Spencer: When Patrick and I would discuss Young Avengers, our articles would often turn into debates about whether the dialogue was “too clever” or not (I’m thinking of this article in particular). I’ve personally always thought that something being “too clever” wasn’t possible — I love distinctive, clever dialogue and prefer that to dialogue that tries to be realistic and instead comes across as bland or boring — but I admit I caught myself thinking “man, this might be too clever for it’s own good” once or twice as I read The Wicked + The Divine 3. Fortunately, I think there’s some sound, character-based reasons for the “cleverness” of the cast (specifically Morrigan and Baphomet) that helps to inform how the title’s pantheon view themselves compared to the world at large — and how the world at large views them.
Baphomet’s murder of the Morrigan turns out to be a cruel joke, but it’s a joke that enrages the Morrigan, transforming her into Badb; the sexually-charged conflict between them threatens to destroy the entire underground, and only Laura’s quick thinking slows things down enough for the cops to break the assembly up. Before getting arrested, Laura is able to question the Morrigan about Luci’s frame-job and discovers that both she and Baphomet have an alibi. Laura meets with Cassandra and together they run down their list of suspects — and, in doing so, enrage the god Baal!
The parts of this issue that set off my “too clever” alarms were entirely the scenes between Baphomet and the Morrigan/Badb/Annie. The two have a fiery love/hate relationship that, when they’re not actively trying to murder each other, mostly asserts itself in the form of scathing insults, but their banter is so clever and oddly-worded that it took me several reads to suss out just exactly each character was saying (Badb’s habit of speaking in the third person didn’t help in that matter).
It took me a while to look past the difficulty of this scene to see exactly why these characters spoke this way (beyond writer Kieron Gillen’s knack for dense, clever dialogue), but I actually think there’s very valid reasons for it. Baphomet, Morrigan, and the rest of their pantheon are gods, with abilities and comprehension far beyond that of mere mortals. Throughout their entire confrontation there’s the sense that they’re communicating with each other on a plane that neither Laura nor the audience can truly comprehend.
When defending the clever dialogue of Gillen’s Young Avengers I often said that it may not be how teenagers actually talk, but it’s certainly how they wish they talked, and I also get a sense of wish-fulfillment with the pantheon here too. As I noted in our write-up of issue one, most of the fans we’ve seen of these gods so far have been teenagers, and I get the sense that the over-the-top, otherworldly pop-star enigma these gods present may be much of the reason why; as frightening as Luci or the Morrigan can be, it’s easy to see why Laura would so closely model herself after them.
Of course, this also gives us a peek into how Baphomet and the Morrigan view themselves compared to humanity; unlike Amaterasu, who claims to be a benevolent god, these two barely think twice about killing dozens in the crossfire of their personal feuds.
Fortunately, for whatever otherworldly aspirations and clever nods this book may hold, it’s also grounded in some legitimate emotion. The scene where an arrested Laura comes home to her angry parents, for example, is practically ripped from my own personal experiences.
While we still don’t know the specifics of Laura’s relationship with her parents — she never allows us to hear their dialogue — she seems to want them to pay more attention to her, to set more boundaries, yet chafes whenever they do pay attention or discipline her. It’s a contradictory set of emotions that perfectly fits the confusing, emotionally charged teenage years.
I’m also intrigued by the third panel of that image, where Laura addresses the audience directly with an April Ludgate-esque glance and mentions that she “regrets [us] seeing this.” I already mentioned that Laura never “allows” us to hear her parents’ dialogue, and it raises the question of just exactly how much power Laura has over this narrative and how we experience it. Shane, any thoughts?
Meanwhile, artist Jamie McKelvie, colorist Matthew Wilson, and letterer Clayton Cowles make an absolutely perfect team; it’s astounding how in-sync they are with each other.
Just look at this spread; McKelvie is on fire as he depicts the Morrigan’s transformation into Babd and the chaos it causes for the bystanders in the background, Wilson’s colors are appropriately otherworldly, and even Cowles’ letters get in on the act, with the Morrigan’s words themselves transforming into crows just like the rest of her. I was also particularly impressed with the following sequence:
The composition of this scene is just so clever, allowing Cassandra and Luci to converse even though Luci isn’t there because of Laura’s prior interactions with her, but for all the character and world-building it does, it’s still a bunch of talking heads; this is where McKelvie’s gift for facial expressions comes in. McKelvie finds the perfect expression for each panel, imbuing Cassandra and Luci with that much more personality in the process. McKelvie takes what had the potential to be a slower scene and makes it just as visually interesting as the action sequences, and that kind of ability cannot be overpraised.
So now I’m going to turn things over to our guest-writer, Shane, who was actually the person who first turned me on to the works of Gillen and McKelvie by selling me a copy of Phonogram: The Singles Club (he also included a stack of Rob Liefeld comics in that package, but I’ve since forgiven him). Shane, did you find any of this “too clever”, or did it all work for you? Any thoughts on the gods, Laura and Cassandra, or any of the work of this stellar creative team I may have overlooked?
Shane: It’s funny that you mentioned how you thought the issue might be a tad too clever, because I felt the same: by the end of the underground scenes, I sat there staring at the page, wondering exactly what I’d experienced, and it’s something that brought up a lot of thoughts in my mind, some related to your concession that these gods experience a higher level of reality than we may, and as such their conversations could be notably more intense, with perhaps a partially unspoken component. Because you’re right: as a whole, the scene is rough. It works on a technical standpoint, and while I don’t want to say that it doesn’t “flow” (Gillen/McKelvie projects tend to read with a certain level of smoothness that many other books lack), there’s definitely a difference between how that scene works and how the rest of the series has gone so far.
To a degree, that may even be intentional. If we found it difficult to understand, with the benefits of being able to control our reading experience (something you referenced in your Multiversity review recently, no?), how do you think Laura felt? How do you think the other bystanders, less immersed in the world of the gods than Laura may be, felt? Because for them, this was a one-and-done. They’d be left scratching their heads, especially given how impossible The Morrigan must seem: she declares herself an “underworld triple-queen”. The idea of threefold gods is plenty in mythology, with “Maiden/Mother/Crone” being arguably the most common split, but outside of a few half-hearted efforts (notably, recent Thor comics replaced Odin with a triple goddess), it’s an idea not fully explored. The idea that a single human female has been transformed into this human goddess must seem incredible to those fanning over the gods, and I hope to see Gillen explore it more deeply, including the time before The Morrigan’s divinity was revealed to her: was she a normal human female? Did she suffer from a mental disorder? Multiple personalities, voices, something of the like? I’m digressing, now, quite a bit from the original point: any scene involving a triple goddess, especially of the underworld, could be rather intense, and the creative team may have intentionally designed it as such. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it works (I’m still not convinced it does), but I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt towards the writer’s skill, and what his aims were.
Visually, of course, the scene is incredible and, as is often the case with a McKelvie/Wilson collaboration, I ended up floored by what could’ve been a mundane page by any other artist. When Laura, already unnerved and trapped between warring dark gods, becomes engulfed by darkness, I can only imagine it would’ve been so simple for an artist to show her running from the waves of darkness, to show the chaotic nature of how the crowd reacted…but that isn’t Jamie McKelvie. As you mentioned, Spencer, he excels at facial expressions, and that’s been his strength back since his first published works (in fact, it was in action scenes that he initially seemed to struggle, although he’s obviously improved bounds), and so for here, he settles on just Laura. And we see, in each of the five panels, how her thoughts progress: she notices the darkness, realizes how it surrounds her, then how there’s nothing she can do, then she surrenders, and finally, in that last panel, there’s a sheer moment of horror. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with that final image. There’s barely any image there, even: most of the panel is utter blackness, but you get such a sense of her emotion there.
As you’ve said, of course, McKelvie’s talent for facial expression lends itself well towards talking heads scenes, and I think it’s fairly fascinating that, in all of Gillen’s works, we only really see him embrace the talking heads model when it’s a Gillen/McKelvie project. (And now I feel compelled to look into whether either of the creative team has expressed a love for the band, The Talking Heads, as I ponder far too frequently about their musical tastes, and Psycho Killer would be a song properly in their wheelhouse, no?) More than being just well-designed, though, the Cassandra/Lucifer faux-conversation is one of the most revealing sequences in the series yet, offering up crucial information to as-of-now unseen gods. In these simple panels, right here, we watch Gillen set up potentially years of stories, in much the same way his early Thor work led to the incredible Journey Into Mystery conclusion: it was all right there on the page if you knew where to look, and now, he’s getting to play with long-form experimental storytelling once again. For a Gillen fan, it’s incredibly exciting. For a Team Phonogram devotee, it’s basically orgasmic.
At any given moment, Shane is probably spending money that he doesn’t have. When not driving himself towards poverty, Shane spends his time writing and working in the food industry of New York City. You can bear witness to his escapades through his Twitter handle @shanevolpone.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?