Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing The Wicked + The Divine 7, originally released January 21st, 2015.
Drew: Religion is such a weird thing in comics. Both of the Big Two feature actual gods in their publishing line, which opens up a whole host of ontological questions — Did these gods play a role in the creation of the universe? How did they come to exist? — but these characters largely aren’t designed to answer religious questions. Just like Superman isn’t really about the existential questions raised by alien societies, the likes of Thor and Wonder Woman aren’t really about mythology — goddom is just another avenue to explain why your characters would have superpowers. It was easy for me to confuse The Wicked + The Divine with this type of story — neither is ultimately interested in the religious implications of having gods up and walking around — but as the series’ themes continue to solidify, it’s become ever more apparent that the powers don’t matter, either. “God” is just an exaggerated stand-in for “teen idol,” and given the way our society treats celebrities, it’s not that much of an exaggeration.
Laura and Inanna have arrived at Fantheon — effectively the SDCC of pantheon worship — in the hopes of figuring out who attempted to assassinate Lucifer back in issue 1. The theory goes that, since the assassins were likely fans, their absence from this year’s Fantheon should be notable. Of course, with over 100,000 fans in attendance, figuring out who’s NOT there is a pretty daunting task. Plus, Laura’s new perspective on fandom is occupying a growing part of her mind. Fortunately, Cassandra is back and ready to help.
In our discussion of last month’s issue, we clashed a bit on our interpretations of Laura’s transition out of fandom. Ultimately, our opinions on it are moot — it’s Laura’s perspective that really matters, and her subjectivity is all over this issue. Interestingly, the story here is less about fandom, and more about the different perspective that comes with celebrity. Artist Jamie McKelvie illustrates that beautifully in the above passage, rendering the crowd as a washed-out, faceless mass until Laura has a specific reason to recognize someone as an actual person. A faceless, churning mass may not be the most flattering depiction of fans, but again, it’s quite clear that this is Laura’s subjectivity — writer Kieron Gillen makes it quite clear how exhausted she is by all of the requests for autographs and photos.
More importantly, they reserve the more cutting indictments for the celebrities. Minerva’s parents insist on charging for “blessings” — an obvious stand-in for the fees certain celebrities charge for autographs at comic cons. Laura is disgusted by this, but it raises the interesting question of who is really responsible for the behavior — if fans are willing to pay, why shouldn’t the celebrities make a buck? The culture of conventions is very much a dialogue between fans and celebrities, so it’s impossible to blame fans for the form that they take.
It might also be impossible to blame the celebrities, too. Woden’s actions are decidedly deplorable here, but there’s clearly a lot of self-loathing that makes him, if not sympathetic, at least a little easier to understand. As the armorer of the gods, he has some of their celebrity, the same short life-span, but none of their powers, leaving him resentful and bitter. He feels the world owes him something, and with little time to claim it, he’s become an impatient, egotistical hedonist. This actually gives me new perspective on the asshole-ish behavior or flavor-of-the-month celebrities — they realize they’re not long for this world, either (at least, their celebrity isn’t), so why not take advantage of every perk they can in the meantime. It’s decidedly selfish and immodest, but if they can see the end of the road coming, it’s at least understandable.
That’s an important lesson to understand as Laura devolves into her own miniature bout of hedonism — and more importantly, as the issue teases the presence of Dionysus. Woden’s going to look like a Sunday school teacher compared to that guy.
Spencer! I know you were relating to the fan stuff before, so I’m interested to hear your thoughts as this series pivots its focus a little closer to the celebrity-side of the equation. Can you sympathize with Laura drifting away from her fandom, or do you feel like she’s losing something important to her? (Not to pigeonhole you as the resident fanboy, I just know our different attitudes about fan culture have given us different reads on this series in the past).
Spencer: I think only Laura can determine whether she’s losing something important to her, but I can definitely sympathize with her either way. Drew, you’re right that the issue’s commentary on fan culture all comes from Laura’s perspective, and I think an important part of that perspective is Laura’s newfound celebrity. Laura’s drifting away from her fandom isn’t a byproduct of, say, getting married and having less time for hobbies; it’s a direct result of switching places within the fandom, becoming a celebrity instead of a fan, and gaining a better understanding of the gods she once looked up to in the process.
There’s a pretty big difference between crushing on someone you know and crushing on an unattainable celebrity, and getting to know Baal has slowly changed the dynamic of Laura’s lust for him, eventually snuffing it out altogether. Likewise, Laura is frightened to realize that she’s not frightened of Baphomet, and only a few moments later she walks in on the Badb of all people singing karaoke (MCR, I believe?). My point is, the Pantheon are no longer unattainable celebrity superstars; they may not quite be Laura’s contemporaries, but they’re only one step above her, and Laura’s getting to know them as people — as kind, frustrating, flawed people — has irrevocably changed her relationship with them. She simply can’t go back to being a starstruck fan, because that’s not who she is anymore.
It’s a pretty big shift for Laura, because in a lot of ways she’s gotten what she wanted way back in issue one. She’s not quite a god, but she’s got the potential for it buried within her somewhere — moreover, she’s attained fame and is on a first-name basis with most of the Pantheon. Yup, Laura got exactly what she wanted, but the price was too high and the fame just leaves her feeling aggravated and empty.
Gillen, McKelvie, and letterer Clayton Cowles do a phenomenal job of using the art and lettering to illustrate Laura’s isolation and particularly the way Luci’s death still haunts her. Taken together this is all a rather damning portrayal of fame, but like the rest of the issue it’s all framed entirely from Laura’s point of view. The rest of the cast clearly doesn’t share Laura’s hang-ups; in fact, most of this issue, and likely the rest of this arc, seems to be about the lengths people will go to to achieve fame
We have Minerva’s parents, getting as much money as they can from their daughter’s last two years on Earth. There’s Brunhilde, desperately clinging to any shred of recognition she can after being kicked out of the Valkyries and eventually turning murderous in an attempt to regain fame and power. Even Woden, who is already a god, wants more than to just be the Aquaman of the Pantheon. It’s all an apt and, again, rather damning portrait of those who exploit celebrities, those who leech off them in hopes of fame rubbing off, or even the kind of celebrities who do anything they can to just become more and more famous.
The Pantheon are clearly modeled after pop stars, but the focus on fandom, cosplay, and now conventions also create an obvious parallel to the world of comic books. As comic fans, Laura’s narrative should seem especially familiar to all of us. After all, a significant chunk of comic book readers seem to have at least some desire to work in the industry, and why wouldn’t we? All of us probably have a Batman story we want to tell, right? But it’s easy to think about the fun and the “glamor” of the job and overlook the hard work, the politics, even the built-in expiration date (how many creators remain vital — or perhaps even more importantly, employed — for more than a decade or two at the most?) that comes with it. Like Laura did early in the series with the Pantheon, many of us view the industry through rose-colored glasses. That’s not to say that becoming a creator is bad or unfulfilling, but that anyone seriously considering the job should keep the difficulties and necessary sacrifices in mind — like any job, and especially like any job that makes you a public figure, it’s not all fun and games.
That whole “being a public figure” thing is pretty important too. Gillen and McKelvie are such available, personable creators online that I doubt their feelings towards fans and conventions are are bleak as this issue might suggest — especially since Laura’s P.O.V. doesn’t leave them much room to show the upsides — but Laura certainly provides them a chance to let loose their grievances, best illustrated by their (and Alison Sampson’s) brilliant Fantheon map:
I can easily imagine Gillen or McKelvie perhaps once having the same experiences as Laura — such as being overwhelmed by autographs — but what I love the most about this image is the way it points out some of the more materialistic flaws of conventions. When I attended Wizard World last summer I was a bit turned off by what I perceived as crass commercialism, but Fantheon takes those aspects to extremes; hell, the food courts and retail areas smack-dab in the middle of the Shrine/God Homage Zone are practically sacrilegious. Drew brought up an excellent point in his half of the article about how fans may be as much to blame for the shapes cons take as the organizers, but still, I think talking about this kind of stuff and whether it’s appropriate is a vital conversation to have.
The Wicked + The Divine 7 gets a lot of mileage from its setting, using extraordinary characters to explore ideas familiar to anyone who has ever called themselves a fan. If it’s a bit dark, well, Laura’s life is a bit dark right now; I’m still a firm believer that there’s a lot to love about fandom, but there’s nothing to gain from ignoring its darker sides either, and I’m grateful that Gillen and McKelvie are addressing them in such an engaging manner.
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?