Leave A Beautiful Corpse— thoughts on Jamie McKelvie, Kieron Gillen and Matthew Wilson’s The Wicked + The Divine #45

Cover B by Olivia James (used to avoid spoilers as much as possible)
And Cassandra is lit!

As Jamie McKelvie, Kieron Gillen, Matthew Wilson and Clayton Cowles close the final door on this pantheon, we already know that they survived. Laura and her crew fought to the end, lost some friends and lovers along the way, and found that some that they thought were gone had survived. And in the final battle last issue, there was one we thought had survived all of this only to find out that he was too far gone for his own soul to live with what he had done. The main plot ended last issue but this final issue functions as a ghost of The Wicked + The Divine’s future, giving us one more happyish ending as if The Wicked + The Divine #44 wasn’t enough.

It’s cruel that two of the gods of this fictional pantheon were modeled after David Bowie and Prince. McKelvie and Gillen couldn’t have known how cruel they were being but it’s painful nonetheless. In this final issue, we get to see Lucifer (Bowie) and Inanna (Prince) living to an old age, haunted by their past but learning from it, growing from it, and ready for all of their tomorrows. Again, ghosts moving through this comic and showing us these people one last time. Depending on how invested you got into this series, this issue gives us a final chance to say “goodbye” to our ghosts, both the real ones and the fictional ones.

I don’t know if I ever warmed up to this series like a lot of people did but I think I was also into it far more than a lot of other people were. Particularly the second half, where McKelvie and Gillen settled into a groove on this book stands out to me. For the first couple of years, they played at creating these cool pop-star characters with their superhuman struggles. It was catchy and poppy. The idea that once they received their divinity and only had two years to live with it created a nothing-matters-yet-everything-matters mentality in a way that only 20-somethings can truly comprehend. But looking back at it, what is the difference between 2 years or 42 years when you’re some hot punk living for the now?

But maybe that kind of death sentence is what some of us need to force us to figure out the gift of life? Maybe it’s what’s needed to force us out of our own small, self-centered lives to even begin to grow up a bit. People with live these kind of shortened life expectations all the time, getting news of incurable diseases and inoperable tumors. As Laura and particularly as Baal lived with the thought of “live fast, die hard,” McKelvie and Gillen showed us the best and worst of us and the different ways that we could live knowing that our time was limited.

In this final issue, McKelvie and colorist Matthew Wilson create this moment in time that is about life as much as they are about death. After so much death in this series, we share a funeral with these characters, mourning the loss of one of the gods and also of the book, but celebrating what it is and the life that comes out of it. McKelvie positions a casket in front of an oak tree, symbolizing the renewal of life that can be and should be a part of the grieving process. Gillen doesn’t give his artists anything splashy or big to do in this issue. With the big conflicts wrapped up last issue, this is no longer about the struggles or the lies that have been the core of this series. This issue reminds us of the hope that exists within The Wicked + The Divine, the hope that we get to live in when we come out of the darkness. It may not be as flashy as the battles, but McKelvie and Wilson give it the same intensity as these characters come together one last time to support one another. It takes as much fight to live as it does to die.

WIson’s coloring, whether here or over Russel Dauterman in The Mighty Thor, brings an emotional luminosity to these stories. As McKelvie has become a master at really showing these characters’ conflicts through their expressions, Wilson lights these scenes in a way that subtly plays with our own emotions. Over McKelvie’s work, Wilson taps into the core of the moment and finds ways to quietly work on us the audience to read his work both on a realistic level but also on empathetic level as well. As his choices seem to be made at an attempt for realism, his storytelling choices over McKelvie’s own choices meld to practically erase the line between line art and coloring.

Gillen can’t help but insert a bit of authorial voice in the last pages of this comic, as Laura delivers a final monologue. “Look past the words, she (and Gillen, McKelvie, Wilson and Cowles) tells us. “Remember they were written. Remember they’re a writer’s design, not yours.” This is spoken to us, the audience that has stuck with this series and creative team for 45 issues. They’re words that are supposed to empower and encourage us. It’s actually an odd bit of fourth-wall breaking in a series that has never done that, as if Gillen needs to go over the themes of this series one last time just so we’re all clear on them. The self-awareness of the narrative’s end feels like the creative team needs to remind us, as well as themselves, that this was a finite thing that we have to recognize, assimilate and move on from.

When you strip it all down, all of the fantasy elements, all of the fighting, all of the costumes and all of the fame, The Wicked + The Divine was an ensemble piece about these characters who thought that they could live forever even if they knew that their time was really limited. A day, a year, a lifetime— it’s going to end at some point. So this final issue isn’t about the struggle or the myths but it’s about the people, about the survivors. It’s an ending that allows us to mourn the end but doesn’t give us the permission to wallow in our sadness. Cassandra wouldn’t want that and McKelvie & Gillen don’t want it either.

The Wicked + The Divine #45
Drawn by Jamie McKelvie
Written by Kieron Gillen
Colored by Matthew Wilson
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics