Spencer: The Wicked + The Divine is back after a nearly four month absence, and regular artists Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson have returned to the title after an even longer break. Not a single member of the creative team misses a beat, leaping headfirst into the title’s most action packed story yet, and one that draws deeply upon all the lore and characterization writer Kieron Gillen’s established in the past 17 issues. The Wicked + The Divine 18 never holds back and never slows down, so neither shall I. Let’s dive right in.
Way back in issue 11 Ananke unveiled Laura as the 13th god of the Pantheon, Persephone, and immediately murdered her. Now, though, Laura is back, and she’s pissed. She’s allied herself with Baphomet and the Morrigan, and has essentially declared war on Ananke and the gods still loyal to her. Yeah, this is essentially the WicDiv take on Civil War, and just to drive that point home, the roll call Gillen and McKelvie provide on the inside cover also works as a handy breakdown of each “side” of this conflict:
While not every character here has actually appeared in this storyline yet, this seems like a fairly accurate representation of where their loyalties would most likely fall, at least at the outset of the issue. By its end, though, we’ve already had one defection, with Minerva joining Laura’s group, and this seems to indicate that their battle is going to be as much about making allies as it will be actual combat. That’s a game Ananke is already playing, and playing well: she keeps Amateratsu and Baal out of the fight so that they can’t be swayed by Laura’s reappearance, and attempts to plant seeds of doubt in the Morrigan by insinuating that Laura’s slept with the Morrigan’s lover, Baphomet. For once, she’s not lying.
Oh man, there’s so much I want to talk about on this page. What jumps out at me first is Laura using her abilities to light her cigarette. This is rather clearly a callback to Laura’s numerous (failed) attempts to do exactly the same after Luci’s death. What significance does this have? We still don’t know how Laura came back to life — is her resurrection somehow related to Persephone’s role as a god of the underworld, or is it indeed due to Luci’s “last gift?” Or perhaps that gift was always just a figment of Laura’s imagination/an early manifestation of Persephone’s abilities? Whatever the answer, I can’t imagine Gillen would trot out this reference without it having some sort of meaning.
Then there’s the expressions in panel 4; as ever, McKelvie is a master at depicting nuanced emotions. Baphomet seems wracked with guilt, presumably over cheating on the Morrigan, and I suppose it’s good to know he can still feel guilt at all; Laura’s emotions, though, are less transparent. She admits that sleeping with Baphomet is a mistake, yet she seems almost smug while doing so. What exactly is up with Laura Wilson?
That might just be “the” question this month. In many ways Gillen makes Laura’s motives quite clear — she’s livid about Ananke killing her and her family — but there’s still enough gaps in Laura’s story to leave a few things ambiguous. Laura’s flashbacks to her family’s death implies that she’s truly herself, but her character bio says “seemingly” enough to be suspicious; Ananke claims that Laura is “the Destroyer” and that she’s been to (literal) Hell; as Persephone she’s unusually powerful, powerful enough to easily destroy the walls of Valhalla, a feat that leaves Woden in utter disbelief. Gillen’s always been a writer who’s loved the idea of “be careful what you wish for;” what if this Persephone isn’t the Laura Wilson we remember? Or what if Hell changed her irrevocably? Hell, what if Ananke’s been the good guy all along, and leaving Persephone and the rest of their Pantheon to their own devices would endanger the entire world?
I don’t want any of that to be true, but I wouldn’t put it past Gillen, and there’s just enough hints throughout this issue to make these theories feel like a (very) faint possibility. Uh-oh.
Before I hand this piece off to Drew, let’s talk a bit more about McKelvie and Wilson. It’s so great to have them back, and there’s a stand-out moment on just about every page. An action-heavy issue especially gives Wilson a chance to show off.
The sheer range of color Wilson taps into here, and the way they interact with and affect each other (especially in that third panel) is just stunning. McKelvie’s work in the big battle sequences is equally astounding, but I’m just as enamored with his work in smaller moments. There’s a panel where Sakhmet, Baal, and Amateratsu react to news of the Destroyer’s return that manages to fully capture each character’s personality without a single line of copy thanks to McKelvie’s expressions. His pacing remains aces as well.
It’s the three panels here that really sells this boy’s shock. He’s so stunned that his face never even moves as he pulls out his phone; who knows how much time is passing between each panel? There were a lot of legitimate ways to interpret this beat, but McKelvie’s approach highlights both the awe and the humor of it, and it’s that kind of finesse that McKelvie, Wilson, and Gillen bring to this title every month.
Drew! I feel like I covered a lot of ground in this one (though I didn’t even nearly get to talk about everything I wanted to), but it’s just because this issue is jam-packed with characterization, world-building, and spectacle. What parts of this issue jumped out at you? Do you have any theories of your own? What’re your thoughts on dear young Minerva and her parents? Do you have any favorite details you found buried in this issue? I admit, I probably laughed for several minutes when I noticed Sakhmet flipping Baal off as she jumped through Woden’s portal.
Drew: Oh, nice catch. I have to say, I was so struck by the sense of motion at the top of that page, I barely noticed anything else:
McKelvie manages to create a sense of momentum in two directions — both towards the camera and down. The downward effect is achieved through the hair of the two Valkyries dropping through his portals, but the forward momentum is a bit more complicated. We get some of that through the figures walking towards the camera, but that motion is emphasized through repetition — this is the third panel in sequence that figures are walking towards camera, but the only one where we see their full bodies in motion.
This is one of the simpler examples of how McKelvie creates that sense of movement, but that skill is central to this action-packed issue. Much of the movement is established by cause and effect — something that needs to happen across two or more panels — but he’s also incredibly skilled at implying motion in a single panel. Together, these approaches create a startlingly propulsive issue.
But, as Spencer mentioned, McKelvie’s pacing is masterful; as much momentum as he imparts during these fight scenes, he’s also happy to hit the breaks elsewhere — usually holding the camera in place. Spencer already highlighted that stunned fan, but there are great examples throughout the issue. For the sake of bringing up Minerva’s parents, let’s look at that sequence.
It’s an intentionally sleepy sequence, and Minerva’s stasis is emphasized by the moving elements around her. That that’s actually NOT Minerva thwarts our expectations in a fun way, implying motion wherever Minerva actually is.
But let’s talk about her shitty, shitty parents. Not only are they making her do a bunch of boring sounding gigs on her birthday, but even her party is just going to be full of rich blowhard fans. Ugh. That kind of exploitation would be upsetting even if this particular thirteen year old wasn’t guaranteed to be dead in two years — shouldn’t she at least get to go see a PG-13 movie with her friends or something? Also, McKelvie’s designs make a point of how creepily phony these people are — even if dear old Dad isn’t meant to be modelled on the Toyman from the DC Animated Universe, the resemblance certainly colors my reading of the character. In short, the fact that Minerva doesn’t manage to rescue her parents doesn’t feel like a huge loss to me.
Speaking of characters, I want to turn to your questions about Laura’s identity here. There are some elements that really make me want this to be Laura — the fact that she’s finally able to have her god concert AND that she’s kicking ass are both incredibly cathartic — but those could be there just to throw us off the scent. For me, the most ambiguous hint is the montage of her performance.
First off, we have no idea who is saying “Persephone’s in Hell.” These could be lyrics Persephone is singing, they could be some kind of abstraction of whatever this performance is meant to convey, they could be the words of some kind of narrator — we don’t know. But I am intrigued that these words suggest that Persephone is currently in Hell. Obviously, this could be metaphorical, but there’s a chance it’s literal. Is this Hell? Is this not Persephone? Like I said: ambiguous.
Spencer, I wish I had the opportunity to prompt you about this, but hopefully we can discuss in the comments, but I was struck by the amount of fighting in this issue — and specifically, the parallels you draw to Civil War (which I think is spot on). It was only a few issues ago that Urðr asked Amaterasu “Who do you think we are? The culturally appropriative Avengers?” Was Gillen simply lampshading where this series was headed, or do you have faith that the coming battle ultimately going to fit with the themes and tone of this series?
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