We’re approaching the endgame supreme, lovelies. The players are all more or less in their places. All but a vital one, who has chosen to follow his heart and go to the Underworld for friendship’s sake. Sounds kind of Orpheus-like, doesn’t it?
“Beware the honest.”
The time spent below in the Underground last issue was draining. But although Persephone is free to mindlessly indulge in whatever she desires, the day isn’t over for Valhalla’s “R&D Department”. Woden, the Valkyries, and the non-Godly day workers have been busy preparing both the grand mysterious machine and Valhalla’s grounds for the upcoming gig.
Speaking of which, let’s do a quick recap of the specifics. Exactly 44,444 people in the grounds, ripe for Dionysus to pull his party hivemind thing, thus powering up the machine… and then see what happens. It’s a plan running entirely on uncertainty, both with regard to the gig actually containing the precise number of attendees and the outcome. A considerably more civil Woden assures Urdr the Valkyries can do crowd control if this event goes belly up.
But there is yet another concern on the preliminary side of things. Will Dionysus be around to do his thing? Urdr tells Woden Dio will make it. But this line straddles two possible senses: knowledge and desire. So, more uncertainty on our laps. Nothing quickens the pulse quite like uncertainty before some huge thing goes down, eh?
We find Dionysus sitting cross legged (a position conveying tranquil defiace) in the Underground. Right off the bat, we can say the scenario of waiting to be allowed to talk to Baphomet is something of a play in three acts. Obviously, each act will have Dio speak with Baphomet’s captor, the Morrigan, or rather each of her three personae. We begin Dionysus’ trials with The Morrigan’s more lucid side, her default goth queen personality. Despite her refusal to let Dio speak with Baph, she establishes some common grounds with the Wine God. They both want what’s best for those they care for. The Underworld Gods in this narrative have never actually been evil, not even Persephone. However, their fundamental difference from Dio is a matter of pure hubris.
Whereas Dionysus recognises that he doesn’t know what is best for everybody, the Morrigan thinks she does. Therefore, she declares that she will never allow Dionysus to speak with Baphomet. This doesn’t deter Dionysus from his attempt. In fact, a particular phrasing hints that his action doesn’t stem from a spontaneous decision, but an actual plan. The score so far: The Morrigan, 1; Dionysus, 0.
Meanwhile, at the Shard, Woden meets up with Baal, Minerva, and Amaterasu. What follows is something of an amusing means of ‘sweeping the rubbish under the carpet’ as Woden adds functionalities of tracking and recording to their gadgets. In truth, he does fuck all since he already did this ages ago. Woden’s dickishness has been considerably toned down since Persephone took him down to hell, but some of his entertaining features thankfully remain. At this time, he also remarks that he may have to create some pretty gadgets for the Goths if they show up. They’re basically the wild cards, the people who click maybe on a Facebook event, which can get annoying.
Back in the Underground, Dionysus continues to wait. The second trial of patience begins with a punt from The Morrigan’s second persona, the furious Badb Catha. She is not pleased at all that Dionysus would dare ‘disrespect her authority’ and judge her. In her infamous warlike fashion, Badb invites Dionysus to bring his crowd with him, for her to kill them all. His retort is a serene assertion of his efforts being only his own, which Badb takes offense to. So she has her birds claw and peck away, leaving him bloody. Once more, she leaves him declaring she won’t allow him to see Baphomet. Still, Dionysus waits. The score is now: The Morrigan, 2; Dionysus, 0. And his face probably hurts now.
We get an interlude of sorts in the story, courtesy of Instagram (or a legally-friendly stand in). On the one hand, we see the casual side of the Pantheon’s prominence in social media, despite the controversial recent events (as well as Amaterasu’s horrible taste in captions). On the other, we get the sense that Dionysus has been waiting in the Underground for a while. Soon enough, by the natural succession of threefold motifs and entities, we are now at Dionysus’ final trial. The Morrigan’s third persona, Gentle Annie has come to check up on him.
The relief in this scenario is palpable. Just check out Dio’s expression of a fond long-time-no-see. Some of this derives from the fact that Gentle Annie is, well, gentle; the security that she won’t harm Dionysus does play its part. But the main bulk of the sensation is Annie’s acknowledgement that she’s the part of Marian that doesn’t get to come out and play much anymore. That’s no surprise considering we’re this far into the Imperial Phase, where there appears to be little room for leniency and kindness. Nonetheless, Annie’s awareness of Badb and The Morrigan’s current states feels like a calling her full-self out on her latest actions. This truth about herself invites honesty towards Dio.
Gentle Annie is very concerned about Dio’s willingness to endanger himself for the sake of others. And she feels a sense of finality approaching. Thus, she bids her farewell to Dionysus (and perhaps to the readers as well), after which she grants him his wish, much to the anger and spite of her other selves. This is possibly what Dionysus intended all along, to chat with the one part of Marian that he could still reason with. As he would, Baphomet is quick to tell Dio how bad he looks.
Meanwhile, the mood grows tense as the Gods’ task force to capture Sakhmet comes to action after a sighting of the Cat Goddess. Minerva plays the Oracle to Baal and Amaterasu’s birds of prey, as they close in on Sakhmet.
However, before they catch Minerva’s command to abort, Baal crashes through a wall, ready to take his chances against perhaps the deadliest of the Gods. This turns out to be a waste of time, though. It was merely a girl who styled her attire after Sakhmet for the sake of an autograph. Anti-climatic as fuck, but still a good simulacrum. Yet again, as per the conventions of a narrative, an actual attempt at capturing Sakhmet may not go as smoothly. And then, we may return to this moment as a rueful retrospective.
Back to the boys in the dark. Baphomet is back in his usual pun-gent mood. But it no longer feels as right as it used to, not after seeing how badly his relationship with The Morrigan has decayed. By now, his wise-cracking has become a flagrant masquerade to hide the damage. Furthermore, when touching on the matter of the fine line between co-dependence and abuse, Baphomet tells Dionysus of the moment after his ascension. It was cool and all, until Baph realized he was made a God like The Morrigan, bound to live only for two years since. Although one could say he went ahead and presumed something else, Marian didn’t bother to bridge this communication gap before the deed was finished.
Therefore, Baphomet sees this relationship as an inescapable situation for Marian and he, perhaps from the very beginning. This is somewhat mirrored by Dionysus’ own situation, as he reveals he has feelings for Urdr, whose sexual orientation and current relationship status with her fellow Norns make a relation between them impossible. Such is life.
At the end of this heart-to-heart, Dionysus leaves a device in Baph’s hands, a means of communication in case he needs help. Although he doesn’t seem to care much for help now that things are reaching rock bottom, he may as well use it sometime in the issues to come.
Finally, bringing this issue to an end, The Morrigan pays Persephone a visit. Baph has told her the way, it seems, and she has a few words for the Destroyer. After ridding herself of the part that would forgive her (a dreadful implication for Gentle Annie), she delivers a threat for Persephone to stay away from her and Baphomet. Her tone turns cautionary as she warns Persephone of the things some people would do just to feel honest and clean.
Thus, Marian walks away, unaware that, though she came with the threat, she was the one in peril. Sakhmet was waiting to strike and kill just out of sight. Unbeknownst to the Queen of the Underworld, the Destroyer has just saved her life.
When questioned by Sakhmet on why she allowed The Morrigan to talk like that, Persephone says they’re too close to their inevitable doom for displays of vengeance and pride to matter. Finally, they share a kiss. Little does Sakhmet know or care, a furtive tear streams down Persephone’s face.
There’s no better way to portray a doomed, depressing romance. The Morrigan’s words may well apply in this case, somehow. It takes no more than common sense to know that there is a large difference between Sakhmet and Persephone. At this point, even one sliver of a conscience counts aplenty. Casting this statement as a reflection back on The Morrigan, one can only hope she hasn’t taken permanent leave of hers.
The Wicked + The Divine Issue #30 Credits
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art / Cover: Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson
Images courtesy of Image Comics
Saga: True Colours
It’s a fine line that which divides nature and a zone of comfort; so fine it’s sometimes too easy to confuse one with the other, or think them to be interchangeable terms. But the differences are there, however subtle. For one, a zone of comfort is often a treacherous foe against personal growth. It may even render you numb before coming adversities and leave you unprepared to resist them. Am I being obnoxiously specific yet? Well I can take it up a notch. A zone of comfort can also blind you, delude you into mistaking someone’s nature. Make you see a foe as a friend when the tide is calm.
But when the tide grows restless, leaving that zone of comfort is quite the rude awakening. Hope you like those, lovelies.
“Not when we were so close…”
The “Jetsam Holiday” arc has been a lovely time so far, comparatively speaking. For every dark development unfolding within or without Hazel’s immediate (and extended) family, there has been lots of sunshine and fucking. And of course, there has been plenty of wholesome entertainment for the whole family to enjoy also. If the image of Hazel waging sea war against Petrichor and Ghüs while atop Sir Robot’s shoulders isn’t heartwarming, her wishing Sir Robot didn’t have to leave absolutely is. And furthermore, Sir Robot even reciprocates it.
Old foes may turn dear friends in time – just like my dad used to say… not really, but let’s pretend he did.
In the meantime, Marko and Upsher have a thoughtful conversation while frying fishies. Beyond the perennial dynamic of the journey, one of Saga‘s thematic signatures is the encounter between worldviews. Sometimes this occurs through future Hazel’s introspection, and sometimes through calm moments like this. By learning of how Upsher and Doff learned about the fugitives and their daughter, Marko finally realises something we’d long known by now. There is no action that goes without consequence in this galaxy. Whether it’s some nameless mook who becomes a villain’s motive for revenge, or a grunt left behind who’s see too much.
Their conversation migrates then to the topic of accountability when it comes to one of the most traditional roles in war: killing. Having been a soldier, Marko has obviously taken on a very active role. But Upsher isn’t entirely clean either, despite never taking a life himself. Being a journalist, his business is all about information, but its reception always risks a response, which sometimes involves violence. This is, Marko argues, the reason he will be sticking to writing fiction. Nevertheless, Upsher’s response is a banquet for thought, and I’ll quote:
“Putting new ideas into another person’s head is an agggressive act, and aggressive acts have consequences. Face it, you can be a writer or a pacifist, but you can’t be both.” The written word, to communicate or to inspire, is necessarily a political act. We’ll take this morsel with us home to mull it over, as something else comes up, demanding all heads and hands. Alana enters the scene with the news: Squire is missing. The young Robot has followed through with his plan to leave.
Cut to Ianthe, wandering the wilderness of Jetsam, and adding a touch of danger to Squire’s stunt. Her concern over The Will, now free, angry and deadly, reaches a high point upon seeing a note pinned against a tree with a knife. Menacing even when written in cursive. The note proper says they’re even; him having killed her fiancé, and she having skinned his dog. I’d hardly call it even myself – Ianthe is still in debt, but I digress. We’d be delusional to think this warning would dissuade Ianthe – too proud a villain to heed common sense.
Meanwhile, the grownups at the beach camp find Squire’s farewell note, charmingly written in crayon. His message and how he addresses himself as Princeling make his intentions clear. Sir Robot’s son intends to return to the Robot Kingdom; maybe his ways of chivalry had an unexpected, unintended side effect on the kid. Overtaken by shame, Sir Robot insists on handling this himself, then declaring this to be his fault. He then reveals the ugly incident of hurting Squire last issue, earning Alana’s anger and Hazel’s disbelief. Before Alana can unleash a (well-deserved) fist upon Sir Robot’s face, Marko walks in full-clad in armour, bearing… mushrooms.
Ah, but these mushrooms are special mushrooms. They don’t grace soups with supreme delight or allow you to summon Frank Zappa in Bloodborne (which I’ve been playing a lot of lately). These mushrooms function as flares bright enough to see in daylight or when penetrating deep in the forest. Hazel demands to come with, but her mum won’t allow it for good reason. Upsher offers to stay with Hazel, as he’s also confident his partner Doff has already found Squire.
If only he knew…
The pinky oath between Alana and Hazel marks the beginning of the search.
The scene then changes to Squire/Princeling’s point of view. He has definitely taken a shine to Hazel’s Ponk Konk, who now accompanies him as a friend to “talk with”. And it’s just as well: Squire is terrified. He roams what appears to be an abandoned amusement park, which is a creepy setting in any galaxy. According to a conversation he overheard between the grownups, the magical ingredients for the “body swap” are transported through pipes that run through these unsettling parts. Therefore, his course to take appears obvious, quite unlike the strange creatures following his movements, concealed in the overgrowth.
The worm-like creatures lunge forward, ensnaring Squire to be devoured by a nightmarish mouth spreading wide across the grass. Amidst the horror of the moment, he drops Ponk Konk, possibly into the maws of this hideous creature. Someone makes the save in the nick of time with a few well-aimed shots, however. Thankful, Squire hugs his unlikely saviour: Ianthe. Could it be he has managed to survive one beast only to end up in the maws of another?
Elsewhere, Sir Robot spots a strange jellyfish-like ship while searching for his son. The Will gets the drop on the former Prince, skewering his arm-cannon with his spear. Sir Robot doesn’t quite recognise his attacker, but The Will him well enough; not as the disgraced noble, but as the killer of his former love, Spider woman extraordinaire, The Stalk. A vengeful intent is clearly approaching. And though Sir Robot frets over being interrupted from his search and disarmed, he keeps his cool to talk with the reinstated Freelancer.
The Will is back on the job to catch the fugitives, but not before killing Sir Robot. Knowing that an ordinary, desperate plea won’t do the job, Sir Robot presents another possibility as a bargaining chip to secure his and his son’s safety: to surrender Hazel to The Will.
Seems old foes turn into friends dear when the tide is calm… otherwise, they’re only placated foes, only for so long. Treacherous asshole.
Saga Issue #52 Credits
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
All images are courtesy of Image Comics
Batgirl is Getting a New Direction And a New Look
Can I say that I, for one, am glad that we’re finally getting a new author for Batgirl? Because I am. Now this is no disrespect to Hope Larson; she is a competent writer who has told some really good stories over the last two years, but for me she just wasn’t a good fit for one of my favorite DC superheroes. Now I’ll probably get backlash from the community of fans who like to criticize the whole DC darkness thing for this but you know what? Yes, it should be dark and gritty, that’s always been associated with the “bat” name. Should it try to be a little more light hearted? Sure, but it’s a balance. My issue with Hope Larson’s run was that it was way too “tweeny” considering the kind of comics we’ve seen in the past with Barbara, Cass, and Stephanie.
Now, I also get that heroes need to evolve in order to meet their targeted audience. Hope Larson in retrospect did something that I very much like. Like the political nature of Green Arrow, Hope managed to construct her stories centered around the criticisms of overuse of technology, freedom of the internet, and the use of personal data. These are topics that remains very relevant this year and will be for some time to come. The fact that she was able to use this to tell stories that no matter what I say, were still entertaining, is a testament to the fact that she was a very good writer.
However, it is still time for a change. Despite the great motivations behind her stories, they were still cringe-y sometimes. Seeing Barbara juggle her nightlife with her student life is a common theme among younger heroes, and her friends in the LGBTQ community offered real understanding for audiences, but it still felt like a teen drama.
Don’t get me wrong though, I love her supporting cast, especially Alyssa who was created by Gail Simone in her well loved Batgirl New 52 run. The author was very outspoken for gender identity and the over sexualization of females in comic books. To see Hope Larson treat characters created by Simone with love and care was really something. By now I probably sound like I loved Hope’s run on Batgirl. As I said before, it wasn’t a bad run and I enjoyed reading it for the most part but I need something a bit more than that.
Starting with issue 24, we’ll be getting a plethora of new authors for the next few issues. Like with Green Arrow, finding a new permanent author takes time but with the Benson sisters spearheading that comic, Mairghread Scott will be taking over exclusively come August and issue 26. Now, I haven’t read anything by her save the most recent Green Arrow title, which I liked hell of a lot more than the previous two. So, I’ll be seeing her writing without bias and without former convictions. I’m really excited to see where she leads Barbara in her new adventures, but hopefully she focuses more on Batgirl and Barbara rather than love interests and overly cringe worthy situations. I get Barbara is awkward but that was just painful.
According to previews, we will see the return of Barbara to Gotham and of another character, or rather villain, created by Gail Simone called Grotesque. In this version, he plays a murderous art thief who moves to create his own vile art gallery with the pieces of his victims. He ends up getting the jump on Babs and setting the device in her spine off, effectively taking away her ability to walk again.
It looks like we’re going to be seeing a lot more continuity from the Gail Simone days and either the nostalgia will hit long time fans or Scott will be taking us in a whole new direction. So many questions, the main one being: could this be the end for Barbara as Batgirl? As much as I love Babs, I am part of the group who feels she needs to pass on the cowl to someone new. But that’s a topic for another day.
Speaking of getting a new author, we also have a revamp of Batgirl’s look, which is also a huge plus for me. If you’ve read Batman: White Knight you’ll no doubt recognize this costume from it. Sean Murphy, the genius behind that story, must have allowed the costume to be used as main canon. I’m happy for this because I really, really like the new look. I was never a huge fan of the purple zip up jacket-like outfit she was sporting in “Burnside,” but that just comes down to aesthetics.
The new look is sleek and more “batty” adding more to her own persona. Batgirl and Nightwing were among the first to leave Bruce behind and create their own identity and damn if this is not screaming that she’s the best “bat” out there.
All Images Courtesy of DC Comics
DC Is Relaunching Vertigo, Doubling Down On Millennials
It’s been 25 years since DC Comics launched perhaps the most successful imprint in comics history: Vertigo. Since its foundation in 1993, some of the biggest graphic novels ever have come out under the Big V. Its initial run of titles made a splash on the shelves of comic stores and would cement their authors as comics royalty: Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, Brian K. Vaughn, Brian Azzarello. Old properties (The Sandman) and old legends (Alan Moore) found new life at Vertigo. These new comics were no longer the whiff! bam! pow! of the past, but they also largely avoided the hyper-violence and darkness of the 90s. They handled adult themes like alienation, religion, feminism, and, yes, violence. But they handled these themes with more nuance and variety than ever before. For the first time in the medium’s history, comics were becoming literature.
But all of the original titles have ended, with Hellblazer being the last of the old guard, closing in 2013. After a few years on the down low, DC is planning a massive relaunch of the classic brand for a new generation. With it comes a clear emphasis on the political power of comics. They aim not for the Gen-Xers who made Preacher, iZombie, and Fables bestsellers, but for millennials. Titles will deal with the topics its readers care about: immigration, white supremacy, sex work.
Just like in 1993, the creators taking part in the relaunch are a vibrant mix of rising stars and new faces in the comics world. Eric M. Esquivel (Roberto Roberto) will bring us a tale of demons run amok in a border town while Ben Blacker (The Thrilling Adventure Hour) will spin a tale of brainwashed witches reclaiming their power. Bryan Hill (Postal, Batman) will put a biracial cop in harm’s way as he investigates a white supremacist group. Frequent Nine Inch Nails collaborator, Rob Sheridan, is sending a smuggler on an impossible quest, and Mark Russel (God Is Disappointed In You) pits Jesus against “Superman”.
The group of writers and artists are a nice mix of diverse voices, with two women serving as writers their own titles, both of which will no doubt invite controversy. The first, Goddess Mode, takes place in a cyberpunk VR hellscape where tech support involves a huge neon sword. Its author will be video game developer Zoe Quinn, perhaps most famous for being the internet’s biggest scapegoat and the original source of the “Gamergate” controversy. The second comic, Safe Sex, will be a dystopian book focusing on sex workers who dare to love in a world where all sex is under government control. Its author is sex-work advocate and LGBTQ+ journalist Tina Horn, who will no doubt bring an expert opinion to a topic that comics really, REALLY has never handled very well.
The new books start in September of this year, with Border Town, and the rest will follow month by month right through into the new year. They will join the pre-existing raft of Vertigo titles, as well as Neil Gaiman’s brand new Sandman Universe line.