(A note: this is the second in a review series for Image Comics’ latest ongoing series, The Wicked + The Divine. The first installment can be read here. – Ed.)
By Jarrod Jones. Kieron Gillen wants you to know love. Brief and fleeting and more than a little cruel, the kind of love depicted in The Wicked + The Divine is of the irrational sort, the kind of love that makes people write music, etch in stone, or create comic books. It’s the kind of love that leaves you cold and alone and begging for more, hating yourself for knowing you’ve been played the sucker. And hating yourself more because you know you’d do it all over again.
That’s what makes Laura, our sanguine protagonist, all the more captivating: while she is the center of Gillen and McKelvie’s lyrically mad universe, she knows no better about this misguided sort of love than you or I. There’s excitement to be found here, and while there will be dire consequences for Laura’s burgeoning relationship with her beloved Pantheon, neither she nor we can know what those are going to be. One should never meet their heroes, and they definitely should never get involved in their heinously dramatic bullshit, but Gillen guides her as he guides us through this gorgeous havoc anyway, and through her we learn as she does. Ashes, ashes, we all… y’know.
Big time mysteries demand a lot of digging, but in issue three of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine, Laura has dug herself as far underground as she’d probably care to. It’s the first pages of #3 that unspool after issue #2’s big, bloody shock, finding Laura and a fabulously gothy pack of scene kids gawking rather comically at the severed head of the mythical Morrigan. For all of Laura’s ominous ponderings on the subject of the elusive queen of the underworld, the end of #2 left this reader feeling a bit down, fearing that we may never know She Who Knows No End To Eye Shadow.
After three pages of insufferable posturing by the old, horny goat Baphomet, we finally get to see what all the fuss is about. Jamie McKelvie’s dual splash pages offer the magnificent reveal of The Morrigan herself, as a rush of ink-black crows spill over the pages in a lightning-green shock of movement, assembling into the majesty of one pissed-off diva. The Morrigan and Baphomet’s little lover’s quarrel carries on in a mad frenzy for the benefit of… well, no one it seems. This ain’t no party, it certainly ain’t no disco, The Morrigan ain’t fooling around, and Laura and the slack-jawed audience are left to stare befuddled as the two immaculately fabulous gods trade ridiculous barbs – “Silence! You will cum blood before the night is over…“, “Why don’t you come and join them? We both know how good you look in sheets…” – until Laura forces the two to cut the shit in a terrifically funny display of faux-Shakespearean desperation. (Hoisting a decapitated head to wax Hamlet certainly does the trick.)
As The Morrigan shifts into to her goth-queen visage (think Lorde by way of Eric Draven), the jilted duo waste no time bathing all in attendance in an inescapable darkness (which is just so like them), leading to a second dual splash page of utter darkness that easily recalls Laura’s descent towards all this strutting fuckery back in issue #2. (The oppressive blackness that surrounds Laura makes for an effective visual as much as it feels like a noticeable artistic relief for Jamie McKelvie.) Quickly thereafter, cops bust up the party, fingers get snapped, and colorist Matthew Wilson explodes McKelvie’s pages in a neon Lichtenstein pop. The Morrigan takes on a third form (think 16-year old Hopey Glass if she went steampunk) revives a fallen officer – a victim of Baphomet’s fury – and disappears in the same manner in which she arrived. (But not before she can provide Laura with alibis for both herself and her nimrod sex slave.)
Gillen finally removes us from this dead end and delivers a brief glimpse into what kind of damage Laura’s quest is having on her personal life. Tragically, it’s again all too brief: in this, the second time we’ve been allowed a peek into Laura’s private affairs, Gillen appears to insist that Laura’s home life is the least interesting thing about the character, when the opposite ought to be true. (We’ve met Laura’s family twice now, and not once felt a single emotion from what they have to say.) Luckily, McKelvie’s reliably emotive facial expressions drive home some of the more sentimental flourishes Gillen seems to want to keep at an arm’s length. What makes Gillen’s vague depiction of Laura’s private life feel even more frustrating is how inconsequential it all adds up to be: “I’m grounded. Once more, my parents think I’m at college. Nuh-uh…” Laura apparently will come and go as she pleases, making whatever consequence Gillen cooks up for these far too brief familial moments all the more pointless, and it makes Laura’s true motivations to transcend into godhood all the more elusive. (Beyond Laura simply hating being a teenager… I really hope there’s more to it than that.)
While all this tomfoolery carries on, a question persists: what’s become of Luci, as she cools her heels (and her fingertips) in prison? The epilogue to issue #3 – fittingly titled Chthonic Homesick Blues – finds Cassandra and Laura comparing notes about their eventful evenings, and here the final pages act as a deleted scene of sorts for issue #2, where Laura relates Luci’s thoughts on all of the potential suspects within the Pantheon to Cassandra. (Which apparently occurred off-panel last issue.) The back-and-forth between Cassandra’s queries and Luci’s incisively-elocuted (and out of body) responses is the most interesting thing that happens in #3, where Luci’s thoughts on each potential murderer give the reader a little more to work with when it comes to the otherwise aloof Pantheon. Three issues in, and we’re still nowhere near the truth…
… which is why The Wicked + The Divine #4 is such a welcome shot in the arm. After two issues of whodunit, some action is finally taken in the brusque form of Baal, who – after hearing Cassandra’s implications that he may be the killer who hung the frame on Luci – drags Cassandra and Laura into the hallowed halls of the Pantheon. (It’s a damn good thing he did, otherwise our intrepid investigators could have potentially spun their wheels for another two issues.)
It’s here where Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson’s gorgeous collaborations again make Kieron Gillen’s meandering $64,000 Question look good, as Baal shows off a rather, um… ostentatious portrait of himself to Laura, Cassandra and her camera crew, leading to another eye-rolling exchange of posturing exchanges. (Cassandra: “Don’t you think it’s a little… egotistical?” Baal: “Please. When you’re as good as I am? This is humble.“) Cocky like Kanye and as gargantuan as Jay-Z, Baal is met with Cassandra’s journalistic incredulity, and the pair get on about as well as you’d expect. But Baal hasn’t brought this group into the ultra-exclusive Pantheon just to put on airs; there are words to be had, and only one will be allowed to cross the threshold and into an audience with the elusive Ananke. One guess as to who that will be.
Throughout The Wicked + The Divine, the reader is shown a circle of icons, all signifying a member of the Pantheon, with holes filled as characters are introduced or otherwise vaguely included in our sordid little melodrama. With but two holes left, I’d hoped that the full Pantheon would be finally brought to a big reveal, but instead we are just given faces to gods that have up to this point suffered mere name-drops: Woden and Minerva finally show up in their current forms, joining Amaterasu, Baal, Sakhmet, and Ananke as they take their seats in their neon-blue temple (Wilson’s colors strongly recall Tron: Legacy). Baphomet and The Morrigan are apparently far too goth to show up to this little gathering, not to mention the aloof Tara, who has yet to make an appearance in the book. (“Fucking Tara,” indeed… where the hell is this girl everyone seems to despise?)
Laura’s reckoning amounts to little more than a “please and thank you,” from Ananke, who plays coy with her rationale (“It is beyond explanation,” ostensibly sums up the entire sequence) and informs our protagonist that Luci’s incarceration is the best thing for everyone and everything while the true killer is still on the loose. What consequences might befall Luci’s freedom involve the potential end of what is known as “The Recurrence” and the subsequent end of all inspiration in our world. How? It looks like we’re still right where we began, with nada for answers aside from these ambiguous rumblings of severe ramifications.
Once Laura brings the news to Luci – “you’re on your own kid, but we love you” – our Great Deceiver has finally had her fill of the bullshit (echoing feelings that I’m presently kicking around). The final pages of #4 inject some much-needed verve into the proceedings, as Luci busts herself out of prison to have a cigarette and a cup of coffee. It’s an effective sequence that gives the reader a well-deserved semblance of catharsis. (I love Luci.) Before she takes a powder, Luci casts doubt within her devotee, as she tells Laura that the promise of instilling the divine into our dye-tipped heroine was an outright lie. She even insinuates that maybe it was her who killed the judge in issue #1 after all. Is Lucifer telling the truth about lying? (Guh, somebody help me out here.)
That Gillen is still brazenly equivocating this far into The Wicked + The Divine insinuates one of two things: either there is still monumental space for this book to weave a deeper mystery with a tremendous payoff, or Gillen is making it all up as he’s going along. (Because I’m such a fan of his work, I’m willing to give the writer the benefit of the doubt.) I don’t pretend to know what is around the corner for this book, but with this little to work from, all that’s left to do is speculate. And speculation should be the best bit about participating in an unfolding mystery, but so far The Wicked + The Divine has offered its clues like most of its characters offer their dialogue, with an obtuse sneer, arrogantly standing about with all the answers while the reader struggles to catch up.
Written by Kieron Gillen.
Art by Jamie McKelvie.
Colored by Matthew Wilson.
#3: 6 out of 10, #4: 7 out of 10