March 4, 2019

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The Tiring Race to an Ending— thoughts on The Wicked + The Divine #42

These last few issues of The Wicked + The Divine have just contained one gut punch after another as truths have been revealed and characters are being forced to confront their own actions in light of those truths.  It feels so long ago when Laura killed Ananke and it seemed that the remaining Pantheon was finally free to decide their own destiny but we know by now how much of a lie that was. And there’s still two members of the Pantheon, Baal and Woden, who have to learn the true fate of Ananke in issue #42, the proverbial quiet issue before the storm of the conclusion that this series is racing towards.

If there was a word to describe where this series is right now, it would be “dread.”  Every 90 years, twelve gods return to walk the earth in mortal form for two years. “They are loved.  They are hated. In two years, they are all dead,” the tagline reads. Well, the two years are almost over and now their own mortality and failures are all that they have left.  They came into this with a “live fast, die hard, and leave a beautiful corpse” mentality. For the past two years, they’ve left a trail of corpses behind them, rivals, family, friends, and lovers, and what do they have to show for it?  They’re still a divided tribe of heroes, with the most powerful one of them, Baal, unaware of the truth and broken by his near murder of 20,000 people.

In this issue, Jamie McKelvie draws these tired and desperate people.  Except for one particularly violent scene, this is largely a talking heads issue where McKelvie really sets these characters up to figure out their own truths.  Whether it’s Baal and Woden finding out the truth of who they’ve allied themselves with, Baphomet realizing the part he’s to play in these final days, or just Laura and Cassandra’s tired spirits, McKelvie’s display of the fragile emotional state of these characters reveals the true humanity of them, substituting divinity for a weary reluctance to see this battle through to the end.

Even as writer Kieron Gillen and McKelvie plunge these characters into their darkest hours, colorist Matthew Wilson provides a touch of hope and light in this issue. The Wicked and the Divine started as a pop comic, as much about celebrity and power as it was about choices and decisions. As the weight of the stakes has multiplied over the past 41 issues, there’s almost always a spark of light in this issue, whether it’s the hold flare of a warming fire or even the cold digital screen of a son trying to send his father one last warning.  It’s important to note that warm and cool palettes that Wilson alternates between here, providing some comfort for Laura and her allies, our heroes, and a steely determination for Minerva/Ananke in her final endgame.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from this series, it’s that we’re all heroes and cowards.  It’s just what we do in the moment of truth that defines us as one or the other. The personal responsibility of Laura, Baal and even Woden weighs against the decisions that they’ve made since even before their godhead started.  As Gillen reveals in this issue, there is no big bad in this series, no ultimate evil out to destroy all of existence. The real threats are much more petty than that. Accepting that, we see that this issue is about people making their final decisions to be in the side of good or evil with varying degrees of self interest.  That personal responsibility weighs more on some of the characters than on others but Gillen and McKelvie show the consequences of those choices now, before the series conclusion. Even as we race to the climax of the series, this issue may feature the emotional climax that motivates the final actions of these characters.

Coming to terms with the lies they’ve let define their lives for nearly two years, Laura, Baal and the rest of the Pantheon visibly want this to be done with.  Over the nearly two years that this series has covered, Gillen, McKelvie, Wilson and Clowes have shown the characters getting lost in their godhood, while losing sight of their shared humanity.  It’s celebrity trumping personal responsibility. With only a few issues remaining, these “gods” are realizing what they’ve sacrificed due to the lies that they’ve been told. It’s a cruel trade where only now in the end is the true cost becoming evident.  They’ve each given up or lost people that they can’t imagine life without. Now it’s time to see if they can get even a fraction of those losses back.

The Wicked + The Divine #42
Written by Kieron Gillen
Drawn by Jamie McKelvie
Colored by Matthew Wilson
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics