Monday, July 22, 2024

Saga and The Wicked + the Divine

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Hooray! It’s winter holidays! A time to get cosy and indulge responsibly in foods that taste even better when reheated, among other things. It’s also a time to take a breath and greet the New Year with some serenity. And it’s just as well, since this bastard year 2016 has been quite unkind to everyone. What better way to send off this horrendous year than with some outworldly escapism? Hey, ho, ho, ho, let’s go.

Saga #2
“I know a thing or two about this game.”

As readers, we get a feel for the tone of the story merely by looking at the cover. Just look at those baby hands! So baby-plump and full of innocence and curiosity! It’s this very pure and untainted approach that comes into contact with a diegetic world that’s nigh-fundamentally hostile. The large monstrous hand seems unwilling to do harm; it’s even delicate. But we know that, much as the galaxy’s context itself, it can snuff out the child’s life in an instant. History cares nothing for innocence.

The story starts with The Will reporting to his agent, as you do. He informs that he landed the sweet gig of taking out Alana and Marko and taking little Hazel. Nonetheless, his agent informs The Will that he has competition, which the freelancer is cool with. However, in this guild of bounty hunters with names starting with “The”, only one rattles The Will. The Stalk is also on the gig, and she is good at her job. She also has past history with The Will and might just be more lethal than he. Things don’t look good for our heroes; speaking of which…

Alana and Marko continue to traverse the sylvan wilds on the way to the Rocketship Forest. Trapped by vicious vines, the only way to escape is by means of a magic spell. This spell requires literally a secret as an ingredient, by which we learn Alana enjoys the taste of her own breast milk. Such is life; both parents are pretty exhausted from sleeplessly trying to get their daughter out of Cleave. Naturally, they need a nap, so they take a swift one. As the nap draws on, Hazel’s narration speaks from her experience, yet unknown to us readers. Things always go wrong. In this instance, it means that nightfall brings plenty of red eyes creeping in on our heroes while they sleep.

Meanwhile, Prince Robot IV arrives at Cleave, none too pleased about anything. Awkward small talk ensues. The soldier who greeted his arrival tells him Alana was an avid reader of not-too-good literature, mostly oriented to housewives and the sort. This makes our heroine seem an intrepid and loveable simpleton. She had lent the soldier her favourite book a while back, when she still worked as a prison guard. If we go by the presumed logic that the robots’ head-screens are an insight into their psyche, this little scene might say plenty. Maybe the Prince’s sudden interest in Alana exceeds the mission proper.

Back at the forest, Hazel cries out, waking her parents. Alana is concerned, as she feels the baby actually sounds scared. They’re not alone, and also in no position to make much of an outstanding defence. The only choice is to parley, and Marko is the man for this. He speaks out to the unknown presence and puts his sword on the ground as a sign of peace. An eerie armless white creature with eight red eyes and a hot bod appears before them. She introduces herself as The Stalk. Alana immediately acknowledges the “The” as a freelancer’s handle. She knows it means serious danger.

Before Marko can react, The Stalk wounds him with her razor-sharp tongue. Alana pulls out a gun, but The Stalk is not fazed. Beneath her long black skirt lay the rest of her body: a spider body. Each of her arms is armed as fuck. It seems The Will was right to dread. The Stalk speaks openly about her mission; she will kill Alana and take Hazel unharmed. There’s little Alana can do against her. However, she pulls a most daring bluff by pointing her small gun to her daughter’s head. This makes The Stalk ease her approach a bit. Suddenly, the two hear a strange noise around them.

The Freelancer acknowledges it as Horrors. She runs away, which loosens the noose around our heroes, for a little while anyway; the Horrors seem to be even worse. As Alana pleads bleeding Marko to get up, multiples voices call out. Alana is visibly freaked out. The red eyes that watched them as they slept a while ago are everywhere around the panicking mother. What dreadful manner of shape and substance will claim out heroes this night? What monstrosity has earned the name Horror, and made the weird-kind-of-sexy renowned death merchant flee? The answer: a bunch of ethereally red kids in varying states of wounding with a friendly demeanour.

Urgency is not letting up for Alana, Marko and Hazel. The narrative adversities introduced in the first issue are not only nuanced this time, but also diversified. Nonetheless, a trope as dominant as ‘ghost children in the forest’ can still be subverted in aesthetics and role. This can extend to several other tropes belonging to a ‘saga’ or an odyssean narrative, which the notion of travel hints to. Although there is no origin land to flee towards, the idea of a ‘home’ for a child to grow in a state beyond war gives us the idea of an Ithaca. Whether or not this Ithaca is a mutable location, or an idea that can only be pursued but never grasped will remain to be seen.

The Wicked + the Divine #2
“You spend all your life wishing you were special. And then you find out you are.”

From this issue on, we’ll be getting a bit of a mini-narrative before the story. It’s a brief recap of the events of issues past, along with the circle of effigies representing the Gods, living, dead or unknown. This is stylistically neat, and supplies us in this second issue with the ‘arc words’, if you will. We’ll get to those pretty soon, but I can say they ring with prophetic, monolithic tone. But what will occur between now and the impending doom? First off, we have the immediate consequences.

Lucifer is taken in for the judge’s death, but she manages to tell the divine Kate Bush expy, Amaterasu to get Ananke. The Sun Goddess promptly runs to get her while Laura looks on in confusion. As with any PR catastrophe, statements are about to fall. The first comes in a televised interview with Baal, Canaanite God of fertility, rain, lighting and war. He is the only Pantheon member to speak on camera. Hotblooded, he defends Lucifer’s defence against the snipers from past issue. However, the presenter twists Baal’s statement as they often do to make the Gods appear as a danger.

Laura’s parents believe the judge’s death was a hoax to take advantage of the kids. This openness already marks them as cool parents. Meanwhile, Laura – whose presence in the courthouse is unknown to her mum and dad – looks up Ananke. All she gets is the Wikipedia definition: Greek Goddess of force, necessity and fate. She can’t find much beyond that, though. One week later, Laura visits Lucifer at prison. She’s been missing classes, but she isn’t too worried about that. We learn that Laura has a rather fatalistic view on life; she cares little for having a future. She pretty much lives through the Gods’ brief lives. There’s no guessing where the line blurs the least here, between the mundane, vicariously living through celebrities and the immanent existence of actual gods.

Luci quickly recognises Laura. She also keeps her cool even with fingers retrained and no recreational drugs. Nonetheless, in candour, she reveals who Ananke is, and by extension the story of her ‘rebirth’ as Lucifer. Ananke is the one they don’t talk about, the one who brings the news to the youths. She is the old woman from 1923, and the bearer of the ‘arc words’. “You are of the Pantheon. You will be loved. You will be hated. You will be brilliant. Within two years, you will be dead.” Eleanor Rigby is no more, only Lucifer, Lord of the Pit, of eternal fire, inspiration and damnation.

Lucifer elaborates that Ananke is an advisor and a caretaker to them. She admits she’s been unruly and that might be the reason Ananke hasn’t come. Regard for her is also the reason Luci hasn’t broken out. Vulnerability often exhibits our true colours, thus she admits she absolutely needs to be on a stage. If she can’t be seen, life seems pointless. Laura empathises, so Luci deems her “wicked enough” to be like her. She also acknowledges Laura is the only one who came to see Lucifer in Hell. The only friend she has in this situation.

Laura herself appears to be without friends, or at least irremediably lonely. What she will rely on to help Lucifer will be enemies: namely Cassandra the journo. She, and her staff, agreed to meet Laura at the National Portrait Gallery to pursue the Ananke lead. Turns out, Cass is more than competently educated on mythologies. Her bitterness stems from the deities’ narratives being ‘lies’, which is fairly reductionist, given the events. Nonetheless, the possibility of the judge’s death being a conspiracy is still too tasty not to investigate. The first suspects are fire-related Gods, which basically applies to all known Gods of this Recurrence.

Fortunately, the Pantheon is planning a public statement at “Valhalla”. Cass can get in and do some investigating. However, Laura can’t get in as easily; she’ll need to go ask some other God. At first she thinks Cass means Tara, a Goddess of unknown origin nobody seems to like, but that’s not the case. There is one known God she has never seen, an underground God. At this point, allow me to take a step back and seize on the parallel. These Gods shine through being pop stars; as such, they are public and accessible, just like the genres themselves. An underground God alludes to an underground music scene, to a privacy divorced from luxurious exclusivity.

Rather, this elusiveness is linked with a sort of dark romantic allure. It’s dangerous and inapprehensible by design, surrounded with mystique and doom. This is the atmosphere that surrounds the Morrigan, the Phantom Queen, Celtic Goddess of Death. Laura and many others come down into the subway after dusk to see her. This plunge into the shadows is very purposeful to her, but not without dread. As she and the rest of the attendants wait for her arrival, a snapping of fingers sets the tunnels ablaze. A new figure stands before them, clad in chains and leather, holding the Morrigan’s severed head in his hand.

This Andrew Eldritch-looking kinda guy introduces himself as the New King of the Underworld. One more effigy reveals itself with flames on the wheel: Baphomet. Here we have a new possible suspect who already seems to have claimed Morrigan’s life. Certainly a fire God with an incendiary disposition. Much like Lucifer, a God given might by reputation rather than inherent divinity. Baphomet’s surfacing is only one of the first as-of-yet unknown Gods even by quality of mention.

So ends this entry on our Image Comics reviewing. Do drop by for further issues, cause we’re seething this through to the very end. Speaking of things ending, Happy New Year, readers. Be well and read a lot. Stay strong, for 2017 approaches with uncertain steps.

Published by Image Comics
Saga: Written by Brian K. Vaughn, Illustrated by Fiona Staples
The Wicked + The Divine: Written by Kieron Gillen, Illustrated by Jamie McKelvie


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