Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Wicked + The Divine Shows No Mercy

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There’s a lot to say about this one, and this being my personal favourite issue has little to do with it. From last issue’s cover, we began a departure into a more telling choice in aesthetics. A more poignant flavor to preface the events of each issue. With this issue’s cover, we may well have severed our ties altogether. Yes, this reprisal of Lucifer’s portrait (originally featured in Issue #1 as an alternate cover) is striking, but it is more of an indication of the dual structure in the comic and outside of it.

As told by the writer in his personal Tumblr, the events Lucifer went through in the first arc (The Faust Act: 1-5) are mirrored by Laura in the current arc (Fandemonium: 6-11). We won’t be reaping any symmetry in terms of events with this duality, but we do have a thematic repetition. After all, Laura and Luci were a unit of sorts from the very beginning. Their stories went through different arcs, but both stem from a shot at relevance otherwise unattainable as regular human-beings.

All things considered, we already have a pretty solid idea of what that means for the events to unfold, so let’s get to it.

Issue #11
“No one gets a happy ending”

We start off on a dreary note as Laura stands alone, watching the night pass by at Hilly Fields’ park. She dwells on the past events, especially the awakening of the twelfth god, which essentially kills her chance to become a god. You know what they say, that light shines the strongest when in the dark? Well that’s what’s happening here. With a snap of her fingers, she starts making her way home with poise and resolve. Her inner monologue revolves around the doom that awaits the Pantheon. Although she is not a god herself, she still seeks to be their truest ally. Whether this intention is genuine or just a means to pull herself forward is anyone’s guess.

You know that feeling when don’t hear back when applying for a job? How you’re at a loss for words when you get a call to let you know otherwise? Whether you keep a look of outrage, disappointment, or apathy, it crumbles in an instant. As her reinvigorated mood reaches its peak, a visit from Ananke in her backyard catches Laura off guard. She’s come to discuss something, and we know she’s not one to dwell on trifling matters. Let’s keep in mind that the wheel of the Pantheon is closed now: all seats are taken. Laura has been close to several gods, but the consequences of her involvement are actually pretty small. Godhood doesn’t sound like something you’ll get into by being a simply friend of the club. The pulse quickens as Ananke reveals herself to Laura.

Meanwhile, a party’s going down at Inanna’s place. To be frank, ‘party’ and ‘place’ apply pretty loosly. The ‘place’ vaguely resembles Stoke Newington Unitarian Church, but it’s still far from a regular church. This is literally a Starlit Gospel of Sex (caps very much intended). Before we can start wishing we were there, we ‘d best be aware that so is Baphomet. As in the previous issue, his murderous resolve shrinks in the wake of performance (lame allusion to impotence purely incidental). So Baphomet once again summons his astral enabler to neutralize his unwillingness (or perhaps his conscience). In the end, the fact that Inanna loves what he does pushes Baphomet into doing the dirty, bloody deed. Flaming staff mode: on.

Once more, Baphomet attacks. Although no other god is around to parry his attack, it proves just as ineffective as last issue. He seems to have forgotten that Inanna is a divination god, and he can do all sorts of crazy magnificent things with stardust, as you do. Inanna greets Baphomet amiably, but won’t give him an audience while he’s in such a murder-y mood. Even in the face of death, Inanna’s serene demeanor stands.

Although he’d never been in a fight before, he dodges each of the hellfire god’s attacks with relative ease. Unfortunately, before Inanna can counterattack, Baphomet plays the creepy guile card and binds him with a crucifix hanging on his back.

After a pretty cool action sequence that vaguely reminds us of Baal and Sakhmet vs. Lucifer on Issue #5 (‘cept with more GOTH), Baphomet approaches for the kill. Inanna tries to parley, initially clueless to Baphomet’s motives, but he works them out pretty quickly. At this moment, the divination god takes the fearless, frank tone of one who knows he’s doomed. Innana clearly sees Baphomet’s fear of dying. Although Inanna was aware of death breathing in his own ear, he is happy, so he doesn’t mind dying young. At the same time, even if Baphomet has a few years more on him, he’ll still be afraid. As a consequence, he’ll likely kill again and again to stave off the inevitable.

And how does Baphomet respond to being read so easily? With a killing blow that destroys everything. Miffed as he may be at the notion, he seems to share such defensiveness in the face of silver tongues with Cass. “Fuck you” is the signature response of the cornered. So long, Inanna. We loved you.

Back at Laura’s, Ananke tells Laura that she’d noticed her. She feels bad for the young lady, yet she’s not the first one to be heartbroken at not becoming a god. The old goddess tries to offer her some solace, and some sober thinking, much like she tried to for Lucifer. Laura knows she has dodged a bullet in not becoming a god. Nonetheless, she still wants it badly. In spite of the death being one of the Pantheon involves, she would still sacrifice her future for a chance to burn bright, even for only two years. The prospect may appear all the better when her life appears grey and unbearably long to her otherwise. She feels stupid over it, but she’s not the only one. Ananke too has some shame in store, that it had taken so long to ‘find’ her.

The verb carries a momentous connotation when Ananke’s eyes glow red. Cue the rite of passage. Those at least moderately read on mythologies and deities will probably figure out who Ananke means as she speaks. Laura is this “child of the sky, betrothed to darkness”, whose mother’s grief shakes the world. However, she also includes a few cryptic words, considerably more than in the other ‘births’ we’ve seen so far in this comic (Lucifer and Urdr). Considering the dual inner structure of the plot so far, Ananke may be alluding of Laura’s role as Lucifer’s reprisal.

And now we welcome Persephone; the look suits her well, the poppies and vines breathe some freshness into the dark. As a favor to yourself, imagine Antonia Thomas like this and tell me if you don’t want a WicDiv adaptation on film or television.

Persephone feels shock at this turn of events, particularly at how she thought there only were twelve gods per Recurrence. Ananke dismisses it as something that simply never happened before. However, the red lights pop for us readers on this side of the diegetic universe. Much about this divine birth strikes with ominous flavor, and as does Laura herself. Let’s think a bit on this.

The number thirteen is always unlucky and that’s the most blatant sign. However, throughout the comic, we’ve seen the 1-2-3-4- motif. This may be a creative allusion to music as a motif (plausible considering the creators’ work in Phonogram), but also a resonance of the number four. This comic doesn’t just reincarnate mythos of the Western tradition, but of the Eastern as well. I may be reading in too deeply, but the number four is considered allusive to death and misfortune in Eastern cultures. The white page that follows with the word ‘Persephone’ also alludes to this duality as the color white represents death and mourning in the East.

It’s something to consider.

Anyway, a pleased-looking Ananke urges Persephone to do the thing she’d waited so long to do. She urges the new god to perform. Laura smiles sweetly, with meek innocence no different than a child’s. She’s scared at first, still dazzled by disbelief, but it doesn’t take long to unwind, to let it out. She utters her first note with a heartfelt tear in her eye. She’s happy, she’s in ecstasy and rapture at herself. She feels free from the shadow that’s plagued her. But she doesn’t see Ananke’s hand approaching behind. We know the position of those fingers, and their only logical conclusion.

Snap. Spoiler alert, Ananke just killed Laura/Persephone, much like she did Lucifer. Maybe this granny is not a good guy after all.

Spattered with Laura’s blood, Ananke looks on her victim’s burning body with an undecipherable feeling. Laura’s parents arrive to see what happened, and they try to run away. This is to no avail. They won’t get to mourn their daughter, as Ananke blows up their house with utter impunity. Now, the mystery behind the judge’s death and the Great Darkness becomes exacerbated. Even Ananke’s information dump during her interview with Cassandra now resonates back with a shroud of doubt, or a sea-ful of salt. Up until this moment, we had a notion of binary antagonism, some dark force to stand against. Alas, those notions of ‘good’ vs. ‘evil’ are now worth squat when spoken by Ananke.

At the beginning and end of each issue, there’s a short phrase surrounded by the Pantheon’s wheel. In issues’ past, these phrases offer some poignancy to the tone and events. I don’t much allude to these since they often don’t strike as hard as this time. It began with “It’s going to be okay.” as an allusion to Laura’s emotional state. Now, at the end, it’s very tempting to agree with the closing words. “It was never going to be okay”. The flavor of hopelessness falls heavy with the newly deceased effigy where Inanna’s was before. And Laura, the thirteenth god, she never even got hers. This issue is truly brutal.

We ask this question on every recap, but it does weigh heavier this time. There’s a great narrative uncertainty and a touch of violent defiance against the ‘knowledge’ we had been given about the Pantheon’s backstory and purpose. We’re in the dark now. And with Laura gone, what will happen next issue?

All images are courtesy of Image Comics

Saga Issue #11 Credits

Writer: Kieron Gillen

Art / Cover: Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson

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