Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The Wicked + The Divine: Behind the Secret Passage

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When one of my favorite comic series drops a new issue, I’m on top of that like a cat biting a fish. Perhaps a vulgar analogy, but fitting. And make no mistake, The Wicked + The Divine ranks high in my tastes. So, what is the reason it took me so long to actually review the latest WicDiv issue? Does my new soul-syphoning job handling cruise sales for rich folks pose a hefty time constraint? Yes, it does. But I may as well use that time wisely; for example, to cope with how much of a mindfuck this issue was. That’s right, this tale of Gods and Teens pulled a series of twists for the ages that ultimately deconstruct notions we held as truth, however muddy it was.

But there is far more to this than generous amounts of shock and awe. There have been rumors aplenty about a WicDiv television adaptation—apparently in the talks for a while. Way before that, though, with the fashion the story in this issue is presented, it definitely feels like a season finale. Please do note I’m not saying the series’ finale, as the cover’s design may imply. This is more like a gasp of air before returning to the drama and tension. I guess I’ve been selling this prologue eagerly enough: let’s get to it.

Issue #33

My choice of a quote in these reviews always comes from the issue’s final page, where the mood of the story is neatly summarised with some character’s quote. Not this time: there is nothing after the advertisements for cool new comics we should consider reading and fan mail answering. On a meta sense, this works to complement the sensation of void conveyed by the cover. Any fan picking this one up may feel tempted to cheat a little by turning the issue around. The only thematic feel they’re going to get is an allusion to death, despair and uncertainty. These three motifs are vital in this comic, but the third one is paramount. We’re looking not only at the uncertainty of these Gods’ ultimate fate…

We’re feeling the palpable, material uncertainty of Persephone and Urdr venturing into the dark of that secret passage they uncovered last issue. Like them, we’re also counting the steps until we find the huge reveal at the end of what seems to be Woden’s evil super secret lair. But the same darkness that commands the unknown will prove a safe zone for our heads. Because once they step into the light, things are going to get pretty damn bizarre. And by that, I mean that everything we knew was wrong, and that somebody did something really, really wrong.

First off, the big immediate reveal. The chair-bound figure sitting before Laura and Cass is a brand new character, and at the same time, not. In truth, this individual, whose apperance is very similar to Woden’s giant Valkyrie guardian, has been a member of the Pantheon from early on. Since we don’t want to ruin the mystique of the unholy number 13 for this particular Recurrence, this ‘addition’ means a known member of the circle must go. Enter Woden to suit the purpose via an unmasking that you may or not have seen coming. Turns out, this asshole God was not a God at all, but merely David Blake, whose first impression was that of an asshole.

The figure we encountered is his son, Jon Blake—whom we believed all along was Woden. Thus we get a blue neon-styled retrospective narrative of his ascension as Mimir, the Wise One who advised Odin in the Norse Mythology. Jon had indeed always been a creative kid, although somewhat disturbed; still a far cry from the shades of fuckedupness we got from Woden. In spite of his unstable emotional state, Ananke schemed with David to make a God out of Jon, much to the boy’s enraged dismay. Truly, one like he would be well aware of the price to pay for Divinity. Unfortunately, he can’t actually count on his father’s love…

… for the ultimate product of the scheme is to have David masquerading as a member of the Pantheon, while his son uses his powers to create anything Ananke requires for her purposes. Goes without saying, Jon has no say in this. Right now, we’re getting a corrupted parallel between mythology and WicDiv, as the relation between this Mimir-Odin duo conveys some heavy parental abuse. Rather than merely counselling the All-Father, Mimir here is enslaved into doing his bidding. One may also draw a parallel with similar-sounding Ymir, the Giant from whose flesh the Gods fashioned the world. In this case, cool gadgets and a huge machine with a purpose still unknown.

So this is what Ananke had on Woden. And with that little twist, we find that Woden is even worse than we could have ever thought. Am impressive feat indeed. Kudos, Mr. Gillen. Several things regarding Woden also make sense after this; especially his distinctive modus operandi in comparison to the other Gods. And his fetish for women of Asian descent goes from an eerie Freudian mindshit into an unhealthy fixation with his ex-wife. If David wasn’t enough of an irredeemable shit, he also blames his own son for his wife leaving him. All in all, Woden proves the ultimate hate sink of the petty, horrible parent, kind.

He plans to kill Persephone but he relents and gets away after Mimir threatens to forever withhold the truth behind the Big Machine Ananke and Woden had him build. This leaves Persephone and Urdr to live (or die) another day, all the while being the more responsible adults around, and they’re not even older than 27. Seriously, what is wrong with grownups?

As something of an interlude in between twists, Laura and Cass have a chat. Persephone’s words reveal that she blames herself for her family’s murder at Ananke’s hands. Laura reasons her zealous desire to become a God was equal to a bloody price. Such harrowing guilt doesn’t always follow reason. So even if there is no relation between desire and Ananke’s murderous spree, it’s unlikely this conviction will crumble to dust. Nothing like some acute, deadly depression for a breather, eh? Well, time to free Mimir. As a nod to the mythological Mimir, Persephone can only free his disembodied living head from this mockery of a throne.

Interestingly, he reveals the purpose of the machine: absolutely nothing. So what was Ananke’s actual plan?

Enter the second twist to end this issue, as Minerva finds Sakhmet’s equally disembodied dead head. There is some clear frustration in her demeanour and cold pragmatism rather unlike the child God. If the speech tone isn’t enough of an indication, the young God spells it out towards an unseen party. She is Ananke. Whether she was all along, or if Ananke somehow took control of Minerva’s body is unknown. On its own, a pretty massive twist. But it may be dwarfed by the issue’s final page, revealing Lucifer, Inanna and Tara’s heads, all alive and chatty. Luci remarks she didn’t see it coming… then again, WHO COULD HAVE?

It is so that the Imperial Phase II comes to an end. We all had a dreadful sense of reaching a disastrous end as the Gods rushed headlong into deeds and errors similar to the 1831 and 455 AD one shots. Cautionary tales both, if you will. But if new generations have a knack for disruption and subversion, what is to say they couldn’t do the same with our expectations? With a Christmas Special and another one-shot to come, one thing is for sure. We’re not yet at the end. Screw fatalism, lovelies. Stay tuned.

The Wicked + The Divine Issue #33 Credits

Writer: Kieron Gillen

Art / Cover: Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson

All images are courtesy of Image Comics

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