By: Kieron Gillen (story), Jamie McKelvie (art), Matthew Wilson (colors)
The Story: As you can well imagine, the devil doesn’t take kindly to being imprisoned.
The Review: Not to get too socio-political, but I think current affairs of recent weeks teach us that humans have awfully short memories, which explains why history so often repeats itself, which is to say we may all be doomed. You’d think, if something repeats itself often enough, we’d learn a little something from it each time and at least make some progress. More frequently, however, we end up practically starting over each time, learning the same lesson only when it’s too late.
Fortunately, repetitions in fiction are easier to keep track of. It doesn’t take an English major to recognize that if something is cyclical, you’d best be alert for constants, so as to better observe the changes. In the case of the Recurrence (the centennial appearance of gods that forms the premise of The Wicked + The Divine), our constant is Ananke, the elderly woman with the eye-mask who greets the gods when they return and bids them farewell when they depart.
Gillen saves us the trouble of Wiki-ing* Anake ourselves by providing the entry in-issue: she is the “personification of necessity. Present at the beginning of time she was absolute ruler of all destiny and fate, for both gods and mortals.” That sounds suspect, especially when she’s the only one who apparently gets to escape the inevitable death that awaits the other gods. Gillen purposely keeps her pronouncements (“You will be loved. You will be hated,” etc.) ambiguous; they may be prophecies, or they may be promises.
It’s also important to note the strangely slavish way Luci talks about Ananke, a feeling which all the Pantheon seems to share. Her tone is filled with the love of a child for her mother and the reverence of a worshipper for her god (the irony, of course):
“She tries her hardest to keep us safe and gives us the very best advice… I suspect disobeying her is why she hasn’t come. I suspect not wanting to annoy her any further is why I haven’t broken out. Even my hubris has limits.”
A funny sentiment from someone Ananke declares as lord of rebellion. But perhaps that’s in Luci’s future. If Ananke is in control of this hopeless, almost pointless situation the Pantheon is in, maybe Luci’s inspired, rebellious nature—and her tendency toward damnation—is key to breaking the cycle.
In that regard, it’s easier to see Luci, rather than Laura, as our hero. For one thing, you can sympathize with Luci, something you can’t say for Laura or, frankly, anyone else. Laura’s devotion to the Pantheon is, like any cultist, off-putting (“My future is this, or my future is nothing.”). To make matters worse, her worship is hardly selfless; here, she doesn’t hesitate to manipulate Luci, of all people, to get the special attention she craves: the promise of demonization, becoming the ultimate Luci groupie.
But that is the primary drive of pretty much everyone in this series. Luci’s confession, “I need to be on a stage. If I can’t do that, it’s all so awfully pointless,” is one the entire Pantheon shares, though only Laura admits it. We see that lust for attention in Amaterasu berating Luci for taking up her “me-time”; Baal’s news rant; the Pantheon’s press statement announcing a later, bigger press statement; and Baphomet’s dramatic declaration that he is the “new king of the underground.” And here’s the thing about wanting attention, which is synonymous with pride: if a lot of people want it at the same time, unnecessary drama and tragedy ensues. Reality TV teaches us that. That’s an apt analogy, actually, considering Laura declares, “I have something better than friends… Enemies.”
Despite being a mostly talky issue, McKelvie’s sharp, subtle expressions keeps the story lively, giving each character to have her own facial language. Though the action is occasional, McKelvie turns each instance into a true occasion, with visual bells and whistles that only a top-tier artist can deliver. Luci’s transformation sequence is breathtakingly horrifying, her body consumed in flames as she falls down a tunnel made of a multitude of Ananke’s face, the sight of which is made even creepier by the blood-purple glint Wilson puts into her numerous eyes. Imagery like this makes it so you don’t even miss live-action special effects.
Conclusion: If Young Avengers was superheroic social media experiment, The Wicked + The Divine is reality TV for gods.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * I find Laura’s half-assed “research: both hilarious and appalling. “Am I going to have to go onto the second page of search results? Oh God. No. This is turning into homework…”
– “Damnation is delightful. Everyone should try it.” An echo of Young Avengers
#1‘s “Being a super hero is amazing. Everyone should try it.” Wonder what Gillen will be advocating next. “Crystal meth is fabulous. Everyone should try it.