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WicDiv: The Whole Bloody History Unfolding

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I can say, without a doubt, that The Wicked + The Divine stands tall as my favourite title from Image Comics.  I would go as far as saying it’s a close third to Dark Horse‘s Hellboy and Vertigo‘s The Sandman. But for all my undying love, I cannot presume to claim it’s easy to talk about this comic book, let alone write about it. And for all my consistent enjoyment, I must acknowledge when Kieron and Jamie (The Godly Daddies, I call them) make a decision which may encounter a mixed response. All in all, reviewing Twin Peaks: The Return got me accustomed to these exercises of candour.

Not gonna lie here, lovelies. This may be a somewhat shorter reread-and-review than usual out of the issue’s very construction. Some may either call it a lazy one, or a peculiar kind of brilliant exploit – the kind only people like Kieron and Jamie can get away with. Regardless of any possible controversy, do I think this is a worthwhile issue?

Absolutely. Especially if you love horrendous revelations. If you’ve stuck with us so far, I’m gonna take that as a “Yes, I am very much into that.”

Issue #36
“It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

The coherence of the Mothering Invention arc is simple enough: insightful revelation of stuff we didn’t know before. The mysteries surrounding Ananke become a bit more grounded on certain intention. Plus, we set some light unto the dark in which she has kept the Pantheon as us readers. Getting a proper well-handled look at the origins of a paradigm is a boon on its own. We shouldn’t really expect the history between then and now to unfold before our eyes when extrapolation on the reader’s behalf will occur organically. But that’s just what we get with the unveiling of the First Recurrence’s Persephone (the lovely woman gracing the cover) in Egypt, 3862 BC, and her immediate murder via Ananke.

Quite the familiar scene, isn’t it? We all know the adage that “history tends to repeat itself”. Well, almost as if to sarcastically mock the saying, we get a reprisal of the same dynamic across fourteen pages. The gimmick, as you can see below, is to have the scene’s basic construction reprised sixfold each page. However, in my personal opinion, this device is more clever than it would be lazy as the structuring is both tragic and even comedic. Furthermore, each scene features considerable variations; not only to match the time, place and culture, but also to detail how Ananke has changed her M.O. As some would-be victims played smart and thwarted her attempts, Ananke has started to disguise her intentions, opting for a subtler, duplicitous approach.

Mind you, the subversions and inversions in Ananke’s pattern leaves plenty of room for nice stories. Fanfiction writers, if you may… Anyway, this progression essentially shapes Ananke to the form we know. The final panel after her 2014 attempt to claim Persephone’s head shows her comforting a Minerva whose expression looks quite undecipherable.

Gimmick over, the story progresses as usual, picking up at that awkward little impasse between Persephone and Baal (Hammon). The latter gets on with the explaining by narrating (and flashback-ing) the state of affairs when he ascended as the first God of this Recurrence. It’s as glamorous as we’ve come to know if from other ascensions, but this one featured something else. Warning him about the Great Darkness, she fretfully reveals a sacrifice is required to keep it at bay: a child. Naturally, Baal refuses, earning an award winning performance on Ananke’s behalf for preemptive tearful mourning.

Then the Great Darkness did come, for his family especifically. Although he managed to save his mother and his siblings, his father succumbed. Ater cremating his father himself, Baal gave in to ‘necessity’ that very night. By now, ‘unreliable narrator’ is a major understatement when it comes to Ananke. But I’m not sure we can elevate Baal to that same degree at the moment. He’s likely still in useful-pawn territory. Regardless, in order to repel the enigmatic evil, Baal has taken to performing a sacrifice every four months. This is most likely also at Ananke’s instruction.

The reason? Probably to keep Baal yoked to her design. If we go by my personal interpretation that The Great Darkness is a phenomenon she trusted Woden (and Mimir) with creating, she has been manipulating events in order to keep a few Gods loyal to her by making fear and necessity one and the same. It’s masterful, evil PR right here if true. Otherwise, feel free to deem me a fool. Regardless, this zeal unveils the disturbing manner of Baal’s “Imperial Phase”. In order to defend this cause, he looks ready enough to kill Laura. Her brief inner monologue ensues, detailing an ambivalence to whether she wants to live or die. The crux of this conflict sits at the bottom of her stomach.

It’s then she releases the anvil. She’s three months pregnant. No knowledge on who’s the father. I mean, if there was a time to drop that revelation, it’s now. And it’s a somewhat predictable bombshell. But it still works well. Both as a narrative device and to let her off the fiery hook. Baal tells her then to leave as he annihilates Valhalla in a blaze. It’s a sour kind of end we get for this wicked den of divinity. Especially given how badass Rising Action was. But even the seemingly anti-climatic carries a weight of its own.

We don’t know if Baal is still alive. That’s one of the many questions pending for next issue, and for the unknown sender of the latest message in Laura’s phone. It’s probably Minerva. The message, however, does begs the question: Who really remains alive in this gig anymore? All aboard the Doom Express, the final destination draws near.


The Wicked + The Divine Issue #36 Credits

Writer: Kieron Gillen

Art / Cover: Jamie McKelvie

All images are courtesy of Image Comics

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Saga: True Colours

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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.

Issue #52
“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

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Batgirl is Getting a New Direction And a New Look

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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

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DC Is Relaunching Vertigo, Doubling Down On Millennials

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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.


Image courtesy of DC Comics and Vertigo

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