another superhero, so I opted instead for an iconic moment from the best show currently on TV.


Jason Mendoza is a national treasure.


The uncolored pencils for comparison.  I don’t know how it happened, but I feel like I drew one really good foot and one really bad one on this figure.

And to wrap up the collection of things I drew this week, here’s one that I actually like a lot except that I whiffed hard on the skin tone (see my earlier complaint about needing to figure out how to scan stuff).


I’ve mostly stayed away from fanart for The Wicked + The Divine up to this point because 1) McKelvie’s designs are so good that I’d mostly just be mad at myself that I couldn’t do interesting takes on them, and 2) colors is just as essential to WicDiv art as the lines are.  Still, I think this Dionysus getting into the holiday spirit is pretty good overall.  I just wish I’d been more aggressive with the orange for his skin tone because he looks white in the photo.  When Dionysus is performing his color palette goes neon, so orange is fine in this moment, but he’s normally brown-skinned.  That the photo makes him look white is embarrassing.


I’ll leave off with the pencils for this one (which was actually the first of this set of drawings that I did this week) because I thought they came out looking exceptionally clean.  End on a high note, right?

Reading “The Wicked + The Divine #45”

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.

Reading “The Wicked + The Divine #44”

The project of evaluating a story when it’s still in progress is always going to be a Sisyphean effort.  The human impulse to see patterns everywhere demands that we constantly try to make meaning of what we’re seeing, to decipher the why behind the what.  I think it’s why we struggle so much to make sense of dying, both as a future for ourselves and as a present for others.  We crave narrative arcs on such a primal level that the random nature of death completely upends our schemae for maintaining a sense of sanity.  This is why so much of the draw of an unfinished story lies in speculating about trajectories and possibilities.  Until the final beat hits, there’s some uncertainty that we’re begging to resolve.  The best stories tend to be the ones that recognize this impulse and provide a conclusion that’s surprising in how it manages to defy our instincts for pattern recognition while still drawing everything together in a pattern that we can clearly see in retrospect.  “Surprising but inevitable” is the way I’ve heard this trick succinctly described.  In terms of reader reaction, I expect it would require first the thought, “Oh wow!” and then follow not too long afterwards with “Of course that’s how it had to go.”  We get this moment multiple times throughout The Wicked + The Divine #44 in relation to pretty much all of the plot threads that had been left dangling at the end of #43.

Minerva looks old in ways here that she never did before. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson)

The big one highlighted on the issue’s cover is the question of Ananke.  On this penultimate issue we finally get contemporary Minerva’s long overdue portrait.  She’s graced the cover a couple times before, but never in a context where we were fully aware of what she is.  The last issue pulled off a pretty incredible trick in finally making Ananke’s story click in a way that made me question whether she was irredeemable, and this view of her younger self with no masks or eye coverings (the other two contemporary Minerva covers feature her wearing glasses or goggles, and all the covers featuring other Anankes have her face obscured by some kind of mask or veil) promises that we’re finally at the moment of truth with the series’s antagonist.  This is the best we’re ever going to understand her, so it’s time to make a decision about how we and the other characters feel about her.


There’s a lot of ink to be spilled about Valentine and the way that he gets so utterly broken down throughout this series. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Gillen packs the sequence where the ex-Pantheon decides Ananke’s fate with a range of responses that echo what we already know about these characters and point us toward where they’re going to land given the limited space in the issue.  Laura’s initially resolved that Ananke needs to die to make sure she doesn’t restart the cycle, but she tempers herself with the advice from her friends; Cass forgives nothing, but she’s not okay with being a part of more murder; Umar and Zahid want to be merciful; Valentine can’t see redemption for himself, so he sees no hope for someone who’s acted even more monstrously than he has.  The result is gutting, mostly because the way forward for Valentine was always in dim view.  A two year death sentence was the only way he was able to cope with the way that he acted; absent that deadline, you can see the clear logic of his decision: he can’t keep living as he is, and Ananke is worse, but it’s hard to think clearly about what is just when staring down a six thousand year old woman in the body of a child who has committed near uncountable crimes over her absurdly long life.  Best to let monsters deal with monsters.  Try not to think too hard about how Zahid must be feeling while he watches his beloved fall into oblivion; it’ll be over soon enough.

As a reader I see the merits of all the characters’ perspectives on Ananke.  If things had played out differently and she had received a fate similar to Laura’s then I would have been satisfied.  Ananke is of a kind with the long lived mortals of The Sandman‘s “Brief Lives.”  No matter how much time she was given, it would never be enough; the assurance of an expiration date would be more than enough of a punishment for someone who did everything she could to live forever.  As it is, Ananke’s fate feels harsh, but still not inappropriate.  I don’t think anyone other than Valentine could have killed her without incurring some last minute moral compromise that would need space to be explored.  The “Of course” settles into place without any real discomfort.

The fate of Lucifer Eleanor is a different beast to parse out.  Issue #43’s ending threw us a curve ball in the form of one last rebellion by the consummate rebel.  I spent a fair amount of time over the last two months re-reading the series from the beginning, and what becomes immediately apparent is that Eleanor’s last hurrah would be blindingly obvious to anyone paying attention both to her and the other Pantheon members who identified with the Morningstar.  There’s a current of self-loathing through all of them that Eleanor embodies in her live-fast-die-young attitude.  Perhaps the more impressive trick lies in what Gillen points out at the climax of Eleanor and Laura’s come to Jesus moment: we got to see Lucifer so early in the series and the glimpses of her even after we found out she was still alive were so sparse that much of her characterization was left up to the fandom (both in-universe and out) to fill in.  She became this tabula rasa that we could project whatever we wanted onto, and because most of our perceptions of her were filtered through Laura, who loves everyone and who loved Lucifer first out of the whole Pantheon, a lot of the assumptions of Lucifer’s commitment to ending Ananke’s machinations were made.  Some folks probably didn’t fall for this trick (nothing’s ever a hundred percent effective), but I suspect enough did that most readers had to deal with some genuine shock at the twist.  Like Laura, we never really knew who Eleanor was.


Eleanor’s being irritated about having to be honest with herself is perhaps the most endearing thing she’s ever done. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)


Then in this issue, that twist gets upended in an assertion of empathy and humility that breaks down the last holdout of the lie at the center of the Pantheon: that everyone must play the roles they’re given instead of trying to be the identities they own.  Laura breaks it down clearly enough: her affinity for Eleanor from the start had more to do recognition of a common spirit than any specific draw the Lucifer persona had.  Laura, when we meet her, is a girl with no vision for a future life for herself; she can see that Eleanor, fully committed to living it up and flaming out, has similar non-aspirations.  Even if their hells are different, the important thing is that they’re both there.  Flash forward to this issue where Laura has already done most of the self discovery she needed to begin working her way out.  She’s past the descent into the underworld on her private hero’s journey, but she needs to go back to help out her fantasy girlfriend who hasn’t had as much opportunity to self actualize (being a head in a cabinet for the better part of two years can’t be terribly stimulating).  Eleanor likely has a lot more growing to do, but we can feel the trajectory she’s on settling into a comfortable path that probably doesn’t involve more jail time (it’s perhaps ironic that of the surviving ex-Pantheon, she is one of the most innocent with regards to the various crimes that bound them all together so tightly after Laura’s return as Persephone).


This is such a stunning iteration of the series’s signature descent in godhood pages. The simple change of having Laura climb down instead of tumbling speaks so much to the agency she’s found for herself after this whole ordeal. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

For Laura herself, the story ends in an inversion of the very first issue.  Gillen’s written somewhere in his discussion of the series that the image of Laura and Hazel sharing this initial moment of intense connection to each other and separation from the rest of the world was the seed of all of The Wicked + The Divine.  That core image of the two girls sustained so many arcs of the story, although Laura’s partner shifted frequently as her central relationship wandered among most of the other female characters before settling back on Eleanor here at the end.  The connection with Hazel was about heavenly ecstasy, and it never quite fit with who Laura is; Eleanor, despite being mostly a cipher, understands the depths of what Laura has gone through.  “There were two girls in hell.”  From there, she recapitulates her lowest moment as the unilateral judge of old Ananke, but now with an understanding that she needs to rely on her friends to work through these difficult moments.  Ananke’s final death is the only way to safely end the threat she represents, but it’s not a move Laura should make, and her decision not to serves to demonstrate how fully she’s pivoted away from the all consuming despair of being Persephone.  The issue’s final scene echoes the courtroom of issue #1 where Lucifer did her little song and dance that set off the whole messy chain of events, but now Laura is the defendant, and instead of making a show of it, she quietly accepts her fate.  She’s going to live.

All these parts click into place with a certain smooth inevitability like gravity pulling a tossed ball back down to Earth.  For so long it’s felt like everything was flying away, and much of the disorientation of the last arc made it hard to see where anything might be going (I’m still sort of dumbfounded with how minimal the tragedy in the resolution was after I spent months expecting some final cruelty before things could be laid to rest).  If there are any parts that are jarring, it must be that panel on the first page where the police, long absent from any of the proceedings of the gods, appear and communicate quite forcefully that we’re coming back to reality now.  Of course.


After everything this moment is far more surreal than any bit of magic we’ve ever seen. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Reading “The Wicked + The Divine #43”

I recently got Rachael to read The Wicked + The Divine, and one of the first things she observed after she got a few trades in (y’know, past the point where we start getting the cascade of revelations that make re-reading fun) is that the series works in a way that’s very similar to the television show Lost.  There are a lot of mysteries up front that get spooled out as hooks to keep readers speculating and wondering about how things will work out, but those are all predicated on withholding information until a predetermined moment in the narrative.  The OMG moments that typically cap each story arc are far less impactful once readers understand the rules that are in place.  It’s a story driven by revelations to the reader far more than decisions made by the characters.  I’m generally okay with this structure though, because WicDiv has always been about mystery and not necessarily knowing what the storyteller is doing but agreeing to go along for the ride anyway.  This is also the core of mystic religions, so I guess it works thematically; everything is story and story is everything.

Cassandra is easily my favorite character, and I don’t have much to say about this cover at this point. I’m just glad she finishes the issue not dead. (Cover by Jamie McKelve & Matt Wilson; Image credit: Comic Vine)

The cover of this issue features a portrait of Cassandra, and I don’t think I can emphasize how worried I was that she might not survive this issue.  I still fully expect that she might not survive the series, but the general sense of impending doom I’ve learned to associate with a character getting featured on a cover of The Wicked + The Divine had left me jumping into this issue with some trepidation.  I’m thankful that was not the case.  By this point I think we’re all pretty intimately familiar with McKelvie’s headshot covers.  Cassandra looks unusually stoic given the circumstances, and she adds one more entry to the set of the original twelve gods’ covers (Minerva will be getting her own next month, and then the only one missing a cover in this style will be Sakhmet, which is unlikely to be corrected).

With only two issues following this one (and one of those being the epilogue to the primary story), it’s time to set aside mysteries and begin offering resolutions.  The comparison to Lost ends at this point, as it feels like the ending is going in a direction that was planned all along.  We learn a lot about Ananke’s history as part of the original Pantheon, and the explanations she provides feel sensible.  It’s definitely not “a wizard did it” or “they really were in Purgatory the whole time” but something that might have been reasonably extrapolated earlier with enough insight and consideration of the sort of story that Gillen and McKelvie have been telling from the beginning.  Gods are founded on stories, and stories are imperfect reflections of lived experience, and the act of becoming a god is largely about being consumed by a story, whether people tell it about you or you tell it to yourself; either way all that’s needed is enough fervor to make the fiction believable.  Ananke conned her way to immortality on the backs of hundreds of people with a spark of magic in them, and the deeper tragedy beyond their victimization is that they were so eager to be conned in the first place.  We love to tell stories, and we especially love to tell stories that star ourselves.

Ananke’s sister explains what godhood is and what it does. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

The stories that the 2014 Pantheon have told themselves rest on the distillation of their most salient traits.  We saw it most starkly with Laura, as she was portrayed with considerable complexity in the run up to her ascension, but then during her time as Persephone the overriding mode of her interactions with everyone was self destructive.  Laura makes one bad decision after another, and they all stem from her total capitulation to her role as the Destroyer despite early evidence that there was so much more to her than a depressed teen who wanted a brief, bright life.  Persephone is a variation on Ananke’s sister’s god, She-in-Thirds (I’m dropping the Epithymia speculation at this point; desire no longer seems like the right word to characterize the sister’s role in the story).  It’s not totally clear to me how she fits into thirds; the underworld and agrarian fertility aspects are clear enough, but I don’t know much about any third role that Persephone would have historically played.  At any rate, Persephone’s an echo of that older goddess, but the aspect that Laura fixates on when she’s caught up in godhood is the underworld.  Laura’s been through some major traumas both before and immediately after her ascension, and that crystalizes her god concept around Persephone’s suffering.  As savvy readers we can see that there has to be a return from all that, but it’s interesting that Laura only escapes when she casts off the narrative pattern completely.

Faith in friends was actually a very good decision here, Laura. Also, you lucked out that Nergal decided to trade himself for Dionysus at the last minute. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Sort of ironically, this gets best exemplified in the action segment of the issue (I’ve grown to really appreciate brief action sequences in comics because there’s often very little interesting to say about them) which culminates with Ananke using Woden’s hijacked Dionysus machine to disrupt everyone and Laura being forced to admit (at least to the reader) that she doesn’t have a plan at all beyond trusting her friends to get through this mess somehow.  She’s not running a script so much as she’s just trying to muddle through something messy and chaotic; she lets things be less sharp, and it pays off.

Given Laura’s rejection of godhood in favor of a story that’s not quite so formulaic, it’s actually a bit of a relief to see her at the moment of climax agree to help Ananke explain things in a way that’s understandable.  The panel where Minerva struggles to produce even a tiny bit of miracle is heartbreaking in its way; I’m not ready to forgive Ananke for everything she’s done, but I can pity what she’s done to herself.  From the beginning, Ananke has been all about playing into recognizable tropes and archetypes with the way that she goes about arranging the dynamics of the Pantheon.  If you scrounge up enough lore about the entirety of human storytelling, she becomes a human cliche generator.  Ananke can’t tell a good story, even if she can tell very convincing lies (I’ve been re-reading the series lately, and there are so many nuggets of truth embedded in what she tells everyone early on), so she’s dependent on the power of her victims.  Laura taking that dynamic and subverting it with a genuine offer of assistance works pretty well for me.

Laura, in this moment you are so much better than you ever were. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Reading “The Wicked + The Divine #42”

I like to think about The Wicked + The Divine‘s individual issues largely in terms of how they reflect various characters’ arcs.  This issue features major developments across three characters who’ve been various levels of antagonistic to Laura across the span of the series.  One of them is about hitting an inflection point in the transition from heel to face while the other two are studies in how character arcs can end either in epiphany or ignominy.

This is probably the creepiest cover that McKelvie and Wilson have done yet. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson; Image credit: Comic Vine)

The cover for this issue is a portrait of one of Woden’s Valkyries.  It’s never been extremely clear how consistently individual Valkyries wear specific colors, but the pink trim suggests to me that this is supposed to be Eir, the woman who had the misfortune of being Sakhmet’s handler way back in issue #17.  Her face is splattered with someone’s blood.  We’ve seen this motif before on the cover of issue #35 where 1923’s Minerva looked gleefully murderous.  Knowing what we know about Minerva and Ananke at this point, that attitude is disturbing but understandable.  The Valkyrie, by contrast, looks totally impassive.  There’s no fear, no anger, no joy, nothing in her expression.  It’s way more chilling than any of the other relatively gruesome covers that have come out across the series.

This is the moment where Woden, having been given due warning about the danger he’s in, decides that he is still totally capable of pulling this Pantheon ruse off. “Men like you” indeed. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Because we’re speeding towards the series conclusion, and this is a story that’s always been explicit about the need for a high body count, we get two major character deaths in this issue.  They’re the central study in contrasting character arcs, so let’s take them in turn.  I’ll begin with Woden since his arc feels significantly less complex than what we get at the issue’s end.  Woden has been the unrepentant jerk of the Pantheon since the series’s beginning; he manipulates women for his own gratification, he sells his allies out for minor advantage, and he betrayed his son for the sake of a few months of luxury and power.  At every turn he has resisted revealing some nobler agenda; the only redeeming qualities that he seems to have are a shallow affection for Cassandra and the fact that despite all the terrible stuff he’s done to Jon, his son still wants him to be okay.  Despite all of these negative qualities, Gillen manages to give Woden a death that’s both tragic and fitting at the same time.  Given every opportunity to make a better choice, Woden to the very end makes the calculation that he thinks will give him more power heedless of others’ warnings.  His death here is grotesque and self inflicted and entirely unnecessary if he had just had the good sense to take a genuine gift instead of trying to leverage more advantage.  There’s no redemptive moment for the creepy middle-aged dude who hangs around with a bunch of teens, which is probably precisely what Gillen wants given his transition away from writing stories about young people with WicDiv‘s impending end.  About the only sympathetic thing I can say about Woden is that his death is extremely gruesome and horrifying.  Everyone else in the Pantheon that’s died has at least gotten relatively swift ends; Woden gets torn apart by the very women he victimized the most.  It’s all ugly and brutal and reveals pretty much nothing new about a character who told us from his first appearance exactly what he was.

Nergal finally understands the deal with making grown up decisions. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Contrast all of that with the issue’s major sympathetic death; Nergal, upon learning that he’ll be losing his god powers as part of Laura’s plan to take down Ananke and that he’s the only Underworld god left who can do resurrections, runs away from the rest of the group to visit Dionysus in the hospital.  Dio’s been brain dead since his big hero moment in issue #32, which is only mostly dead in this case.  Having established with the Morrigan that the Underworld gods can resurrect other gods, but only at the cost of their own lives, it becomes immediately apparent what Nergal intends to do.  He’s spent the entire series being terrified of the death sentence that the Morrigan put on him when she asked Ananke to bring him into the Pantheon; avoiding it death has been the chief motivator behind almost every bad decision Nergal’s made since his ascendance.  Choosing to use his power to save his best friend at the cost of his own life marks a complete reversal from what Nergal attempted to do with Inanna.  It’s also the completion of a redemptive character arc that mirrors Woden’s totally unrepentant one.  Both characters’ initial appearances are built on tropes surrounding abusive and controlling men.  Our introduction to Nergal as Baphomet involved him gleefully brandishing the apparent severed head of his female lover, and from there his early appearances revolved around inviting Laura deeper and deeper into a series of at best unsafe and at worst self-destructive choices.  Despite these early parallels to Woden, Nergal also reveals at every turn in his own story that while he makes many very bad, selfish choices, he has a genuine, if weak, desire to do right by the people he cares about.  Coming into his own as someone who can be self sufficient (even though that metamorphosis is incomplete when we catch up with him in issue #41) is a major accomplishment given those beginnings, and his totally independent decision to offer Dionysus his chance at returning to a normal life marks the completion of that development.  I’m really sad that Nergal dies, and I’m really happy that he does it in a way that gives final closure to a throughline of his character that’s been present from the beginning.

The third character arc of the issue belongs to Baal, and unlike the previous two, he makes it to the last page intact, which means that his story isn’t finished yet.  There are still some questions left to answer regarding Baal’s development: once the crisis is over, assuming he survives, how is he going to square his child murdering with the fact that he was completely manipulated by Ananke?  Baal is a character fueled almost exclusively by his passion, and while in the moment of realization that he’s been doing evil things needlessly he seems pretty set on punishing himself, it’s hard to judge how other factors like Inanna’s survival and just having some time to process how Ananke is at fault for all of his actions since the beginning of the Recurrence.  While I was initially skeptical that Inanna wasn’t just the purely good person that he appears to be, I’ve come around to thinking that if anyone in this mess deserves to have a happy ending, it’s him and Baal.  I don’t know how likely it is that Gillen will give them that ending (above all else, fear hope), or even what would need to happen for Baal to both be able to forgive himself enough to be happy with Inanna and receive an appropriate consequence for murdering children.  There may not be a way to thread that needle.

There’s a lot going on inside Baal’s head at this moment. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson)

Reading “The Wicked + The Divine #41”

The first time I read this issue, I reached the final page and immediately thought that this whole thing had to be a trap.  My storytelling instincts have always pointed towards the possibility that The Wicked + The Divine will end as a story about pyrrhic victories.  Laura will find a way to manage her depression and her self-destructive tendencies just long enough to end Ananke’s Recurrence, but it will probably kill her and all her friends in the process.

Issue #41 hinges on suggesting a different trajectory: Laura has a plan that can restore most of the not-actually-dead gods, and she’s going to marshal the forces of the dysfunctional Pantheon to do Ananke in.  The day will be saved and most folks will get to have some form of a happily ever after.

It’s all about hope. Also, tangetially, would you be more or less chill about someone sticking a knife in your mouth after you’d have your lips sewn shut? (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

This is where alarm bells start going off, because hope is the last thing you want to pop up in a Kieron Gillen story.  Hope is the thing that makes you think against all available evidence that things might, just might, turn out okay.  It’s the whet stone that sharpens the dagger just a bit more before it gets plunged into your heart.  Everything about this issue is hopeful, and I am more afraid than ever that this story will conclude with Ananke victorious and everyone dying pointlessly just short of the goal.  In a story preoccupied with mortality and youth’s obscene sense of invincibility, it could happen without feeling like something we couldn’t have foreseen.  Lucifer and Inanna and Mimir have bodies again, and I am afraid for all of the Pantheon again.

Everything about this cover says “Woden” to me except for the circuitry motif in the background. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson; Image credit: Comic Vine)

The cover of this issue echoes the cover of issue #7; in place of Woden’s featureless mask upon which we can project all of our loathing, we have Mimir, the true member of the Pantheon, staring back behind the helmet his own father forces him to wear.  Jon Blake’s aesthetic as Mimir, prior to his father’s betrayal, is the general inspiration for Woden’s look, but with a nod more towards the synthesis of natural and artificial.  Jon’s face bears marks that resemble circuitry embedded in his skin (very much like the background of this cover).  The helmet that Woden forces him to wear (along with the artificial body his head is mounted on) bears a strong resemblance to Valkyrie armor rather than the sleek bodysuit that he was sporting immediately after his ascension.  We’ve gotten to see so little of Jon and his personality, and that’s largely because David has been superimposing his own image on top of his son’s potential.  It’s a relief when Cassandra finally gets Jon out of the helmet that’s been his prison for the entirety of the series.  I hope this cover’s the last we see of this particular accessory.

This is a good look for Nergal. Shame he arrived at it so late. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

The synopsis for the issue goes like this: Laura rescues the Norns and the heads from Woden’s prison in the mansion where the official apparatus of the Pantheon now operates since Baal burned down Valhalla, and then she takes them all to the Underground where Nergal (he’s done calling himself Baphomet ever since he was revived by the Morrigan) has finished his altar to his dead girlfriend and uses the Morrigan’s bodies to reincorporate Lucifer, Inanna, and Mimir (Tara chooses to remain just a head) while Laura explains (part of) her plan to take Ananke down.  In the midst of all that plotty goodness is the real meat of the issue: the feels that come from a cascade of moments of self actualization and reunion.  To whit, Laura saves Cassandra and they make up from their last fight; Laura finds Lucifer, who’s not bothered by the long time it’s taken Laura to get herself together; Cassandra frees Jon from Woden’s shackles and blows up the mansion (while beating up some Valkyries in a most satisfying manner); the heads explain that Minerva and Ananke are the same person; Laura finds out that Sakhmet is definitely dead (okay, that one isn’t positive, but it’s a feels punch); Laura helps Nergal let go of his history with the Morrigan so he can actually help everyone else; and the newly reconstituted Team Underworld agree to trust Laura and her (still mostly unexplained) plan.  It’s a lot of stuff to unpack, particularly between Laura and Nergal, who strike me as the emotional stars of the issue.

While we got to see a glimpse of the Laura who’s gotten it together at the conclusion of the last issue with her rescue of the crowd at the O2 disaster, this is the first time since she sorted things out at the end of issue #39 where we get to be in her head and have her talk with us about what she’s thinking.  She seems a lot steadier here than she did just a couple issues ago when much of her internal monologue was focused just on coaching herself to take positive actions instead of sulking in her own head.  Given the extreme stress of the situation (there’s a lot of bad news delivered and received in addition to all the happy things going on), Laura’s doing pretty well.  It’s good to see her back on her feet and making those repeated decisions to keep moving forward.

He’s talking about holding on to the Morrigan despite their abusive codependent relationship that resulted in his impending early demise. Dude still has some baggage that he’s working through. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Nergal is a whole different sort of mess.  It’s clear from his conversation with Laura that they’ve already discussed using the Morrigan’s bodies to help out the heads once they’ve been rescued, but that previous discussion ended unresolved.  Nergal needs a bit of a push to let go.  He feels like he’s a couple steps behind Laura in his recovery; he realized that he and the Morrigan were extremely bad for each other, and now that she’s gone he’s trying to muster the strength to move past her.  Being an underworld god with the ability to revive other folks has its temptations, and his observation that he and the Morrigan could just wrap themselves up in an endless cycle of death and resurrection as they share one life while being forever apart has a certain goth appeal to it.  The fact that that sort of bleak romance where everyone’s unhappy but deeply satisfied with the image of themselves as tortured lovers is just a variation on what he’s been through ever since the Morrigan brought Nergal into the Pantheon doesn’t seem to escape him or Laura.  Even in the face of a remarkably shortened life, Nergal doesn’t have to spend the remainder of his trapped in his past.

Following all these positive developments, the issue finishes on a triumphant note as Cassandra, in like her third moment of pristine badassery in this issue, declares that she knows how to find the Great Darkness, which they’ll need to resolve if they have any hope of getting Baal to come around on the Ananke issue.  It’s glorious, and I am still oh so scared of how things are going to shake out.

There will be answers next issue, but Laura is really keen on this whole “Trust me” thing, so we’ll go with it. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)