Spencer: Last year I had the privilege of spending a day working as a roadie for my favorite band, Saves the Day. I was extremely fortunate that the guys in Saves lived up to my expectations; they’re probably the nicest, most genuine guys I know and went out of their way to make me feel comfortable, but even so, spending time backstage with them and their crew felt like entering a strange new world, with culture and customs all their own. I couldn’t help but think about this while reading Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine 4, as Laura gets to spend time in the private world of her idols. But while I had the best day of my life, Laura seems to walk away from the experience in much deeper trouble than when she started.
Baal brings Laura and Cassandra to Woden’s Valhalla, the private retreat of the Pantheon, and quickly escorts Laura to their throne room, where she meets six of the gods — led by the ancient Ananke — face-to-face. The confrontation does little to ease Laura’s worries or help prove Luci’s innocence; Ananke claims that Luci made a mistake using her abilities on humans and that she has to remain behind bars until the real killer is found, lest she risk ending the cycle of recurrences. Luci, of course, doesn’t take too kindly to this, and she promptly burns her way out of jail (all to the music of the Rolling Stones, because of course).
As Baal is so fond of pointing out, Laura is a Pantheon-fangirl, so it’s easy to understand her awe at finally coming face-to-face with so many at once, especially in the heart of their sanctuary.
Laura had been spending enough time with Luci and the other gods that she probably thought she understood them pretty well, but the grandeur of their throne room — which is more Tron than Ancient Greece — and the very presence of so many gods in one place ended up leaving her absolutely speechless. Moreover, any ideas or complaints she has about how Ananke and the others are handling the Luci situation are quickly pushed aside or rendered irrelevant. Besides a brief moment of shock when Laura suggests that any one of them could be the killer, the Pantheon acts like they’re above Laura’s concerns, with Ananke especially concerned only with how their actions affect the humans’ perception of them.
It’s interesting how Ananke’s concerns are rooted in concepts and history Laura wouldn’t — and in some cases couldn’t — understand. The way Ananke speaks of Lucifer in the above image paints her as an outsider even among the Pantheon, and her concerns about the end of the recurrences and humanity’s ability to fight back against them are both rooted in history that just wouldn’t be common knowledge to most people.
Ananke’s response here makes me theorize that she may actually be the murderer, or at least the orchestrator behind the frame-up. After all, Ananke wants to teach Luci a lesson about using her powers while simultaneously using her as a scapegoat; she has everything to gain from putting her behind bars.
The other thing that stood out to me about this meeting is the various gods’ response to their two-year expiration date. We’ve obviously seen this touched upon in previous issues, but this is the one where it really seems to hit home for some of the gods (particularly Luci), and they all react to it differently. Sakhmet seems content to use her remaining time pursuing hedonism, Amaterasu and Baal both seem to want to use their time to inspire others (although with entirely different aims), and poor Minerva just can’t get over the unfairness of it all.
Yeah, the one thing Gillen makes abundantly clear is that none of the Pantheon is happy with their situation, which actually leads me to a second theory: whoever framed Luci wanted her to escape prison, and hopes to bring Ananke’s worst fears to life. What if the framer is trying to turn humanity against the Pantheon, trying to end the recurrences? Perhaps they think ending the recurrences would stop them from dying in two years, or perhaps they’re simply tired of immortality and the endless grind of being reborn every 90 years. Either way, the more we find out about the Pantheon, the more the pool of suspects grows larger instead of shrinking.
The rest of the book focuses on Luci’s escape, and, of course, McKelvie makes it spectacular. It’s no secret that Gillen and McKelvie favor grids — especially 8-panel grids — as their layout of choice, and they use it to great effect during Laura and Luci’s conversation particularly, but the fact that McKelvie sticks to grids throughout the entire issue makes the moment he breaks free from them all the more powerful.
The askew panels here give the sequence energy, and McKelvie uses the shape and position of the panels several times to influence what goes on within the panel, such as Laura’s chair being thrown into the corner on the first page of that image and Luci’s “KLKK” on the second page. Colorist Matt Wilson is indispensable as well, giving this spread a deathly red hue that only further emphasizes the absolute horror of Luci’s abilities. The choice of red here is an effective contrast to the overwhelming, almost antiseptic blue of Valhalla that dominates the first half of the issue; it also further emphasizes Luci’s outsider status amongst the rest of the Pantheon.
Really though, I could just gush all day about the art in this one; McKelvie’s facial expressions are even more on-point than usual, especially when depicting Luci when she first hears Laura’s story and, later, her transformation just before escaping prison. If I don’t stop myself here, though, I’ll never shut up, so I’d better hand this off. Suzanne, I’m eager to hear your thoughts and theories; with so much going on in this issue, you’re bound to come up with something I missed.
Suzanne: Is Luci really that different from the rest of the Pantheon? Each of them is capable of murder — even Amaterasu, who Kieron Gillen portrays as a sweet, new-age hippie, says, “I couldn’t but I could.” Ananke mentions that any god with the power of fire is capable of committing the crime. Unfortunately, this doesn’t narrow down Laura’s list of suspects very much.
Let’s break down the Pantheon into (literal) gods, not just their celebrity affectations. Amaterasu is a Shinto deity, a sun goddess that rules the heavens. Sakhmet is an Egyptian warrior goddess, a solar deity who bears the solar disk from her father Ra. Minerva is probably one of the more familiar names on the list for readers. She’s a Roman goddess of wisdom and virginity. McKelvie’s choice of drawing her as a young girl could be more than a little ironic. Could she possibly kill an innocent judge? Well, let’s not forget she holds the title of goddess of war as well.
Baal is an interesting inclusion into the Pantheon, as he’s the only one specifically named a “false god” from the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. The word itself means simply “lord” and refers to a range of gods. Baal Hadad is the lord of the sky, lightning and rain of the Canaanites (anyone remember them from Sunday school?) In contrast, Baal Hammon is a sky god most commonly associated with child sacrifice in Carthage. That’s why Baal explains their differences in this issue. Him being the lesser of two evils doesn’t preclude him from making my short list of suspects.
Beyond unraveling a murder mystery, there’s many rich layers of meaning in this book. The decision to include gods from different mythology feels purposeful, even though I may not fully appreciate their roles in the greater narrative yet. Baal’s painting in the opening panels of the issue plays with the idea of imagery in religion. It’s not lost on me that he’s a person of color, while traditionally Western religious imagery portrays gods and demigods as strictly Caucasian. Baal later references “an old white guy in an ivory tower.” He may be echoing some of Gillen’s hang-ups about race and religion here. Gillen seems to be committed to analyzing both sides of these characters — the celebrity as well as the ancient myths. I personally am entranced more by the religious iconography than the pop culture.
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?