Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing The Wicked + The Divine 11, originally released June 3rd, 2015.
Mr. Ross: Firestorm, that’s a hell of a picture. Remember when they had the helicopter land on top of that car —
Frank Costanza: Hey! I haven’t seen it yet!
Mr. Ross: It has nothing to do with the plot!
Frank Costanza: Still, I like to go in fresh!
Seinfeld, “The Rye”
Drew: I wouldn’t say my girlfriend has a lot in common with Frank Costanza, but she also prefers to “go in fresh” to narratives. For her, any information beyond the barest gist of the genre and mood constitutes a spoiler. Of course, I’ve always been on the opposite end of the spoiler spectrum — because I’m most interested in how the story is told, knowing plot points ahead of time can’t “spoil” the experience. Every so often though, I’ll encounter a twist so shocking that I have to admit I’m glad I didn’t know it was coming. Which is to say, when I say that you should only read on if you’ve already read The Wicked + The Divine 11, I really mean it. Seriously: spoilers after the jump.
Holy crap. Laura’s death is a Psycho-level twist, yanking out the rug from under us by eliminating our protagonist. I have absolutely no idea where we’ll go after this, but how we get to that moment is more than enough to dig into here.
The most important piece might be that Laura’s death isn’t the first of the issue. Last month set Baphomet on a killing spree, and made Spencer a little nervous about what might happen in this issue — especially in light of this month’s cover. Seeing Baphomet off Inanna feels like the confirmation of that unease. Inanna has taken on an increasingly significant role in this series (so much so that he’s the first person Laura thinks about after joining the Pantheon), so his death is by no means a throw-away. Indeed, artist Jamie McKelvie pulls out all of the stops on their fight, and lends the actual death a show-stopping significance:
You might not be able to make out that dialogue, but the art conveys the story beautifully even without it. I’m particularly enamored of the way colorist Matthew Wilson emphasizes the narrative of the fight, slowly shrinking Inanna’s pink glow until it’s utterly obliterated by the firey oranges of Baphomet (or Bad-phomet, the name I’ve decided to give that floating head that eggs Baphomet on).
That’s not to say that writer Kieron Gillen is phoning it in. He knows when to step out of the way of the art — particularly throughout that fight scene — but Inanna’s last words lend to the ballast of this moment. He can face his end nobly because he’s made the most of his life. It’s a lesson Baphomet is too clouded to learn here, but it reverberates throughout the end of the issue. As we read it, it feels like an heroic end for a beloved character, but Gillen is also priming us for Laura’s death.
That is: Laura’s death is shocking and tragic, to be sure, but she dies more alive than she has ever been. McKelvie drives this point home gorgeously as Laura — now called Persephone — begins to sing her first song as a god.
Again, McKelvie walks us through the emotions here, as she moves from fear to joy to nirvana, pushing Laura forward as she meets her new life. And again, Wilson uses color to emphasize those emotions, creeping slowly from that drab gren to a much more vibrant burst of color. It’s the moment we’ve all (especially Laura) have been waiting for.
…But then the camera continues to drift back. The coloring continues to lighten, and the world ahead of Laura continues to shrink, as Ananke’s outstretched arm enters the panel behind her.
It’s an absolutely crushing moment, built on one of the most effective page turns I’ve ever seen, but Gillen’s copy reminds us that this is what Laura wanted. Well, not exactly what she wanted, but there are far worse last thoughts than “this is worth it.” To paraphrase Laura’s own words, this may not be a happy ending for her, but it’s certainly not the most terrible.
Okay, I said I wasn’t going to speculate, but I can’t help myself. This more or less confirms my “Ananke is killing the pantheon to steal their years” theory from last month, but adds a few interesting wrinkles, including the notion that the pantheon contains more than twelve gods, but nobody knows about them because Ananke always kills them first. That’s some truly dark territory, but what do you want? Our protagonist just had her head blown up.
Spencer, this was a hell of an issue. There’s too much here for me to try to tie you down with a prompt. Instead, I’ll just reiterate my shock at this particular turn of events: I may have seen Ananke’s role as villain coming, but I never expected Laura to die (certainly not before the final issue). Stories will surprise me from time to time, but rarely as effectively as Gillen and McKelvie have here.
Spencer: Before we move on, I just want to remind everyone that, while Drew probably nailed down the motives and details of her scheme better than I did, I’ve been predicting that Ananke was the villain as far back as issue four. Maybe it’s something we were supposed to figure out by this point anyway — it certainly made the entire conversation between Laura and Ananke a whirlwind of emotion, alternating between ominous and optimistic in equal measure — but hey, my speculations are rarely this on-point; of course I’m going to take a moment to celebrate!
And then I’ll take a few weeks to mourn, cause damn is this issue heartrending.
It’s actually startling how thoroughly Ananke’s treachery upends everything we’ve learned so far about this world. In fact, I’d go as far as to suggest that perhaps Ananke herself is hand-picking the Pantheon instead of them being reincarnations — and at this point, the only thing turning me off that theory is Laura herself. When talking about last month’s issue, I was pleasantly surprised by how maturely Laura handled Cassandra becoming the last member of the Pantheon instead of her, by how Laura realized that Cassandra simply had more to say as a god than Laura did; I compared it to how creators need to have an unique message behind their work to really stand out and succeed in today’s over-saturated market. But this month Laura almost immediately undoes that development because, no matter whether she’s “worthy” or not, no matter how painful an existence it may be, she just wants godhood that badly.
Laura’s got a calling. It’s another analogy to performers and creators — there are some people who were born to be a part of those professions — but what seems most important to me is that Laura’s heart is right about this, and has been from the start. It turns out that godhood is what Laura’s always been searching for, the thing that finally clears the plasma in her head that’s been fueling her unease with life since the very first issue. Whatever price Laura has to pay for that, it’s worth it.
If we look at Laura and Inanna from the perspective of popular entertainers (as The Wicked + The Divine practically begs us to do), they’re the Buddy Hollys, the James Deans — they’re the ones who live hard, die young, and leave everyone wanting more. It’s sad to see them go, but happy endings were never an option here (something readers should probably keep more in mind while reading this book), so at least they got to go out in moments of joy after having finally lived life on their own terms. It’s something Baphomet could certainly stand to learn. The poor sap’s just fighting a futile battle against death, too scared to find any joy in his condition. For lack of a better celebrity comparison, Baphomet’s our Madonna, fruitlessly trying to extend a long-dead career to increasingly diminishing returns. Baphomet gets nothing out of being a god, but he’s too scared to do anything else, so he’ll fight tooth and nail to extend a life he doesn’t even seem to enjoy living anymore. Man, Baphomet may be the literal definition of a tragic villain.
In many ways Inanna’s death kind of throws the reader off the trail of Laura’s — it’s easy to think that the issue’s big tragedy has already come after watching one of the most likable gods get blown to bits. Yet, as soon as the killing blow is landed Gillen and McKelvie seem to be seeding doubt. On the next page the scene transitions back to Laura and Ananke, but, rather atypically, without the chapter introduction page featuring the chart of the Pantheon — a chart we could use to see whether Inanna is really dead or not. Then, when one finally does pop up a few pages later, we get this:
The all-white title page without the chart signifies that Persephone exists outside of the typical 12-seat reincarnation cycle of the Pantheon, but it also means we have to wait that much longer to confirm Inanna’s death. That confirmation comes on the issue’s last page, where his logo is replaced with a skull just like Luci’s, but by then we’ve got bigger worries, and it’s notable to me that, while we can confirm Inanna’s death, we can’t quite do that with Laura.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, a smoking, headless corpse pretty much screams “dead,” especially in a title that has killed off other gods in the same manner before. But as her all-white introduction page reminds us, Laura as Persephone isn’t like the other gods — and as this issue goes to great lengths to reestablish, part of what makes her different is that she’s been touched by Lucifer.
Laura’s renewed effort to retrigger the power she discovered after Luci’s death is an underlying focus of the first few pages of the issue — Laura snaps her fingers in practically every panel of the first three pages. To be perfectly frank, the focus on what Luci may have done to Laura is so prominent that, when Ananke approached Laura, I was almost certain that some part of Luci was still lurking inside her — especially when we reached this moment:
Of course, it turns out that Ananke instead “found” Persephone, but with everything we’ve seen so far, it doesn’t seem farfetched that, for a moment, I thought she had found some lingering trace of Luci within Laura. Of course, I was wrong, and we know that Luci’s power wasn’t able to prevent or undo her own death. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the still-unanswered question of what exactly Luci did to Laura is so prominent in this issue. I still think there’s a chance that we haven’t seen the last of Laura, and if she returns, it will be because of Luci’s dying gift.
Yet, if any book on the stands is bold enough to kill off its main protagonist this early in its run and make it stick, it’s The Wicked + The Divine. The next five issues are each one-off character spotlights with guest artists (to give McKelvie time to complete the next volume of Phonogram), so if there was ever a time to establish a new central character for this book going forward, it would be in those issues. Yet, the first of those issues also seems to be a spotlight for the now-deceased Inanna — so clearly, trying to predict where Gillen and McKelvie are going next is a complete waste of time. The Wicked + The Divine does so much well, but after two storylines with utterly game-changing endings, I think what I’m most impressed by is Gillen and McKelvie’s ability to so thoroughly and effortlessly shock and surprise their readers. I am both thrilled and absolutely terrified to see what they’ll do next.
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?