Spencer: In superhero comics, readers get used to seeing characters interpreted in myriads of ways. Everyone from Bill Finger to Frank Miller to Jim Lee has had their hands on Batman, and as a result, we’re able to accept Batman’s characterization in almost any incarnation, no matter how drastic the change. That’s great for accessibility, but much worse for consistency, especially when a character gets saddled with a less-than-stellar creative team. Indie books, on the other hand, allow for finite stories told by a single creative team, with some books (such as Saga) even deviating from a monthly release schedule in order to ensure that no fill-in artists will be needed. Throughout its first 11 issues The Wicked + The Divine stuck with a consistent team (Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson, and Clayton Cowles), but issue 12 features Kate Brown as the series’ first fill-in artist. This artistic switch-up comes in the aftermath of the series’ most turbulent moment, and it’s the perfect way to illustrate how shaken-up the cast still is after last month’s sudden, tragic turn.
Cassandra’s former assistant, Beth, is trying to put together a tribute to Inanna, but finds her footage trite and unoriginal. In this early scene Brown doesn’t really deviate from McKelvie’s established style — she sticks to square panels and grids, and her characters are only mildly softer than McKelvie’s (and her colors only a little more muted than Wilson’s). This changes once Beth and her crew travel to the site of Inanna’s murder and Baal puts in an appearance.
The way Beth and her partner exist both within the panel and the gutter, as well as the cascading growth of those three panels, aren’t tricks McKelvie would typically use on this title, but they don’t come across as just affects of Brown’s either — she only begins switching up her layouts once Baal appears, as if his presence is strong enough to alter the entire story. Sure enough, this is a reoccurring theme throughout the rest of the issue.
In the meantime, though, Beth wants better footage, and Baal wants to find Baphomet, Inanna’s murderer. Beth gives Baal the location of Baphomet’s partner, the Morrigan, in exchange for an exclusive interview (in it Baal is curt but obviously hurting, using anger to cope with his pain). After the interview Baal confronts the Morrigan, and again, it’s his actions that lead to more inventive, unique layouts.
There’s just so much clever stuff going on here, such as the camera lens in the center of the spread, emphasizing how this entire intimate encounter was arranged by Beth, who wishes to profit from it. I’m most fond of the way these panels form Inanna’s starburst-shaped emblem, though — it’s a reminder that everything going on in this issue, be it Beth’s documentary or Baal’s emotions, ultimately revolves around Inanna.
Baal defeats the Morrigan and nearly kills her until Woden intervenes. This moment tells us a lot about Baal’s current emotions, and again, it’s Brown’s unique style that does most of the heavy lifting.
The electric cage is a rather sophisticated trick, but Baal drops all pretenses of strategy or civility as soon as he gets his hands on the Morrigan — the background is taken over by that stark red as Baal snaps completely, and the way the scene continues on the next page, with the red bleeding into yellow and the way each progressive panel pulls in closer and closer on Baal, just emphasizes his intensity and loss of all composure. My favorite detail here, though, is Baal’s electric tears. Of course his tears are made of lightning, but what’s more important is that this calls back to the moment in Baal’s interview with Beth where he said he wouldn’t cry — he’d make someone cry. Baal’s method of grieving has just been proven ineffective — his emotions for Inanna were stronger than he thought, and ultimately, trying to deal with them through anger, violence, and revenge just leads to him losing his cool and nearly making the same mistake Baphomet made.
I think that’s the core theme of The Wicked + The Divine 12 — this issue doesn’t just examine the survivors’ grief, but it shows how integral Inanna was as a part of the Pantheon. We never got to see Baal and Inanna’s relationship — it was already strained when the series opened — so this issue is a revelation both to Baal and the readers. Who knew Baal really loved Inanna this much? Who knew that one of the Pantheon’s most cool-headed members would so thoroughly lose his head without Inanna? This almost positions Inanna as the moral foundation of the Pantheon, as the God who made his brethren happier and better just by being around. It’s certainly the case for Baphomet.
The Morrigan was Baphomet’s only real ally, and perhaps his only friend. I have a hard time imagining that the pre-murder Baphomet would have so callously left her behind, but having killed Inanna only reinforces his self-centeredness. After murdering someone as pure and good as Inanna, allowing his only friend to be captured suddenly becomes a million times easier.
Again, that’s why I feel Brown’s art is such a great fit for this issue — the sudden change in the art matches the sudden shift in the lives of these characters. McKelvie certainly could have told this story, and it would have been extraordinary (McKelvie’s one of my absolute favorite artists, and I’m looking forward to his return), but there’s something special to be gained by bringing a new artist in at this point, especially one as talented as Brown. I can’t wait to see if the fill-in artists in the next four issues can manage similar feats. Patrick, what are your thoughts on this issue’s new artist? Do you think Beth is our new “street level” POV character to replace Laura? And speaking of Laura, were you surprised to see the ramifications of her death mostly glazed over in favor of Inanna’s?
Patrick: It’s not just Laura’s death that’s glossed over, but all the developments from the previous issue. Before she died, Laura was transformed into Persephone, the thirteenth member of the Pantheon. Plus, we don’t see, or hear anything about, Ananke in this issue. It’s like Gillen’s storytelling is matching the crass sensationalism of Beth’s memorial video by chasing what appears to be the bigger fish. It’s heartbreaking, really – the only time we see Laura is on the first page, in a video that Beth dismissively fastforwards through and eventually rejects as “bullshit.”
Spencer mentioned that Beth is our new “street level POV Character,” suggesting that that was the role Laura played in this series, but I’d argue that Laura was even more integral than that. She was the fan that cultivated fame from her fandom and eventually became the very thing that gave her life purpose. In other words, Laura was both the protagonist of the series and the living embodiment of the series’ most interesting themes. But Beth, and by extension the series, is more interested in memorializing Inanna.
I’m amazed at how well Gillen is able to present what appears to be to conflicting ideas so well here. The first idea is that we are more empathetic to the plight of humans than we are to the plight of the gods, and the second idea being that we really want to see spectacular god-fights. It’s almost a metaphor for big summer blockbusters: Jurrasic World fails to give its audience complex characters, compelling themes, or even a story that worth a damn, but it ultimately succeeds with audiences because we want to see dinosaurs fighting each other. That’s an stupid, ugly, shallow desire, but it’s also real. Baal may have given the worst fucking interview imaginable, but you have to believe that’s going into Beth’s video because she can cut back and forth with footage of Baal kicking the shit out of The Morrigan. Baal’s the t-rex in this scenario – and I’m sure a t-rex would give a terrible interview. On any subject.
Spencer, you made a lot of great points about how well Kate Brown plies her specific craft in this issue, and I agree with everything you said. It really is fascinating how this series’ status as a creato-owned indie-darling does to my expectations for it. REMINDER: they just killed off their own main character, and the change I respond to the most is the switch from McKelvie to Brown. I was a little grumbly when I realized I would be flipping through this issue without McKelvie’s high-and-tight artwork guiding me through the story, but perhaps that’s just me grumbling over the loss of my own t-rex / indomisus-rex fight. I was blindly hoping to see the same spectacle I had grown accustomed to from The Wicked + The Divine, and it took me a second to recognize what this issue had to offer because of it. In a way, I was almost declaring “bullshit!” and scrubbing forward to the end to the one page of McKelvie artwork in the issue. But there are human beings behind this shit — good, smart, talented human beings like Kate Brown — and the perspective that she brings is certainly more important that watching the gods fight.
Plus, Brown’s no slouch when it comes to spectacle anyway. (This is really a have your cake and eat it too situation.) I love the 8-bit portal Woden travels through.
And he’s got two attendant sexy sword-maidens flanking him too. That’s as stylish and cool and McKelvie ever is.
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