This was a superlative issue of “The Wicked + the Divine.” When it comes to excellent comics, you grow accustomed to a certain level of quality. Once you know you like a series and its creators, you can safely expect to keep enjoying it 30 issues in. But every so often a series has to do something different.
A long standing conflict comes to a head. A mystery is paid off. The book delivers on its premise in a big way. This issue took all the potential in the concepts of gods-as-pop-stars and ratcheted it up to the nth degree. There’s almost no way of talking about it without mentioning spoilers, so if you are not caught up, go catch up, then come back here and read this, and then maybe talk to me, because I could really use a hug after all of this.
Written by Kieron Gillen
Illustrated by Jamie McKelvie
Colored by Matt Wilson
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
‘IMPERIAL PHASE II’, Part Four It’s time for a ‘Wait-he’s doing what? But he’s…yes! No! Oh no! But then she did the-and WHATTAAATATAT? I think I’ll sit down and have a cup of herbal tea’ issue.
From the get go, four icons in the circle are already skulls. Lucifer, Inanna, and Tara are all long dead. Amaterasu is very recently dead, killed in a shrine of cultural appropriation by Sakhmet. By the end of the issue one more god is dead, and another is as good as dead, and that wasn’t even the craziest part.
This issue had glow stick nunchucks! That is exactly what I read “WicDiv” for. These kids are deified pop stars using their iconography to have larger-than-life superhero battles in a beautifully drawn and colored comic book. Glow stick nunchucks! That visual would be fun enough to justify itself, but it comes as part of a fight between Dionysus and Woden, a fight that’s been a long time coming.
We should talk about the fight and how Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson deliver it. It’s beautiful in its own right, but it draws upon the visual language of the series to hammer its point home. We return to the numbers from Dionysus’s introduction issue, and as they count to four, he battles his way through his own crowd towards Woden, who’s remix is perverting his powers. Then, he falters, and the numbers go from a psychedelic glow, to a dull grey. He fights on, color is restored, but when he stumbles next, we see his exhausted human eyes, also introduced at the end of his first issue. And he is defeated by Woden’s Valkyries, and Woden himself escapes.
It’s brilliant comic book storytelling. Every creator is working at their peak, and working together to create something that’s more than the sum of its parts. The words, images, and colors all support the fight that’s happening physically, emotionally, magically, and musically. It blew me away, and is probably the best action sequence in the series yet.
Things aren’t all action all the way through. Sakhmet and Persephone share a tender moment. They talk about trust. They talk about violence. They talk about betrayal. This sequence is the most we’ve seen Persephone open up since becoming a god. For a moment, you can see Laura Wilson in there, buried under grief and guilt and divine superpowers. “You can’t be free if you hurt people,” she tells Sakhmet. “I think we only get to hurt ourselves. And maybe people who want to be hurt.” Oof. Someone please help Laura Wilson.
Of course, even that devolves into violence as Baal comes to thunderstrike Sakhmet to death. The fight leaves everyone beaten and bloodied. Persephone picks a side, but she’s not capable of killing Sakhmet. As Sakhmet digs her claws into Persephone’s face, things are looking dire when Minerva, the youngest of the gods, explodes Sakhmet’s head.
Sakhmet was probably going to die. She had become a cold-blooded murderer, even if Amaterasu was kind of a spacey racist. But Minerva was pretty much an innocent in all this. That’s all over. She and Persephone are the only living characters who have committed murder. That’s got to mean something, and Minnie doesn’t look like she’s going to be okay. It was never going to be okay.Continued below
That doesn’t conclude the arc though. That doesn’t even conclude the issue. We end with a confrontation between Persephone (or Laura) and Urdr (or Cassandra). They insult each other argue and fight, eventually revealing a secret staircase. It’s kind of a cheap cliffhanger, and after so much excellence delivered, it kind of seemed cruel. I shouted Cassandra’s final expletive out loud. What could possibly top this glut of blood and death that needed to be left until next issue? It’s hard to penalize an issue for setting up the next one, and it’s stupid to expect the WicDiv team to pull their punches when it comes to grinning cruelty towards their readers, but asking us to wait a month to see what’s behind that wall is going to be brutal.
A beautiful rave turned superhero fight, representing different worldviews and musical styles. A metaphoric battle between the joy of dance, the corruption of remixes, and the power of criticism. A tender conversation about darkness and violence, punctuated by wanton murder. Glow stick nunchucks! If you’ve read the previous 31 issues of “The Wicked + the Divine” this is exactly the kind of glorious nonsense you’ve been praying for.
Final Verdict: 9.8 – A near perfectly executed comic that takes the gods-as-pop-stars premise to tremendous, preposterous, ridiculous heights.