In a stunning, from-behind victory, this week’s Spotlight shines on…
The Wicked + The Divine #32
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Cover (B): Noelle Stevenson
Every ninety years twelve gods return as young people. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are all dead. It’s happening now. It’s happening again.
And with that, you have the basic setup of The Wicked + The Divine, or WicDiv, as the lazier among us refer to it.
The gods walk among us, but then, they always have, in some fashion. We just don’t call them that.
WicDiv serves as an allegory for the glamour, allure, and danger of pop stardom, literally casting the gods as the kind of pop stars they figuratively represent.
While music often figures prominently in the work produced by Gillen and McKelvie (see Recommended Reading below), it makes sense as a storytelling element here. The gods of WicDiv are, after all, for all their divine attributes, still young people, and how better to make yourself known to the world and build a loyal following of worshipers than through musical superstardom?
Back at the beginning, we were introduced to the gods from the perspective of a girl named Laura, a sort of divine groupie whose fondest wish was to join the Pantheon. In time, she got everything she ever wanted…and that pissed her right the fuck off.
After all, her role in the Pantheon is that of Persephone, a goddess who, in myth, was forced to live in Hell.
Well, there’s also the fact that Ananke, an immortal who, throughout the millennia, had served as a mentor to the newly-minted gods during their brief lives on Earth, killed her parents, as well as several of the current members of the Pantheon.
While the gods were enjoying the perks of fame and divinity, Ananke was up to something. Was being the operative word, as Persephone recently blew her head off.
Whatever Ananke was up to, however, had apparently been in service to a greater cause, working to find a way to fend off the coming Great Darkness. Working with the Daft Punk-esque Woden, who, as a mortal, had been the very worst kind of red-pilled, MRA, GamerGater piece of shit, and as a god is the very worst kind of divine red-pilled, MRA, GamerGater piece of shit, Ananke had constructed some sort of machine.
No one, not even Woden, knows what it does, and so, as a bit of an experiment to try to find out, the Norns, with Woden’s assistance – he had been cowed into behaving by Persephone – arranged a big stadium gig in which they would utilize Dionysius’s ability to create a hivemind with the audience/worshipers to
wicked divine the purpose of the machine.
Unfortunately, Woden wasn’t so well-behaved as he led the others to believe, and decided to utilize the hivemind to his own ends (which is to say, mind-controlling Asian girls). Dionysius – in a visually-stunning action sequence – fights valiantly, but ultimately in vain, to put an end to Woden’s scheme. He does, at least, buy enough time for the Norns to regain consciousness after having been knocked out by Woden, and despite Woden’s protest that it’s really about ethics in scripture, is unable to win the Norns over to his way of thinking and beats a hasty retreat.
Meanwhile, Persephone’s lover Sakhmet has been in hiding from the other members of the Pantheon, stemming from a disagreement about her habit of murdering people and other gods. Returning to Persephone’s place after having murdered Amaterasu, she’s confronted by Baal, who is, to the extent that gods can be led, the leader of the Pantheon.
Sakhmet gains the upper claw, and is about to kill Persephone, until the timely – and traumatizing – intervention of Minerva, the youngest of the gods, leaves Sakhmet with a splitting headache.
Head. Split head. Well, exploded head, really.
Dionysus isn’t much better off; while his head remains in one piece and attached to his body, his mind is gone.
Back at the stadium, an angry confrontation between the Norns – a part of whom had been a young music/god critic named Cassandra – leads to the discovery of a hidden chamber, the mystery of which, presumably, will be revealed in the next issue.
WicDiv is a challenging comic, made moreseo by the sieve-like nature of my memory; my inability to keep track of what happened from issue to issue makes a strong case for doing some more trade-waiting. However, it consistently rewards you for accepting the challenge, with interesting twists, revelations, and often infuriating betrayals and alliances.
I will say that I would probably enjoy it more if I were a bit younger, or were a lot more plugged into the music scene than I am, as I feel like there are nuances that my age and relatively narrow musical tastes prevent me from seeing.
Still, if nothing else, pop culture osmosis makes the high concept of “gods as pop stars” an easy thing to grok, given the mythic status so many of the real-world mortal pop stars attain. The two-year time limit is an obvious parallel to the fleeting nature of fame, and simply expanding on the power pop stars hold over us and our worship of them and adding divine power and actual worship of them into the mix provides a setting for rich and complex-yet-understandable storytelling. We already treat our stars like gods, so this is simply the obvious next step.
Throw in godly powers, and suddenly the feud between Katy Perry and Taylor Swift becomes the battle between Tiamat and Marduk*, or suddenly you have Britney Spears exploding heads rather than shaving her own in her infamous public meltdown.
I’m a big fan of Jamie McKelvie’s clean, modern style, which has more than a hint of the commercial art-inspired style of the late Patrick Nagel. It suits the material perfectly, and his design work is phenomenal. Each of the gods has a unique style that suits their divine natures, without losing the underlying humanity of the children that they once were, and, in many ways, still are.
I mentioned that the sequence featuring Dionysus attempting to reach Woden is visually-stunning, but it’s also well-designed, and utilizes a clever panel structure to reinforce the basic idea that reaching Woden is simply a matter of doing one thing and then just repeating that one thing as many times as necessary.
For Dionysus, it’s a breakdown of the task into its component parts that works. Until it doesn’t.
The visual flow, in a panel layout that is repeated over several pages, shows that progression from initial success to inevitable failure brilliantly.
Ultimately, WicDiv is one of those so-obvious-yet-brilliant-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that ideas. I say it’s challenging in part because it has a relatively large cast and a lot of plot threads to follow, but beyond that it challenges us, as fans, as worshipers, to examine our own role in creating – and destroying – our modern mythical figures.
We elevate children to the level of gods, and then we fault them for proving to be wicked rather than divine.
We love them. We hate them.
It’s happening now. It’s happening again.
THE COMPLETE PHONOGRAM – Collected in a single volume for the first time, the first critically beloved work from the creators of The Wicked + the Divine. Includes RUE BRITANNIA, THE SINGLES CLUB and THE IMMATERIAL GIRL, with RUE BRITANNIA coloured for the first time. The world where Music Is Magic has never looked better.
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE DELUXE EDITION: YEAR ONE – Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson return with an Eisner Award-nominated modern fantasy where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. Revel in the opulence of this over-sized hardback! Revel in it! Collects issues 1 through 11.
I’ve decided that when a book that’s in the midst of a mutli-part story arc wins the Weigh In, but the successive issue does not win when it’s up for a vote, I’ll provide a brief recap in the Spotlight.
This week, it’s Wonder Woman #32.
In part two of “Children of the Gods,” Diana and Steve meet with Steve’s former employer, the metahuman-monitoring agency known as A.R.G.U.S. who has the body of Hercules in its custody, along with several other, similarly-drained bodies whom Diana realizes are other, unknown children of Zeus. The bodies all have faint traces of Apokoliptian energy, leading Diana to reason that Grail must be the killer. Following another burst of that energy that A.R.G.U.S. detects, Diana, Steve, and Steve’s former teammates the Oddfellows (Sameer, Charile, and Chief), head to the Catacombs in Paris where they find a lot of action in a pitched battle with Parademons, but no answers.
With that over, Diana meets up with Hercules’s lawyer and visits her newly-inherited cabin. The lawyer gives Diana a letter from her late half-brother, who explains that he is ashamed of the many less-than heroic things he’s done in his long life – only hinting at his role in the enslavement of the Amazons – and that he has watched her career from afar with pride and, well, wonder, letting her know the love and admiration he feels for his sister. He also tells her that her twin brother was entrusted to the care of one of his fellow Argonauts, himself an immortal, and provides the coordinates at which he can be found.
The issue ends with a reunion of brother and sister.
The best part of the issue is Steve’s recognition that, in terms of battle, Steve doesn’t contribute much that Diana needs and that she just tries to make him feel useful, even though he is, as Charlie points out, simply “eye candy.”
That’s it for this Spotlight Sunday. Thanks to everyone who voted, and be sure to come back for the next Weigh In Wednesday.
*Consider: Before being killed by Marduk, Tiamat brought forth the first dragons, whose bodies were filled with poison instead of blood. Bad blood. Hey!