Today, Suzanne and Spencer are discussing The Wicked + The Divine 5, originally released October 22nd, 2014.
Suzanne: Comic book solicitations bring out my cynical side. How can they so casually throw around phrases like “changed forever,” “new status quo” and “earth-shattering events”? Does every sentence need to end with an exclamation point?! I get that their purpose is for marketing and selling comics, really I do. But the end result is that readers expect instant gratification each month. Some of us lose sight of the bigger picture — story arcs need time to build dramatic tension and not every issue will (or should) end in a cliffhanger or a climactic moment. I’d go a step further and argue that smaller moments can be equally important to character and plot development.
The Wicked + The Divine 5 effortlessly combines shocking, “game changing” events with softer character reactions. The first four issues of this series laid the groundwork for this departure. Gillen and McKelvie gave readers hints of what these gods were capable of like Sakhmet’s fierce, primal aggression. But this issue invokes an awe and apprehension in readers that mirrors Laura’s fangirl reaction to The Pantheon.
The Highlights: Luci continues to burn her way through town after breaking out of prison. I love how Gillen marks time by referencing the number of cigarettes Luci smokes. Amaterasu and Laura try to intercede before Baal slams her (literally) into the pavement.
Laura recognizes that “They’re going to kill her” and drags Cassandra down to the train tracks. She almost gets herself killed imploring The Morrigan to help. McKelvie’s character design for The Morrigan is so graceful and unsettling. The Morrigan creates a distraction blotting out the sky with ravens as Laura pulls her into a house with Cassandra’s news crew. Luci pauses for a moment of introspection and apologizes to Cassandra for being a bitch. She also repays Laura for the save with a lighter that is certainly more than it seems.
Luci opens the door and Ananke blows her head off with the flick of her finger. Laura blacks out and then begs The Pantheon to bring her back, holding her headless corpse.
Unfortunately, it looks like her death is irreversible. Luci’s death has some finality to it also because this is an indie comic. She (probably) won’t be brought back to life ten issues from now unless Gillen skips forward to the next Recurrence. Laura gives a series of interviews after the event, still covered in Luci’s blood. She slips into a deep depression, lights up a cigarette using Luci’s lighter and poof! she can light up using her finger. To be continued in the next issue, satanic powers and all.
One element that really shines in this issue is Laura’s role as protagonist and Everyman. She grounds the series with human reactions despite all of the fantastical events and characters. Her blacking out and the page being black with just a few words after the fact is powerful.
And what other reaction could you have to someone’s head being blown off? Also, I appreciate how Laura sees herself on the news and how her fifteen minutes of fame aren’t as satisfying to her. She reflects, “I feel like they’d slice my face off.” In contrast, when Luci breaks down earlier in the issue she insists that they keep filming. Ananke also seeks out the news team after she kills Luci and explain The Pantheon’s relationship to humans. Each of them has a unique perspective on the media and their intrusiveness.
Spencer, did you find this issue as gripping as I did or was it more for shock value? What were your thoughts on Luci’s apology to Cassandra? Any predictions on Laura’s new powers or potential for a new role in the series?
Spencer: Laura’s new powers are definitely a way for Luci to live on, be it figuratively (by passing on some of her power to Laura) or literally (by putting into place some sort of ritual for her resurrection). If it’s the former, than this is as an ascension for Laura — while she can still serve as a viewpoint character, she’s also finally achieved her goal of becoming a part of the Pantheon. Be careful what you wish for, right? Of course, even before she gained powers Laura was already proving herself worthy of power and adulation:
If that image isn’t godlike, then what is? In the moments leading up to that panel (and following, for that matter) Laura shows compassion and bravery in spades, all admirable traits — although, perhaps they’re not too admirable when they involve recklessly running onto train tracks or trying to save the life of the Devil, eh? The fact that Laura’s friend may not have fully deserved her devotion adds a neat little wrinkle to Laura’s otherwise saint-like actions.
Luci’s apology to Cassandra is another interesting exploration of Luci’s designated role as evil incarnate. It’s a clever way to reveal new information about Cassandra, but at the moment I’m more interested in what that scene says about Luci. We don’t yet know how much influence the Pantheon’s previous lives and roles have on their current incarnations, but I’ve always gotten the impression that Luci wasn’t entirely on board with her role. Don’t get me wrong, she’s just as capricious and rebellious as would be expected of Lucifer, but she always refers to her own less-than-moral actions with this air of weary resignation, as if she knows this is the way she is but she’s not exactly happy about it.
Regardless of the morality behind it, at this point Laura has already thoroughly embedded herself into the Pantheon’s orbit. While her constant Pantheon-related presence on the news has probably cemented their relationship, though, I imagine it’s Laura’s new connection to Luci’s powers that will end up keeping her central to the continuing plot of The Wicked + The Divine. Of course, like I mentioned earlier, this could all turn out to be some sort of elaborate plan Luci set in place to facilitate her own resurrection, but I hope it isn’t — not because I don’t like Luci, but because her death is such an effective sucker punch. The way Gillen and McKelvie handle Luci’s death and the immediate aftermath is just so damn powerful, and it’d be a shame to lose that.
Suzanne already pointed out some of what makes those scenes so effective — such as that cut to black immediately following Luci’s death — but quite a bit of their power also comes from the art and colors of Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson. Just look at the image of Laura cradling Luci’s headless corpse that Suzanne posted — damn. It’s gory enough be shocking, but that shock is effective in showing how sudden, terrifying, and final Luci’s death truly is, not to mention that it makes Laura’s grief all the more palpable. As expected, McKelvie nails the various facial expressions of the rest of the characters in that panel; Laura’s anger is obvious, as is the intense sorrow of Ananke and Amaterasu, but even the Morrigan’s solemn stare, Sahkmet’s more reserved grief and Baal’s inability to even look at the corpse show how they’re coping with the death, revealing more about themselves and their relationships with Luci.
The first third or so of the issue is almost entirely fight scenes, and McKelvie and Wilson are just as effective there as they are with the more emotional scenes, providing true visual spectacle befitting a clash between gods.
Baal’s ferocious charge and Luci’s elegant dodge are both inspired bits of choreography, but I’m particularly impressed by Wilson’s colors here. Wilson sticks to a more “normal” palette throughout most of this issue, but every time the Pantheon use their abilities they’re accompanied by far-out color choices. In this panel I love the subtle blend of Luci’s red fire and Baal’s white lightning, and the purple background, speed-lines, and good ol’ fashioned Kirby Dots all provide a sense of grandeur and wonder. Like I said, it’s a visual spectacle. While the “big” scenes are appropriately big, McKelvie doesn’t skimp on smaller details either; moments like Laura biting her lip while thinking or the Morrigan leaving behind a feather as she pulls Laura to safety are easy to miss but are absolutely charming nonetheless.
For all this talk of spectacle and action, though, this is still ultimately an issue about death. One of the main themes of The Wicked + The Divine thus far has been how the Pantheon is handling the fact that they only have two years to live. Most of us don’t know exactly how long we have to live, but we can still relate to the Pantheon’s desire to do something significant with the short amount of time they have left. Luci, though, is something else entirely: she’s the friend who suddenly dies in a car accident, the relative who suddenly drops dead of a heart attack or an aneurysm. Her death represents the random ruthless suddenness of death, and the fact that, as much as we can plan to do things with our lives, we could die at any moment and only be remembered by what we’ve already done. Are we living the kind of life we want? If we were to die tomorrow, would we be happy with the legacy we left behind? These are the kinds of questions Gillen is raising, and they’re well worth considering.
I’ve talked enough, but before I wrap things up there’s still one more plot point I want to mention:
Who are the “them” Amateratsu mentions in that final panel? Perhaps they’re the previous incarnation of the Pantheon, or maybe some new group altogether? Whoever they are, they sound incredibly relevant to what Luci just went through, and they have my interest piqued. I think this line’s going to be vitally important in the future.
Suzanne, you asked if I found this issue gripping or if I thought it was just for shock value. Well, while there are some intentionally shocking moments in the issue, they’re all in service of plot, world-building, and character development; so yes, I found it absolutely enthralling. This issue changed everything, and for once that’s not hyperbole — it’s fact, and it’s thrilling.
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?