“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
Spencer: The Wicked + The Divine‘s Pantheon live in a perpetual cycle of rebirth: as the opening scrawl reminds us, these deities are reborn every 90 years, whether they like it or not. It’s unclear exactly how much the Pantheon can remember of their previous incarnations — if they remember anything at all — but I get the impression that however much they remember, it’s not enough. Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans use The Wicked + The Divine 1831 to give readers their first extended glimpse at a previous Pantheon, and it proves to be enlightening in many ways. Turns out the Pantheon are caught in quite a few perpetual cycles, and most of them are far more destructive than their rebirths.
1831 shines a light on the final days of the 19th Century’s Pantheon. Unlike its seven other members namedropped throughout the issue, this Pantheon’s final deities standing — Inanna, Lucifer, Woden, and Morrigan — all have direct counterparts in our modern-day Pantheon, which serves to better highlight their differences. Not only do each of these gods present as a different gender than their modern-day counterpart, but their abilities appear to work differently as well; this Morrigan shows no signs of being a triad, and Woden appears to have actual divine abilities as opposed to her counterpart’s armoring skills.
Their personalities, too, display drastic differences, and I think this just goes to show how important each god’s host is to each incarnation. If there’s a consciousness that belongs to each deity that reasserts itself in each recurrence, it does so in the most mild manner possible; the goals of each of these characters are clearly rooted in who they were before their ascension. That also means that these gods are very much rooted in their time period. It’s not just their more antiquated dialogue or Hans’ period-appropriate (and absolutely gorgeous) aesthetic; even how they express themselves as divine beings just screams “19th Century.” After all, the modern-day Pantheon present themselves as pop stars or musical idols. Who were the pop stars of 19th Century Europe? Novelists. And what do the Pantheon seem to pass their time by doing? Telling stories, of course.
Eventually they end up even seeing their own lives as stories that they can shape and retell to their liking. Really, all these gods are grappling with their mortality in their own way: Inanna sought divinity and didn’t care if that meant her death (until it was too late); Woden sought to live on through her children, and when denied that chance, lost all hope; Lucifer and Morrigan sought to cheat death altogether, with disastrous consequences, of course.
This is where we start to see their similarities with the modern-day Pantheon emerge. Lucifer’s attempt to use necromancy to extend his life isn’t that different from Baphomet’s stab at the Prometheus Gambit. The way Woden and Morrigan came into the Pantheon together, only to be soon followed by Woden’s eager sister Inanna, reminds me of how modern-day Morrigan and Baphomet ascended. Even Inanna’s deal with
the devil Ananke isn’t much different from modern-day Woden’s.
(These situations also raise — and re-raise — some questions. If the identity of the gods are predetermined, why is Ananke able to make a deal with Inanna in order to make her one of the Pantheon? Is Ananke lying about this fact? Or perhaps the gods are drawn to one another even before their divinity is revealed?)
What’s clear is that — even if the specific details change — many of the same situations play out over and over again in each Pantheon. Could these cycles be avoided if these gods had more of their memories? It seems very likely. But since they’re continually reborn as new, young, uninformed kids every 90 years, they continue to face the same struggle against mortality ascension after ascension.
Maybe that’s the point? The Pantheon exists to inspire mankind — maybe keeping that role alive is more important than helping the individual gods find clarity? I bet that’d be Ananke’s answer. Her involvement in The Wicked + The Divine 1831 also draws some parallels to the present-day story.
Between this issue and the opening scene of issue 1, we’ve seen the end of two separate Pantheons now, and both their demises appear to be orchestrated by Ananke. I’m venturing a guess here that the two-year lifespan of the Pantheon isn’t natural, but instead something enforced by Ananke (who also arranges the death of four children of the gods in this issue; she clearly doesn’t want them around). Why? Only Ananke knows, and with her dead in the present-day, we may never find out.
That’s an important fact to keep in mind, because Persephone murdering Ananke represents a breaking of many of the cycles presented in this issue. Ananke had lost her perspective and morality and needed to be stopped, but it’s still a move that worries me: without her, the Pantheon knows nothing of their history and purpose, and they run unchecked. Has anything like this happened before? If so, that history has been lost, and the Pantheon seem doomed to continue repeating the mistakes of their past lives — even if they’re not the same mistakes they made in this particular issue.
Patrick, I love how this issue builds on The Wicked + The Divine‘s rich mythology while also providing a satisfying stand-alone story. I don’t know what to do with some of the information we’ve learned here yet, while other information just seems to raise more questions, but there’s one fact this issue makes abundantly clear: however the modern-day Pantheon’s story plays out, they’re unlikely to have a happy ending.
Patrick: I mean, if nothing else, this issue cements the idea that whether or not there’s a greater meaning behind the appearance and untimely death of the Pantheon every 90 years, there’s value to the individual stories that amass along the way. I feel like I’m always kept at a distance from the overarching mythology of The Wicked + The Divine – partially because Gillen writes occasionally impenetrable dialogue, and partially because the hyper-mash-up of the ur-pantheon doesn’t really allow me to bring any pre-existing knowledge of these deities to this series. Then pile on top of that the series’ explicit mysteries – the sum of the parts is almost impossible to follow, but the individual parts are so damn intriguing as to render my general confusion moot. Like, is there anything to understand about Ananke ritually murdering Hades at the beginning of this issue? Or, is it merely a collection of compelling images, ripped from the kinds of novels Inanna wants to write? Red velvet curtains, a craggy dagger, a sickly hand drawing back a shirt to reveal a vulnerable heart.
Spencer mentioned that Hans’ aesthetic is absolutely gorgeous, and that can’t help but sound like understatement. Regular series artist Jamie McKelvie is an incredibly cool artist, and that graphic coolness is apparent in every page he draws. Hans is decidedly less cool and less graphic, and strikes a tone that is much more fashionable for the 1830s. Spencer already brought up the way the characters’ lives represent luxury and celebrity in the eras they live in, but it’s fascinating to consider that their stories would similarly have to reflect those values on a meta level.
The story that rang most true for me was Woden’s. She chases after the most common form of immortality; having a child. It’s a timeless method, one that we’re literally biologically programmed to pursue. It’s also the most heartbreaking to see her fail. For whatever reason, that’s one bid for immortality that seems like it should be allowed to anyone – it doesn’t take a specific talent or supernatural ability. Each of the scary stories are done up in a highly affected style, elevating the simple tragic events near-Grimm Fairy Tale levels. Woden’s story almost taken on a mythological quality, expressing the casual cruelty of a being unable to reproduce.
Hans’ work here is striking, but I have to give it up to writer Kieron Gillen. His command of rhetoric in this story is incredibly precise. Woden’s prose is dizzying, heartbreaking, but also persistently grounded in her frequently repeated refrain of “a corpse in a crib.” That’s glib to the point of being emotionally naked, and in an issue about versions of our characters from 180 years in the past, that’s a welcome quality.
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