Spencer: There’s been an air of aimlessness to The Wicked + The Divine‘s fifth arc; with Ananke dead, it seems like the Pantheon don’t really know what to do with themselves. This quality is clearly a purposeful choice on Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s part, as this entire storyline seems to revolve around figuring out “what comes next?” Issue 25 provides at least one solution (in the most shocking way possible), but what may be more significant is the way it emphasizes — both to the Pantheon and the audience — what questions about the future they should actually be trying to answer in the first place.
The most explicit instance of this comes at the tail end of Persephone, Cassandra, and Woden’s little strategy session (an alliance brought about by not one, but two separate cases of blackmail).
I appreciate WicDiv‘s complexity — it isn’t always an easy story to follow, and that makes it all the more rewarding when ideas finally click — but it’s still refreshing to see such a straightforward conversation. Part of the reason why, of course, is because the characters are asking many of the same questions that readers are. Gillen is, in a way, reassuring readers that these questions are worth asking, telling us to keep looking for answers, because they’ll likely be coming soon enough. It’s also an exciting moment for Persephone, Cassandra, and Woden, though; a chance for all three to be proactive and take charge of at least one part of their life. It’s something they haven’t done in quite a while, it seems.
The answer to what exactly the “Great Darkness” is — or at least part of it — comes far sooner than expected, though.
Gillen is a writer who loves his metaphors, so I’ll admit, I was expecting the Great Darkness to be something more figurative, a global loss of enlightenment perhaps, not a literal being of darkness grabbing children out of windows like a shadowy, intangible King Kong. Regardless, McKelvie and colorist Matthew Wilson sell the hell out of this moment; that first panel is positively cinematic in the best way possible, a perfect example of McKelvie’s ability to “make the mundane iconic,” something we praised him for when we declared him one of the best artists of 2016.
So what do we know now about the Great Darkness, other than that it definitely exists? I’m taken by how it’s composed of hundreds of tiny black dots, and how much of it is highlighted by shades of blue and white. It’s not a “pure” darkness, not in the way, say, the darkness Persephone creates is.
Would it be weird to single out this spread as WicDiv 25’s bravura moment? I don’t know if it has quite the same impact on Comixology, but in the print copy, the contrast between that tiny, lost Woden and a full two pages of pure, unadulterated black is startling. Holding this issue in my hand, my first thought was of the sheer amount of ink they must’ve used to print this spread, but it just drives home how literally dark this moment is. This isn’t the natural darkness of the Underground, either — we see that a few pages prior, and you can still make objects out through it — this is Persephone’s darkness, and it’s enough to break Woden’s spirit.
While the clues Gillen and McKelvie leave in the first sequence are more explicit, the clues they’ve been seeding about Persephone’s power have been more subtle. Her darkness is darker than even the Great Darkness (say that five times fast), her power has perplexed Woden on multiple occasions, and she’s the only god whose performances have affected Cassandra. Persephone stands apart from the rest of the Pantheon in so many ways, and it’s something even the wheel emphasizes: she’s the only god whose logo isn’t displayed on it. In this month’s letter column Gillen confirms that she has a symbol, and while I’d almost bet money that I’m completely off-base here, I’m thinking it might be the skull — the symbol that not only appears in her eyes when she uses her powers, but which also replaces another god’s symbol on the wheel whenever they die.
That’s a grim scenario with a lot of grim implications, but even the more mundane moments frame Persephone as being out of place.
This whole sequence — from Baal and Minerva’s familial relationship to the clear, understated affection between Baal and Persephone — is so sweet, but most of it plays out between Baal and Minerva; in fact, I don’t think Persephone speaks to her at all, and only enters the conversation at all to probe for clues about the Great Darkness. She’s a welcome presence in Baal’s life, sure, but still one that seems to exist a bit outside of their normal dynamics; an observer, more than an active participant.
What does all this mean? It’s too early to tell, but I think it’s a question Gillen and McKelvie want us to keep at the front of our mind just as much as as any questions about Ananke’s motives or the Great Darkness. This is a fun issue because the creative team are being very clear about what’s going to be important to this arc, but they never let those bits of exposition (no matter what form they take) distract from the story, characterization, or (always stellar) art. Drew, do you feel the same? Are there any other clues you want to point out or questions you want to pose? Did you notice any fun details or Easter Eggs throughout the issue? While there’s a few small, fun beats I’m particularly fond of this month, I got the biggest kick out of the issue of Pantheon Monthly — a.k.a. a copy of The Wicked + The Divine 23 — sitting on Baal’s coffee table.
Drew: Spencer, I appreciate your “it’s too early to tell,” but you laid out so much compelling evidence (even down to Persephone not quite fitting in that charming domestic scene) that I can’t help but articulate the theory you seem to be prepping for: the Great Darkness and Persephone are somehow one-in-the-same. We understand Persephone is “the destroyer,” but exactly what she’s meant to destroy hasn’t been made explicit. Check out this exchange with Woden early in the issue:
It’s easy to read Persephone’s defiance here as youthful impetuousness — “don’t presume to guess what I might do” — but she might mean it a bit more literally. That is, Woden doesn’t know who she is (or what she is capable of).
I realize that’s relatively thin evidence to hang an accusation on (and I definitely might be wrong about this), but look at the similarly enigmatic way Persephone responds to Cassandra’s texts.
She doesn’t offer a defense of her actions, or even an assurance that she won’t get everybody killed, she just admits that “no person” would do such a thing. That’s reassuring if we think of Persephone as “Laura Fangirl,” the youthful Londoner that stumbled her way into the company of gods, but it’s slightly less reassuring if we consider either a) the gods aren’t people or b) Laura was somehow never a person in the first place.
I know option “b” sounds a little nuts, but bear with me: what if Ananke actually was battling the forces of evil all along, and those forces manifested in this generation in the shape of Laura Wilson. I haven’t fully fleshed this theory out (I’m making some of it up as I type), but I think it explains both why she would have powers none of the rest of the Pantheon are capable of (or even believe are possible), and why her symbol might have been replacing those of the deceased since before she ascended. I suppose I’m thinking that Ananke wasn’t killing out of a lust for power, but for fear that the power might otherwise fall into the hands of the Great Darkness (who she didn’t realize was Laura). This would certainly explain her apparent desire for any reason to kill Woden (and why she’d still consider it knowing that it would hurt the rest of the Pantheon).
And actually, Spencer, perhaps in part to bolster this theory, I’m going to quibble with the distinction you draw between the blackness Laura plunges Woden into and the blackness that makes up the Great Darkness. I loved everything you said about those almost fully black pages, and I’ll support your claim that it’s the bravura moment of the issue. Indeed, I’d say it’s such a striking image, we can’t help but recall it when a being of sentient blackness attacks Minerva. I’m inclined to think the parallels are more striking than the differences, and I suspect those parallels are telling. After all, who do we know that might attack a god with darkness? Who do we know that might have the motivation to destroy? In this way, Persephone’s apparent distance during that final scene might just be steeling herself for what’s to come.
Because I do think Persephone still has a conscience. Look at her face during that text exchange — if she is being coyly technical with her language, she doesn’t appear to be enjoying it at all. Indeed, McKelvie is careful to detail genuine pain on her face. Cassandra’s attempt to guilt Persephone may feel a little meek if we suspect Persephone is actually trying to kill everyone, but it seems like it’s effective, either way. If Laura is the Great Darkness, she doesn’t seem to relish that responsibility.
But again, I could be way off-base on this. It honestly wasn’t a thought that had crossed my mind until Spencer listed all of the evidence that makes Persephone unusual, but now I can’t stop thinking about it. I realize now there are several details that might be worth taking up in the comments (perhaps, for example, Laura was just a regular mortal until after Luci’s death, and the moment she made fire with a snap is when she became the Great Darkness), but I also just want to hear your reactions. Does this feel possible, or am I full of it?
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