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Vampirella: The Gay You Know

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Spoilers for Vampirella Volume 2: The God You Know (issues #7-#11 of Vampirella 2017)

So…my first comic review. Huh. Let’s see how this goes!

Okay, so this is the part where I confess to not having read a whole ton of Vampirella comics in my life. I mean, I’ve read some obviously, and I know who she is. You do too, even if you’ve never read a single issue. She’s this lady-

See? You know her. One of the classic queens of horror, first appearing in 1969 (and isn’t that a fitting year?) and as recognizable as Elvira. Sometimes she’s funny, sometimes she’s scary, and she’s always some degree of sexy. Oh, and if that swimsuit with a collar thing (I don’t know if there’s a specific name for that outfit) she’s wearing is a turnoff for you, it’s not what she looks like in the current run. She’s currently sporting this look-

 

So there’s that. Anyway, yeah, so I have mixed feelings about her in general, but the nice thing with a character as old as Vampirella is that you can generally find at least a couple stories to like of hers. She does a lot of crossovers too, meeting characters like Cassie Hack, Lady Death, and the Xenomorphs, so there should be a gateway drug for you lying around somewhere.

I haven’t read the previous six issues of this run. It was written by Paul Cornell, which is reassuring since not only is he a good writer (he’s written for Doctor Who and Elementary among others) but he is a big classic horror fan, he even has a podcast that’s just him and a friend watching the Hammer Horror library chronologically, so there’s that. The writer for these issues I’m going to be talking about though is Jeremy Whitley. He’s a good writer, probably best known for the series Princeless and The Unstoppable Wasp, as well as quite a bit of work on My Little Pony (and Secret Empire, but we’ll try not to hold that against him).

Now, since this is Vol 2, starting with issue 7, we are picking up in the middle of things. That…is a bit of a mixed bag. Overall, I’d say you can get a grasp on things without much difficulty. I managed to understand most of what was going on, but there will be moments of confusion. Especially in the first half of issue 7, which is wrapping up a bit of a convoluted mess about Vampirella meeting alternate versions of herself, probably in an attempt to square all the retcons of the past five decades. It’s interesting, but a bit of an odd place to start with. And keep in mind that this is Vol 2 of an ongoing series, not a mini-series or spinoff. So while there is a beginning, middle, and end to these issues, and I found the ending of issue 11 satisfying, it’s not a tidy ‘the end’ so much as a reasonably good ‘to be continued’.

Anyway, enough preamble, let’s get to the comic itself. Starting with

Art Style

Since comics are a visual medium, it makes sense to start here. The art style of a comic is very important since it needs to convey as much, or even more, than the dialogue. And the art style for these five issues is…very specific. I say that because it’s very clearly trying to invoke Tales from the Crypt by EC Comics. Which makes sense, given the nature of a Vampirella comic. And it’s not bad. Not really. I’ve read Rob Liefeld, Ben Templesmith, Greg Land, and late Frank Miller works. Compared to those bundles of bad, this is fine. I know, it’s not the greatest praise, but that’s just never been my favorite art style. Characters sometimes look off model and weird, especially in terms of their faces, and there is an unreasonable amount of big 80’s hair for something set in the future, but it’s never more than a minor distraction and certainly never a turn-off. Okay, let’s move on to more important things to address.

Story

So, what’s the plot? Well, we start off issue 7 in Vampirella’s mindscape, when she’s essentially having a lucid dream. That’s not made immediately clear, presumably because issue 6 initiates said dream and I’m probably not supposed to start with Vol 2, so it’s a little confusing at first and you have to grasp onto the context pretty hard. Basically, we start with Vampirella and…an attractive redhead in a maid costume. We don’t actually get a name for her until page 20, though again, I assume she was properly introduced in previous issues so I can’t really fault the comic for that. You shouldn’t have to write every issue as an entry point after all. Her name is Vicki, moving on. Vampirella and Vicki end up in a room with multiple alternate versions of Vampirella. Some are definitely actual incarnations of her, others I’m not so sure. This is, as I said mainly to square the circle of all of the various iterations of Vampirella, explaining that they were alternate versions of her that the one we’re following has absorbed into her own mindscape. Personally, I don’t care about this sort of thing (I’m not a fan of the ‘three Jokers’ thing DC is going with to explain the differences between the character over the years) but at the end of the day, it’s not a bad idea. And it stops being important pretty soon after issue 8, so no harm is done. It is neat to see this done, I just wish it was in the ‘real world’ of the comic.

Anyway, Vampirella learns the reason why she has a multiple choice origin story in her own head, why sometimes she’s an alien and other times she’s a demon, sometimes born in the Garden of Eden and other times in Hell, and she allows her alternate selves to move on, after a short brawl with some of the other alternates who aren’t happy with the situation. She briefly speaks to a bipedal cat and what I guess is a male version of herself, then wakes up to Vicki making breakfast and her cat Grit licking her. She is then confronted with the realization that she always has two friends, a sidekick, and a love interest, and since she’s not about to romance the cat…Vicki walks in with bacon, and Vampirella pretty much immediately starts crushing on her, wondering if this attraction is sudden or if it took finally getting to see Vicki happy and relaxed to realize how pretty she is. Either way-cool! Vampirella gets a female love interest this time around! And there’s no panic or really even much thought on Vampirella’s part just ‘guess I’m attracted to this girl, *shrug*’. Because of course, Vampirella would be bi. She specifically states later on that she’s attracted to males, females, and non-binary individuals, so yay!

Fairly quickly this niceness is interrupted by a crazy lady with a bomb in her exposed ribcage exploding the hell out of Vampirella’s home. This being the end of issue 7, with Vampirella’s internal monologue stating that there’s very little chance that Vicki will be able to survive this even with Vampirella shielding her with her own body, scared me a bit, I won’t lie. I was very apprehensive entering issue 8 and prepared to give a less positive review. Fortunately, Vickie does survive, despite having a very large piece of wood impaled in her stomach. An angry Vampirella stomps out to confront the bomber’s friends, four biker people with weapons who are all furious with her. What follows is a rather gory action scene as our heroine mauls three of them, but before she can follow through with the fourth is confronted with the realization that she didn’t actually kill any of them, despite ripping out one dude’s heart and yanking a chain out the back of another’s skull. Why aren’t they dead? Well…huh.

Okay, so we are again confronted with the fact that I have not read issues 1-6 of this run, so this next bit is confusing. That’s not the comic’s fault obviously, and it does a fairly good summary of summarizing, but a lot of context and background is left out as a result. What we know is that in the past, Vampirella destroyed Heaven…kind of. It was a fake, digital Heaven that was actually Hell apparently, one in which the Devil trapped God. So, with Hell destroyed (sort of, we find out later that Vampirella really just made it crash and a villain was able to turn it back on) and God trapped, there was nowhere for souls to go, and so nobody has been able to die. This has led to resource shortages and major wars, and as we see later Earth has essentially become Mad Max. Though on the bright side, this means that Vicki isn’t dead! Vampirella interrogates the motorcyclists, learning that they’re the followers of some big bad boss who had promised to send anyone who brings them Vampirella to Heaven, and sets off on one of their motorcycles with Vicki, intent on finding this person and getting them to heal Vicki.

Along the way they get attacked by some more punks in tricked-out vehicles, which leads to an interesting fight scene and the revelation that Vampirella can sprout big bat wings from her back. This mainly leads to the pair taking refuge in either an abandoned house or motel (not sure which, not that it matters), and Vampirella admitting that she’s fallen in love with Vicki. The two had previously kissed on the road before finding refuge, but now Vampirella briefly feeds on the redhead to heal herself, then the two have sex off-panel, since some stuff ‘is just for them’.

Eventually, they make it to the lair of the villain, and Vampirella knowingly walks into a trap, as she doesn’t fully realize the full effects of said trap. The two are captured, with Vampirella’s powers suppressed, and we find out who’s behind all of this-Pantha, a Vampirella side character, former ally, and formerly the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet. See, apparently, Vampirella slept for one thousand years, during which the Devil instituted the whole ‘trap God and make a digital Heaven’ plan. This plan included violent cyber angels, forcing people to buy there way into Heaven (resulting in a crappy childhood for Vicki as her mother was abusive and mainly utilized her to make more money) and…clown police…for some reason that’s not really explained or addressed in this volume. Again, not the comic’s fault. Anyway, the beginning of this resulted in the death of Pantha’s beloved partner, and this led to Pantha going on a bloodlust filled rampage, constantly being harassed and attacked by Satan’s minions until she gave up and went to work for him as a torturer. Now she’s furious, twisted and broken, with a grudge against Vampirella and a need to prove that Vampirella is the same as her and would break under similar circumstances. This is, admittedly, one of the most cliche villain motivations possible, it’s essentially just an abridged version of The Killing Joke, and I’d be lying if I said the comic put a new twist on it, but it’s serviceable.

Pantha tortures Vicki for a bit, choking her to the point that she’s rendered mute, but eventually relents in exchange for getting to toss the two into a colosseum. She even makes an offer that the first person to decapitate Vampirella or stab her in the heart will be sent to Heaven…an offer that is eventually accepted by Vicki, who stabs her lover in the back. Again, a somewhat worrying turn of events, but I’ll go ahead and say that it works out. Pantha fulfills her promise and sends Vicki to Heaven, and after some dark stuff involving the fact that there’s no food in Heaven but Pantha’s followers are being sent in their bodies instead of as souls and a scene of Pantha draining Vampirella’s blood supply and locking her in a room of children to break her, we find out that Vicki had a plan.

God is still trapped. And since this is the exact same digital ‘Heaven’ that Vampirella shut down, Vicki is able to find God and release her. Oh yeah, God’s a black woman in this universe, it’s great! Pantha is summarily defeated when other deities are released at the same time as God, namely by Ma’at, the Egyptian judge of the dead, and her beast Ammit. God, who loves love in any form, quickly takes Vicki to Vampirella, freeing the children and allowing Vampirella to save herself by feeding on Vicki. Then, with the digital Heaven collapsing, God takes the two back to the real world.

Final Verdict

So, how is “The God You Know”? Pretty damn good! Fairly solid art, very solid writing (nothing groundbreaking mind you, but good), and of course wlw romance! Good things all around. I will say though, that I do not recommend this as an entrance to Vampirella, either the current 2017 run or to the character in general. It’s not bad! And it’s still fairly understandable despite not having read vol 1. But, unless you just hate Paul Cornell’s writing, starting with issue 1 just makes more sense.

So good storyline, mediocre starting point.

Vampirella Volume 2: The God You Know 

Writer: Jeremy Whitley, Paul Cornell
Art: Andy Belanger, Creees Lee, Paulo Barrios, Rapha Lobosco
Cover: Andy Belanger


Images courtesy of  Dynamite Comics
Full Disclosure: Review copy of this volume was provided to The Fandomentals

Gay, she/her. An unabashed Disney fangirl, who may or may not have an excessive love of shipping, comics, and RPGs. She's not saying. And anything you've heard about attempts to start a cult centered around Sofia Boutella is...probably true.

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Analysis

Our First Look at Imbalance

Michał

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Greetings, readers of the Fandomentals. Today I bring you a review of the new Avatar: The Last Airbender comic, Imbalance. I wrote about it before, being rather skeptical of how it would do. Having read it… my skepticism remains, but so far my impressions are mostly positive. Faith Erin Hicks, a new writer for the franchise, seems to know where she’s taking it. Let’s begin.

The story

We open with the Gaang traveling on Appa. Their destination is Yu Dao, but Toph asks Aang to stop by Earthern Fire Industries, which her father operates. I believe those first appeared in the Rift comic, but I haven’t read it. However, as it turns out, there’s far more than just a factory there. A whole town sprung up – Cranefish town. Which seems to be a predecessor of Republic City.

As befits a city that appeared so quickly, the whole place is distinctly ramshackle. The heroes land and meet with a rather cold welcome. The citizenry are entirely unconcerned with them and unimpressed by Aang’s bending. Soon enough, Toph’s father appears to welcome them… or rather, Aang, giving his daughter something of a cold shoulder. He says he needs the Avatar’s help.

The reason for his asking becomes apparent shortly, as a fight breaks out between a firebender and earthbender gang. Aang tries to negotiate, only for both sides to claim they’re clearly in the right and he should support them. Toph, of course, swoops in to knock some sense into the fighters while Sokka uncharacteristically claims sometimes it’s best to stand aside and let benders blow off steam. This viewpoint seems shared by the leader of the earthbender gang, who tells all non-benders present to stay out of the way.

During the struggle, a nearby building starts collapsing. Toph tries to stop it, but Aang airbends her away instead, explaining that there was no saving it. Katara had evacuated the inhabitants, as it turns out (entirely off-screen, but more on that later), but the gang members had escaped.

Aang is surprised by how many people lived in that building and offers to rebuild it… only for the citizens to refuse because they don’t want benders’ help. Aang and Sokka head to the city’s “business council”, while Toph and Katara go to the factory. Toph is rather cross with her father for snubbing her.

The council meeting is eventful and reveals the bender/non-bender tensions that split the city. The two groups sit on the opposite sides of the chamber and it quickly becomes obvious why. Non-benders don’t feel safe walking their own streets and Lao proposes a radical solution: ban bending in the streets. This goes about as well as you would expect.

Meanwhile, Toph and Katara visit the factory, which turns out to have grown in size, scope, and technology. Satoru also reveals another side to the conflict plaguing the city: benders losing their jobs. After introducing more advanced ore-processing machinery, the help of benders wasn’t as needed, so he let some of them go to reduce costs, as skilled benders get paid more. This made the other feel they were being replaced, so they quit in protest. This included the factory’s earthbender guards, which is why non-benders protect it now. Things got worse when other factories adopted the same technology, leading to more benders losing work.

In the council chamber, Aang opposes the bending ban, as it would punish honest benders as well. He suggests instead to create a proper police force that would keep Cranefish Town safe. One of the bending councilors, Liling, quickly rises to support him. She says she has a “skilled security team” that can become the town’s police force with some training. Lao points out that the police force should also include non-benders, which is quickly brushed off as something that will be taken care of after the benders are trained. He still has doubts, but the council promptly votes in favor of the proposal.

Afterward, Aang meets with Katara and together they go to an island near the town, which I assume will eventually become Air Temple Island. Aang struggles with his usual dilemma of progress feeling out of control. He remembers Lady Tienhai the spirit of the place, and how she believed in humans. Katara offers words of reassurance as always and they settle on making the city a better place to live.

We cut to the firebenders we’d seen fighting in the streets. They’re receiving a haranguing from an older man in the same clothes for trying to steal from people too poor to have anything. Then the door breaks down and in come two young women with a distinct familial resemblance to Liling. They offer the firebenders place in a “movement” that will benefit all benders and a job away from a life of crime. The firebenders refuse and one of the women promptly earthbends them into compliance.

The Gaang, meanwhile, head to the beach, which Aang had decided to clean up, much to the others’ dismay. But as he says, he wants to feel like he’s doing something, even if it’s just cleaning up a part of a beach – which is absolutely littered with scrap and garbage. As they perform this less than glamorous task, Aang is approached by two kids who are in awe of him. Even more so after they reveal they’re firebenders and Aang in turn tells them he knows Firelord Zuko. Sokka wonders if they’d be as impressed with Aang if they were non-benders. Although he passes it off as a joke, as is his wont.

Later that night, Toph wakes up to a suspicious noise. As it turns out, someone had jammed the ore-processing machine, which causes it to explode. Toph and Aang takes off in pursuit of the saboteurs as Katara remains behind to put the fire out. The saboteurs turn out to be… the firebenders we’d seen the two young women recruit. Toph fights a young woman while Aang chases the old leader of the gang. He corners him on a cliff overlooking the water and quickly overcomes his valiant but futile resistance… before the cliff crumbles, sending him plummeting to his doom.

Which wasn’t a coincidence, as we see the two women who had hired the firebenders observing the spectacle. The earthbender caused the cliff to crumble to silence him… but unfortunately for them, Aang is there to swoop to his rescue. The two (whose names are Ru and Yaling) report back to Liling, who unsurprisingly turns out to be their mother. They argue and try to blame each other, but Liling cuts the argument short, insisting that while it’s unfortunate that their patsy had survived, it’s too late to do anything. She insists that they must stand together as family and that not even the Avatar can stop their plans. Thus setting her up as the most likely villain of Imbalance.

That’s enough for a recap. What are my impressions of the story and characters?

The bender/non-bender conflict

To start with, people actually talk about the conflict more than one sentence at a time and we see it rather than just being vaguely told about it. That’s already a major upgrade from the franchise’s previous attempts. But that’s a low bar to clear, so let’s dig into what we get.

Unsurprisingly, the root of the conflict seems to be in quickly-changing technology and social conditions. Cranefish Town grew quickly and is full of people who came seeking work but there’s just not enough of it for everyone. This bred poverty and inequality, with all that it implies. Benders are of course privileged in the pursuit of work… or were, until recently.

As I mentioned in the recap, we actually see benders end up on the wrong side of the changing world. Advanced machinery reduces the need for bending in ore processing, making highly-skilled benders less economical. After the first round of layoffs, the other benders felt machines were replacing them.

With no work, benders ended up criminals. This adds some appreciated nuance to the situation, for now at least. We’ll see how it progresses from here. Still, it’s hard to forget that the benders’ perspective is that of a privilege they lost. One that non-benders never had.

After all, if non-benders got to keep their jobs in the ore-processing plants, it’s because they demanded lower wages. And there’s more of them, so the positions operating the machines can’t provide work for all of them. Satoru’s goals here are, after all, to reduce overhead and keep the factory running more smoothly and economically. This makes both benders and non-benders victims of capitalism and the demand for profit.

Even those non-benders who do have jobs are afraid to leave their homes to work at them, due to bending gangs in the streets. Which is the more down-to-earth sort of inequality, less tied up with economic forces. Benders are simply more dangerous if they turn to violence. We see it rather clearly during the first fight that the Gaang witness.

The non-benders’ refusal to let Aang and Toph repair the damage was a curious story element to me, one that I liked. It might seem irrational, but I think it makes sense considering the circumstances. Their home was destroyed by benders – if they let benders repair it, their livelihood depends even more on the whims of benders. They’d rather keep their pride and regain their home with their own hands. One of them even sneeringly asks Aang if he’s going to force them to accept his help. It suggests that they view benders largely as people who go around and bully others with their power. And Aang is just the biggest bender of all.

Unlike in the first season of Legend of Korra, the council running the city is split between benders and non-benders. Which is both better and worse than when it had one member for each nation, but no non-benders for some reason. Lao’s proposal of banning bending on the streets is controversial, but one can see where he comes from. Still, benders are not going to be happy about a suggestion to forbid them from using their natural abilities. It does treat them as dangerous until proven otherwise, in a way.

It’s hard to deny that whenever action starts, non-benders aren’t part of it. The guards of the metalworks are non-benders, but they don’t do anything except raise their shields between Lao and incoming rocks. Ru might or might not be a bender – either way, she just stands around while her sister mops the floor with a whole room full of firebenders.

No one except Lao seems to take the idea of non-bending police officers terribly seriously. And we do know that the only non-bending officer we saw in the first season of Korra was issuing tickets for vagrancy. Then there were the two detectives whose obstruction of Mako’s investigation made some think they were corrupt, but they were actually just that stupid. But that was in Book Two, which entirely forgot any bender/non-bender tensions.

I bring it up because this comic does seem to take on some topics that Book One of The Legend of Korra ignored entirely despite how obvious they were to the bender/non-bender conflict. The problem of bender-dominated law enforcement is one such thing. But can it really deal with those problems, if it has to eventually result in the status quo we saw in 2012? One that led to the Equalist revolution?

That’s for the central conflict of the story. Now let’s take a look at how individual characters acquit themselves in the first part of Imbalance.

The dramatis personae

Aang

The Avatar is his usual self here. He wants to help everyone and feels like the whole world is on his shoulders. But he also finds the pace of progress off-putting and feels like the world is leaving him behind. Once again he has to accept that progress is inevitable and simply try to guide it down the right path.

Katara

Katara’s portrayal in the Avatar franchise after the ATLA finale hasn’t exactly been stellar. I can’t help but feel like this comic doesn’t help. She spends her time hanging off Aang’s arm, providing him with moral support and performing off-screen tasks like saving civilians and putting out fires. Obviously, space on a page is in limited supply and the authors have to dole it out. But it’s hard not to see it as part of Katara’s consistent sidelining.

Toph

Toph promises to potentially play a more crucial role in the story, which we’ve only seen hints of so far. She’s now an executive partner in Earthen Fire Industries and seems to take her job quite seriously. Which means that it ruffles her feathers when her father is much more concerned with getting Aang’s help with the city’s problems. She also cavalierly dismisses the challenges of benders who had lost their jobs, because she feels like her metalbending is irreplaceable. It won’t surprise me if all of those come to a head. And, after all, we know that when Republic city eventually got a metalbending police force, she was its leader.

Sokka

Sokka’s part in the story has been relatively minor so far, and I hope it changes. As the Gaang’s token non-bender he is, after all, right square in the middle of the conflict. So far he proved content to sit out a fight between benders but offered his insight into the problem later. He also wonders if the two kids at the beach would idolize Aang so much if they were non-benders.

Lao Beifong

Toph’s father plays a pretty major part in the first book and is an ambiguous figure. His treatment of Toph is rather cold and callous, but maybe we can excuse it somewhat due to the town’s problems. He does seem genuine in trying to fix them, but also rather eager to hide behind Aang in doing so. His proposal to ban bending in the streets is drastic, but meant to combat a real issue… and yet he also tries to push it off onto Aang.

Satoru

I don’t know much about Satoru, having not read The Rift. In this comic, his actions in running his factory drive much of the conflict. His pursuit of efficiency and innovation ended up putting benders out of work and creating a rift between them and non-benders. He seems regretful of it, as his only goal was to make his factory work better.

Liling

And here is the villain of Imbalance as established by having the last panel of the book focus on her face as she gloats nefariously. While we never saw her bend, she sat on the benders’ side of the council. She offered the services of her security team to serve as law and order in Cranefish Town. Later on, we see her two daughters, one of whom is an earthbender, bully firebending criminals into sabotaging Earthen Fire Industries.

Her motives for it all are a mystery as of yet. The only hint we get is when she speaks to her daughters, claiming that she had asked them to do what they did for their family and the future of their home. Maybe she intends to sabotage the technology and progress that threaten the benders’ place in the world.

However, one of her daughters, Ru, is rather conspicuously not bending. She does the talking while Yaling beats people up and collapses cliffs. Is she a non-bender, then? If so, how does that fit into her mother’s plans? Maybe they’re not quite as bender-centric and simply use the tensions in the city for their own ends like Noatak used the Equalists as patsies for his personal revenge. That would be somewhat disappointing, but I won’t rule it out.

Still, it brings to attention something that I wonder if it’ll become relevant. The comic makes the bender/non-bender starker than any other part of the Avatar franchise, with both groups engaging in “us versus them” thinking. And yet, it’s not as simple, because families can have both benders and non-benders in them. Liling’s family might be one such example, but there’s also Toph’s family. How do they deal with this?

For now, Liling’s status as the instigator of the sabotage is out of our protagonists’ sights. Aang and Sokka only saw her as the calm, reasonable, and helpful councilwoman who offered a better solution than Lao had. She’s definitely shaping up as a manipulative and subtle villain, rather than an obvious threat. Of course, this can change.

Well, here we go. For now, I have reasons to be cautiously optimistic, as the new writer seems to know where she’s going with the story and its central conflict. The specter of having to eventually end in a way that results in LoK’s Book One looms over it, but maybe it won’t stop the story from being entertaining and more in-depth.


Images courtesy of Dark Horse Comics

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The Wicked + The Divine: The First God’s Final Gig

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It’s safe to say we’re just about to reach the finish line to the harrowing, yet hauntingly charming world of WicDiv. We’ve seen the colourful cast grow as individuals, let us down, rise up anew to our graces, and of course, die. Character deaths have become such a high selling point in contemporary media, WicDiv has certainly lived up to the standard, and maybe even given a few TV shows a run for their money. When talking about character deaths, we’d do well to remember it all relies on shock factor. Either punish the reader/viewer by turning their investment on a character against them, or swipe them away out of nowhere, or both.

Sometimes, though, it’s a gradual process – really just about how low a character can get. Then character death becomes character assassination, and it can work like a charm if handled well. This is one of the central themes today. Just how low can Ananke/Minerva go to continue their life cycle?

Issue #40
“We’ve got to look after each other.”

Incidentally, who may this fella on the cover be? Judging by the face paint, he’s probably a Persephone fan, which prompts a few questions, given the development around her on the past few issues. It may be slightly ironic that the cover portrays an aspect of worship to a Goddess that isn’t technically one. But is it indeed ironic? Or is it fitting as she works towards the long-due downfall of the Maiden and the Crone, thus renaming these last few days the Twilight of the Gods? That Persephone’s vendetta and the possible end of the Recurrence* overlap is actually incidental, and that’s the keyword here: incidental.

For it is through a catastrophic incident that we enter this narrative. We begin with the foreboding, journalistic in-extrema res approach, which tells about as much as it withholds. “Footage recorded surrounding the events of the O2 disaster of 1st May 2015.”

Meet Tom, the fellow on the cover; Pantheon-themed Youtuber in the middle of an unboxing video, for we can never have enough of those. Whether there is sarcasm to be found in my authorial tone or not, that is up to you. Nonetheless, this Pantheon Unboxing deserves some special attention given the goodie inside the box: Tickets for the O2 event, aka Baal’s final gig. Lovely readers, are the alarms in your head ringing? If they’re not, they should. Performativity and character go hand-in-hand, which says a lot considering Baal turned out to be a fiery child murderer – not that his fans know it.

We are then treated to a blueprint of the gig’s stage at the O2 stadium, as well as some hidden footage. The highly technical detail is not merely an stylistic choice; we get to know everything about Baal’s final gig. By repurposing Dionysus’ mimicry psi-ound system, Minerva and Baal mean to harness the attending audience’s energies to lure the Great Darkness. Baal is not hesitant in the slightest, but he does tearfully dread the event to come. He’s dreaded killing children to fight the Great Darkness as it is, so what could be worse than that? How about using the death scream of all in attendance to put the enemy down for good?

That’s 20,000 civilian casualties. And that’s is not even the end of it; his mum is gonna be among those. Hey, but if this doesn’t feel sufficiently Macbeth-meets-Lear-times-million yet, how about this? Minerva villainously reveals her plan to an unknown witness (probably Mimir) as she gloats. The Great Darkness she spoke about, it’s implied to be a lie – an acceptable, generic, ominous scapegoat to unite the Gods under her intent. The massive bodycount at the O2 will release ‘psychic fuel’ to generate a new world-wide mind plague. All the while she remains safely in a shelter of her choice.

Hoo boy…

Well, what say you we switch to a brighter, though doomed, scene? Tom and his buddy Nathan record themselves at the huge line entrance to the event. There they run into Julie, a girl whom Tom asked out. Things didn’t go as he intended; he is bisexual, but she’s only into girls, so there’s an evident incompatibility there. Furthermore, he knew about this, but still tried with the hope of getting to be an exception. Things are now suitably awkward between them. But if there’s any good to draw from here is that Tom is sulking, but he’s not resentful. Weird how common decency has become so rare that it feels like a character trait sometimes, eh?

As the day turns to evening, Tom and Nathan still wait in line. The former has significantly lowered the sulking, but remains in reflection mode. He begins to talk about Persephone, revealing he was present during her debut, when she asserted her name as the Destroyer. Tom (accurately) detects sadness behind her dark masquerade, vaguely feeling that she was trying to punish herself. In this way, he feels a sense of kinship with Persephone, identifying himself as the Destroyer of the bond between Julie and he.

They will never an item, but they can still be friends if he works to mend that bond. And that’s the very thing he does inside of the venue proper as he helps her out of a bad situation with a dude. Julie is initially relieved but then looks understandably cautious about the gesture. Tom puts down all hint of an ulterior motive by saying that they have to look out for one another – because that’s what friends do. In this day and age, there’s unfortunately no way to not take something like that with a grain of salt, but something he says to Nathan shines some credibility into what he did.

And I’ll quote, boldly (in italics): “But… the thing about realising you’re the destroyer? It’s a step towards not being one.”

What a wholesome turn of events. Unfortunately, the gig starts now. From the musical performances I’ve seen in comics, they’re mostly hit-or-miss. There’s no effective conveying of the energy you get a live show. But then again, Jamie McKelvie is Jamie McKelvie, and he was a way to put ‘buts’ in everything I saw or do. He pulls it off, even in just a few panels. One can only imagine the exact genre Baal performs (To me, it’s Benjamin Clementine meets Pure Reason Revolution meets Skepta), but the constant for all readers will be the sensation of intensity. Baal radiates with it, and the audience feels it. And it looks and feels real.

But then, the God-performance kicks in, and the audience’s energy becomes a drooling trance. It’s kind of hilarious, to tell it true. The panels are intertwined with testimonies of the people in attendance, all gravitating around feelings of adoration, ecstasy and whatnot, then followed by those same people all zombie-like… with the peculiar exception of Tom. Maybe self-awareness really is an effective shield against BS. That’s an allegory I’ll gladly take ownership of, thank you very much.

The energy starts building up and we’re taken to a wide shot of the stadium’s exterior. The light under the dome intensifies to such degree that we can imagine everybody in attendance about to die. Strangely, at the brightest moment, we see a gigantic shadow-like being desintegrating from the light, begging the question. Could the Great Darkness, as an actual being, actually exist? What remains after the light mini-Apocalypse dies down is a huge cloud of smoke, and a promise of disaster…

… Or just collective alarm. The people inside of the O2 are still alive, if in a state of panic and confusion. As Tom helps Nathan and Julie find their way around, Persephone’s kindred spirit receives a video call from the Destroyer herself: “Everyone stay calm, I’m here to save you. I’ll put you all under and guide you out. Trust me.”

It’s going to be okay.

Our girl has hijacked the show. Not as Persephone, but as Laura Wilson.

Pardon me while I freak out. Stay tuned, lovelies.

 

 

The Wicked + The Divine Issue #40 Credits

Writer: Kieron Gillen

Art / Cover: Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson

All images are courtesy of Image Comics

 

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Analysis

Image Comics “DIE” is an Instant Dark Fantasy Masterpiece

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There are so many factors that have come into play when I first heard about Image comics newest release, DIE, that it is hard to pinpoint the real reason it intrigued me so heavily. Who am I kidding, it was all the reasons. Most importantly the staff on it.

For one, it features two of my favorite Image Comics alum. The first being Kieron Gillen, the mastermind that gave us the brilliant comic The Wicked And The Divine,which is one of the best ongoing comics at the moment. On the art work is the incredibly talented Stephanie Hans whose realistic and beautifully shaded and colored panels were also featured in The Wicked And The Divine‘s 1831 one shot as well across other comic distributors such as DC with Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love. The two coming together again like in 1831 is a match that builds this comic up to be really something special.

Image, in the last few years has really been producing some special and important books in the past few years, among them being The Wicked and the Divine, some of the more acclaimed include Saga, Blackbird, Paper Girls,and Infidel, the company takes a proud departure from Superheroes that dominate the comic industry and opt for more fantasy or science fiction stories with adult and political themes.

Lastly, the plot was incredibly unique and original. When it was advertised as Jumanji meets It, I was instantly interested. While not being a player of table top games myself, I can certainly see the crowd this book is trying to reach while also showing the fun about these games with an added horror twist that is sure to be remembered after the first issue.

The story really does follow a similar timeline to the mentioned Stephen King novel since it follows a group of friends during two periods of their lives: as teenagers and as adults. As we are introduced to each member of the group, we notice nothing in particularly strange about their characters, other than a shared love for table top games and science fiction and fantasy themes. The group has gathered together to celebrate the birthday of their friend Dominic by playing an apparently hard to find game called Gormenghast.

We learn a little about each character based on their choice of created characters. Dominic himself creates a diplomat woman that’s apparently a cross between Cleopatra and Machiavelli, the Dictator. Matthew, a magical warrior of empathy, the Grief Knight. Angela, a cyber punk, Neo. Isabelle, an atheist with gods as pets, Godbinder. Chuck, a lazily created every-man. And Sol the dungeon master with D20 die.

As the game begins the comic cuts to two hours later as Sol’s mum comes to check on them and they have disappeared. Fast forward again and it’s two years later and the group suddenly appears on a random road nearly getting hit by a car. Angela is missing her arm and we can’t really make out what happened, they are now only known as the Stafford six a group of teenagers who went missing two years ago. Sol is the only one missing from the group.

The comic again goes in time to 25 years later where we get to see how this tragedy has affected the rest of their lives. Apparently they had all made a promise never to speak about what happened, not even to one another. Sol’s mother even after so many years pesters Dominic about the fate of her son, to which he avoids. Using brilliant dialogue we see just how dark this has made their lives. Dom seems not to keep in touch with all the others except his sister who has gone through a string of divorces. They have made the best of living with their memories but it is all destroyed when Dom receives a package at a bar, a bloodied D20 die.

It’s at this moment that he decides to reunite the group. After so much time, some have changed completely while others not at all…I’m looking at you Chuck. While some have new companions and some less. They decide as a group to finally discuss what happened that night and where they were for two years until the die calls out to them. The Grandmaster threatens the realm and a hero is needed it calls as they are all sucked into the die and land into a desert ruin. It’s apparent that they have all become their characters…why does Chuck look like Varric.

With the end of the issue the group bickers among themselves about being back in the game, something they’ve repressed for nearly half their lives until Sol appears as the new Grandmaster. What I took from his dialogue is that he was trapped by the previous one and during these long years he’s fought a war to survive or escape and eventually defeated him and became the Grandmaster himself. It’s not clear whether he’s sane or not at this point but it points to the latter as he tells his friends that they are not leaving until the game is over.

This first issue was great at establishing its main cast. While I kept most of those details out of this review, the book really fleshes them out individually and gives life to each of their personalities. Anyone who has read The Wicked and the Divine will know just how well Gillen handles diversity among characters as well as conflicting attitudes. They actually feel like a group of friends you might have been a part of in high school. I really loved this book and I can’t wait to see what adventures await us.


Images Courtesy of Image Comics

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