by Spencer Irwin
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Something Amateratsu said way back in the first issue of The Wicked + The Divine has always stuck with me — she said that the Pantheon exist to inspire. This implies that their direct ability to change the world, for better or for worse, is limited; like most creators and performers, their true strength is (or at least should be) their ability to move others through their art. This seems an especially significant point to keep in mind while reading issue 32, which finds the futility in all of its characters’ attempts at grand gestures or plans — but especially Dionysus’.
Dionysus was inspiration personified, someone whose entire skill-set revolved around making others happy, and who was willing to give of himself until he had nothing left if it meant lifting up those around him. Ultimately, that’s exactly what happened — his grand, heroic quest wasn’t enough to stop Woden, and only lead to his death.
Dionysus’ greatest strength has always been his ability to bring people together (quite literally), but he proves his spirit by fighting alone, stripped of everything that gives him power. Woden continues to be Dio’s dark mirror, someone whose abilities also revolve around helping others, but who deeply resents it. I hate to agree with Woden about anything, but he’s right that Dio’s heroism was futile — that doesn’t mean it was the wrong thing to do or not worth doing, but just that, for all his power, he couldn’t make a difference when it counted.
This is true throughout the rest of this issue as well. Woden claims to have some sort of deeper, ulterior motive for co-opting Dio’s mind-control, but certainly doesn’t get the chance to use it for anything before being chased away by the Norns. Minerva, meanwhile, saves Persephone’s life by killing Sakhmet, but not without traumatizing herself (and quote possibly Baal and Persephone as well) in the process. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie consistently emphasize that the Pantheon are really quite bad when it comes to getting things done.
With that in mind, it seems like the madness of the Imperial Phase could be a very deliberate part of the Pantheon’s design. It seems to encourage their megalomania, but also makes it close to impossible for their insane plans to actually go anywhere (and not just in the present — even 455 AD’s Lucifer was thwarted by his own madness, failing to make a mark on history). So much of the lore around the Pantheon seems designed to keep them boxed into very specific roles, which makes Persephone’s desire for anarchy and her supposed squandering of her gifts (at least according to Cassandra) all the more concerning. If she destroys the very role the Pantheon are meant to fill, will it mean that they could possibly accomplish something great — or something horrific — for the world? Or would it mean that the Pantheon would just remain mired in madness and despair until their deaths? Neither option seems ideal.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?
I absolutely adore this issue — I must’ve read it a dozen times this week at least. Wilson’s colors throughout that Dio scene are absolutely nuts, and the action beats in the Persephone/Sakhmet fight are top-notch, especially that moment when Persephone’s vines burst through the walls (and through the panel borders). I love that last moment between Sakhmet and Persephone in bed, which is so casual and intimate despite everything that’s gone down between them. Persephone and Cass’s big argument is great as well — they have such a fantastic back-and-forth.
And that cliffhanger? It may be the meanest thing Gillen’s ever done, and I say that coming right off two issues that have killed three cast members.
Also: the skull added to the wheel means that Dio is dead for sure, and I don’t expect to see him as a character again. But do we think there’s any significance to him only being BRAIN dead, with his body still technically alive and kicking? Is there still divine power in that body? Could it be turned into a weapon or a bargaining chip? I wouldn’t be surprised if his body popped up as a plot point again.