Once again we return! Welcome back to “Wicked Intervention” your page by page deep dive into “The Wicked + The Divine.” Only a few issues left now, but join me in my deep analysis of every page and image in every issue of ‘Okay.’
Cover: When I first saw this cover, I was pretty confused and started speculating wildly. That’s bad form for your friendly neighborhood “WicDiv” deep diver. I asked myself: is it Beth? Is it Laura’s sister returned to us!? Nope and nope. It turns out, this is Tom. Who is Tom you ask? Again, before this issue I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. He has appeared in the series before, but as a character so minor he doesn’t even have an entry on the Wiki and the Divine. So why include him on the cover? Why include him at all? By the end of this issue, I was thoroughly convinced that including Tom here was a brilliant coup by the team.
Recap page: I just spent a month recapping “The Wicked + The Divine,” so naturally I compared myself to the official thing. Lots has changed! “Many gods are already dead,” the omniscient voice of Kieron Gillen tells us. That’s basically the series in a sentence, innit? Also, “Persephone has somehow abandoned her divinity,” we are told. These recaps are wild because that’s never how I would have described the events of the last issue. Laura was still lightning cigarettes with a snap, which seems pretty miraculous to me. She’s just abandoned her role as a member of the Pantheon. Unless… we’re meant to believe that the cigarette lighting trick has nothing to do with being Persephone. Perhaps Lucifer gifted Laura with that power after all?
A coupe of character descriptions in the recap stuck out at me. Laura is described as a “descended god.” In a story about ascension, I just found it really striking how nice and comforting descending feels. Usually a negative word, here turned into a positive. Props to the creative team for thoroughly convincing me that being a sexy young magical superstar would suck.
Minerva, “or Ananke?” as the recap page calls her, as confused as we are is labeled as “death-phobic.” Is it really that simple? ‘Mothering Invention’ made it seem like there was a complicated rivalry with mechanics based on the mythological archetypes of maid, mother, and crone. Is she simply trying to live eternal. I guess the very first promotion of the series said it all: “Just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.”
Also: Nergal. He’s fully gotten over being Nergal thing. What a wanker.
Also also: Tara was “apparently secretly killed.” You know you’ve created a convoluted story when you’ve got to double up on your adverbs.
Page 1: “Footage recorded surrounding the events of the O2 disaster of 1st May 2015.” There’s a gimmick to this issue, and it’s a really good one. In fact, I can’t remember ever seeing this done in a comic before (but if you know of a series that’s done this, please let us know about it in the comments!). After letting us know that there’s going to be a disaster, the entire issue is told as a “found footage” story. It’s all security footage, cell phone cameras, even a documentary-style digital recreation. Obviously, as a comic, this is all a fiction. There’s no footage to find. But the notion of seeing this part of the story through the eyes of various “on the ground” strangers ends up giving the story a thematic foundation.
Page 2: Case in point- we start with an unboxing video! It’s got all the charm and stupidity of the genuine article (“Standard envelope,” “Fire design in red foil! Sweet.”) and it does a bunch of worldbuilding in a moment. This ties us to how people in the world of “WicDiv” are fans of the Pantheon. It’s not just going to gigs in cosplay and having lots of sex. There are different kinds of fans, and some of them run cheesy video channels.Continued below
Also, being a Gillen/McKelvie comic, every story beat needs to serve multiple purposes. In this case exposition. Baal has announced his final performance and these guys (Tom and Nathan) just got their tickets. It’s gonna be at the O2, which is a real venue in London. A page ago we learned about the “O2 Disaster,” and as an American I had no idea what that meant. Now I do. Baal’s giving a show and it’s going to be such a catastrophe, calling it the “O2 Disaster” will be as clear as saying “9/11.” Everyone will know what you mean.
Lets talk that ticket design. This issue is full of great design choices. Jamie McKelvie deserves more credit than we can give him. If you’ve heard him talk about his art, designing artifacts like this is what he lives for. We’ve also gotta give props to Matt Wilson for rocking those colors and especially the lighting, which makes the “fire design in red foil,” texture clear even before these goofs tell you what its made of. This issue also credits Hannah Donovan as the Original Designer and Sergio Serrano as the Designer. I’d assume they had something to do with the artifact design as well.
Page 3: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jamie McKelvie draws the best phones in the industry. The second panel on this page is my favorite in the issue. With a simple diagonal and a complicated motion blur, we understand that we’re seeing this scene through a phone camera and that we’re experiencing the blur of the camera rotating. Kieron even helps by having Nathan say, “I’m on vertical again. Let’s be professional!” as the camera rotates to horizontal mode. Now we know that the large rectangular panels surrounded by negative space are all supposed to be captured by phones. Again, this is a quintessential Jamie move, and he nails the perspective throughout the issue.
Page 4: More McKelvie Magic. We get a walk-through of the O2 Arena explaining the space to us. Also: Woden’s been here. Gross. He’s installed a combination of insidious gadgets he’s been using throughout the series. We’ve got the energy conduits, batteries to capture Baal’s power, a booster to amplify his power, and the Dionysus mind control device. This is gonna be bad.
Page 5: Now we see our trio of antagonists through security camera footage. The found footage concept is going strong. From this angle, the physicality of the characters feels so different. Minerva is small, Baal is HUGE. He is a big boy! And Woden is so shrimpy. That’s not a surprise, but Baal looks so imposing, which makes his inevitable vulnerability that much more affecting.
This trio is here to take down the Great Darkness using Woden’s (really Mimir’s) tech. You can tell by the way they are talking that the Great Darkness= Persephone, not an amorphous cloud monster. Each one of these characters is being dishonest with the other two about something, but that’s pretty much the plan. Lure The Great Darkness, and kill it.
Page 6: We’re introduced to Julie, another fan. I love how Jamie draws kids impersonating Pantheon styles and fashions. Julie isn’t in cosplay, but she’s modeled her look and her hair after Persephone. She’s wearing an imitation Baal medallion, and it looks as natural as someone wearing a Deathly Hallows necklace or a Captain America t-shirt. Again, really good design.
I’ve been saying for a while that “WicDiv” feels like the end of a trilogy that includes “Phonogram” and “Young Avengers.” Watching these kids, just regular people looking for a good time calls back to “Phonogram” more than any other moment in the series so far. Post-teen drama about a bi boy crushing on a lesbian and finding a healthy way to unpack those feelings is so Team Phonogram.
Page 7: That calendar! The design work in this issue is pulling out all the stops! It mimics the logo that appears at the chapter breaks but also, you know, on a t-shirt I own. It blurs the line between the fandom within the book and the fandom of the book. Which again, is pure Team Phonogram.Continued below
We also learn that… oh shit. This isn’t just a dangerous lure, it’s literally a giant human sacrifice. Baal (and David/Woden and Ananke/Minerva) is murdering 20,000 people. Baal at least thinks he’s doing it to save the world. “You’d make that call… if you were man enough,” he says, before invoking his dead dad. That’s basically the Baal mission statement in a nutshell. Be a man. Make the hard call. Push down the hurt. Of course, we know that despite Baal’s somewhat noble intentions, they’re all based on Ananke/Minerva’s lies. When someone’s identity is based so hard on what they want to be and not what they are, they’re easily manipulated.
It says a lot that while Baal is set up in this final arc to be a (well intentioned) antagonist, he’s the only “bad guy” who’s being totally honest. Well okay, not totally honest, he’s lying about which Baal he is so…
In fact, I completely off. He’s full of shit. The justification that it’s okay to murder 20,000 if they are “over 18” it total bullshit, yeah? I see where he’s coming from, having been a serial baby murderer and all, but he’s got to own up to his monotonousness. Of course, in a few pages, he’s going to break my heart…
Page 8: Persephone fans are people who feel like they ruined everything. People who feel like destroyers. Having these fans debate things like whether Persephone or Baal is the real destroyer (and then deciding it’s really Tara. Fucking Tara) is extremely fanwanky, but it’s also the highest, purest form of “WicDiv.” In the end, ‘Okay’ is closing out the themes of Phonogram surprisingly well. If you’re a hardcore “WicDiv” fan (and if you’re reading this, chances are high that you are) you might have gone to a fan-gathering where the creators sit with the fans are discuss these very questions. Fandom isn’t just about picking your favorite, it’s about having heady discussions about what your favorite means, what it says about you. I think that’s the kind of thing that fans sniff out in media about nerds as being genuine or not. These people aren’t talking about the gods like their favorite colors. It’s their lens for understanding the world and themselves. It’s religion.
You know, maybe making the story about fandoms building around literally divine figures was a really really good idea.
Page 9: Halfway down this page, I realized that he’s sacrificing his mom, and it’s hitting me really hard. Like, no analysis, just feelings. Sorrow, pain, and nausea… but also a love for Baal? A weird sort of respect? He’s so convinced that he’s right that he’s willing to make a disgusting, impossible sacrifice and that sort of conviction is magnetic.
This is truly Baal’s issue. Maybe the best one in the series. Also his mom calls him a “soppy twat.”
Page 10: Every time Ananke/Minerva starts ranting I need to force myself not to tune out. She just talks in mixed metaphors and I can’t stand it. “Imagine me a plague” she says in one panel. “Not an actual plague,” she says a panel later, “a memetic infection.” SHUT THE FUCK UP ANANKE, I’M SO SICK OF YOU.
Page 11: The art and colors on this page, especially the shadowy dots, are so evocative of earlier in the series. You know that part in Return of the King after they destroy the Ring (uh, spoilers I guess) and color returns to the world? The movie started pretty washed out, but gradually got less and less vivid until it was practically black and white. This page makes me feel like that, but for gloss. Everything has gotten so glossy and shiny, but now we’re back to a down and dirty street level gig. These aren’t the deep black shadows of gods warring in sci-fi palaces, it’s the darkness of a concert about to start.
Page 12: How goth Kieron is this shit? The lessons the characters we should care about are being learned by strangers we don’t know very well… and they’re about to die. Does anything matter? “Realizing you’re the Destroyer? It’s a step towards not being one.” Good point totally doomed civilian.Continued below
Page 13: The panel of Baal, especially his eyes, asking the crowd to help him “destroy the Darkness” is Jamie and Matt at their finest. “Are you ready?” If you want an example of a creative team, Writer, Artist, Colorist, Letterer, and Editor, working together, this is it. Take this page slow, and think about every person’s contributions. The way Kieron wrote the doublespeak, where Baal’s words mean one thing to the fans, another thing to the readers. The depth of the expressions Jamie drew for Baal, his mom, and the screaming fans. The finishing work Matt did with the lighting and the grainy camera feel. Clayton’s purple letters expressing Baal’s power unleashed. Chrissy’s perfect pacing, guiding each image and each beat so that it lands with maximum impact. If you want a perfect page to study how each member of a comic book’s creative team can tell the story, hold on tight to “The Wicked + the Divine,” issue 40, page 13.
Page 14: This next sequence is the climax of the issue, and it took me a second to realize what was happening. The rule that Pantheon shows can’t be recorded is brought up, so the sequence comes in choppy pairs of panels. Interviews with various people, and horrifying images of what Baal’s power, Woden’s machines, and Ananke’s master plan are accomplishing together.
But each of these people- we know all of them. It’s every character who danced in the background, who got a close up, who stood off to the side, from the entire series. Go through it- hold each of these panels up against the previous issues and you’ll recognize these people. It gives the story a massive sense of destiny without taking away anyone’s agency. It’s all been building to this moment, and it’s as if the reason we’ve been focusing on the people we’ve been focusing on is because they are all here together this night. This is it. This is how you start a finale.
Page 15: All these people who met through their love for Pantheon shit, mirroring the friendships and romances and marriages and rivalries of every fandom, including the “WicDiv” fandom. I don’t need to get too personal, because I think you already know what I mean. I’ve got friends and acquaintances and family reading this comic because we all love it together. The relationships I’ve made through a shared love, those are real. And everyone who’s rapturously given themselves over to Batman or Luke Skywalker, Manchester United or the Cleveland Cavaliers, CHVRCHES or the E-Street Band, they’ve all met someone. Maybe a best friend. Maybe a pen pal. Maybe a spouse. But a silly occasionally self-destructive obsessive love for something you have nothing to do with… that could end up being the realest shit in your life.
Page 16: And it’s faster and faster now. Everyone we’ve ever met in the series. The cop who “died” a that first Underground gig in issue #4. A dude who saw Dio at the store getting caffeine in issue #19. Folks from that Persephone gig in issue #18. The Luci lookalike that Laura boned down with in issue #29. The team is tying together the events of the who series like the goddamn threads of fate, and damn is it working!
Page 17: Throughout this amazing sequence, we keep returning to Tom. I get why he’s on the cover now. He’s not a god, but he’s been there the whole time. All these people have, and so have we. Tom is gentle and kind and enthusiastic, he hurts people without meaning to and does his best to make things right. He’s supposed to be all of us. He also doesn’t seem to be hypnotized like everyone else. “I’m just grateful we got to be here. All of us. We’re history.”
Page 18: Lights and colors.
Page 19: Kaboom.
Page 20: Total Eclipse. That’s a significant song to the “WicDiv” fandom. It’s how the creative team closes out their secret dance parties in the wee hours of the morning.
Page 21: And people have survived! Tom and Julie make it out of the arena. The disaster is in full effect now, and we’re still seeing everything through cell phone coverage. The panels are spaced out with huge gutters letting you know you’re not looking at normal images. And then…
Page 22: “It’s going to be okay.” Laura Wilson says. But it was never going to be okay! But then when you turn the page…
Page 23: “For a certain value of “okay,” Kieron promises you. Phew. I thought I was going to have to feel hope for a second there.
And with that the finale, appropriately titled ‘Okay’ is now in full swing. This first issue was virtuosic. Everyone is on top of their game. I can’t wait for this to end. I never want it to end.