Saturday, June 15, 2024

The Wicked + The Divine: The Underworld Strikes Back

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So I ask, what is the verdict on the Commercial Suicide arc, as a whole? Some may say it was a stagnant mess of in-fighting between the Gods with no real direction. Others may say it was a slow-burning drama that would surely follow up with a massive payoff. And then, some others may say that the guest artists theme made the tone feel a bit uneven. Regardless of which camp our dear readers may claim allegiance to, two things are most certain. Few will feel displeased at Jamie McKelvie returning at the helm in the art department. And we now have a very clear direction; perhaps the most absolute certainty we have ever had in this story. Ananke must die. It’s time for the new arc, Rising Action.

We had a fine cliffhanger at the end of last issue. And all cliffhangers (or most, perhaps about more than half) work beautifully when you let them brew over the span of a waiting game. A question lingered on our tongues back then. Is this Persephone the real deal, or do we have a flagrant case of self-apotheosis in our hands? Could it be that Laura Wilson, the strange, thirteenth God, has risen back from the grave? The feature on the issue’s cover may be a tease or a fitting representation of an uncanny comeback. Which is it?

Issue #18
“Tonight, I’m going to kill.”

Well, it’s true. Laura Wilson is back, and her head is in one piece once more. She never did get to make a proper debut before Ananke snapped her fingers against her and her family. But here we are now, at the bar on Highbury $ Islington in London. And she’s looking alive enough, but how well is she internally after her family’s murder? She keeps these painful thoughts temporarily at bay as she dismisses the concerns of the bar’s owner. It appears that her debut will feature a lot improvisation and hardly any publicity. As soon as he leaves her so she can get ready, the memories become too harrowing to bear with a straight face. It appears that she will create resolution from her pain. But whatever righteous deal of retribution she wishes to deliver will have to wait yet.

Meanwhile, in Valhalla, Minerva sleeps while her parents walk in all cheery to rejoice on her thirteenth birthday the following day. This would all be sweet if it wasn’t for the fact that their daughter will in matter of months. The fact that they have gladly profited from Minerva’s status as a God doesn’t pain them in much of a sympathetic light. As they leave her room, glad about the money they’re getting from their kid, her owl delivers a message from the Morrigan. So, Minerva sneaks out to go see the Goddess of War and Death in her cage. We don’t know what kind of present (if any) Minnie’s parents will give, but the Morrigan certainly has one to give: truth.

Back at the bar, Persephone climbs on stage to the bewilderment of her small audience. She’s ready to make her black debut. With a conjuring of the musical and possibly thematic motif of 1-2-3-4, she begins her performance. All Gods have a peculiar, distinct effect on their audience. Some will fill you with light, others will make you release. It all depends on what manner of God they are. Persephone is Queen of the Underworld and a Goddess of Vegetation. So, it only makes sense that her performance be somewhat similar to that of other Underworld Gods. However, this one lacks the wit of Baphomet, or the romanticist tone of the Morrigan’s. This is a constricting, homogeneous mixture of distress, grief and confusion.

Persephone’s in Hell, and she’ll make you feel like you’re as well. Once her performance is over, all attendees pull out their mobile phones. The news travel quickly, at the genesis of her fandom, all the way to Valhalla, where Woden is working on Minerva’s “birthday gift”, as per Ananke’s instructions. He wonders if she intends for Minerva to be her fourth victim, but she claims it not to be the case. Mind you, considering the fact that Woden knows a lot of what Ananke does, this hints at Inanna actually being a notch in her tally. Nonetheless, Ananke immediately breaks the news about Persephone to the Gods under her bullshit, declaring that the Destroyer has returned. She enlists the aid of all Gods, except for Amaterasu and Baal, whom she charges with holding the fort.

All other soldiers roll out in a way that would make the Super Friends blush with even more shame than they should. Baal has poor impulse control, but he is an okay fighter, so the role of guardian will suit him fine. This doesn’t mean he’ll get to slack tonight, though, as he sees himself on the receiving end of the best followups in a knock-knock joke. Baphomet has come to rescue his girlfriend. And in the process, to administer some well-deserved comeuppance upon Baal for the events on Issue #12.  He promises to come back to beat him up further once the Morrigan is no longer behind God-proof bars. The arc’s name proves fitting as the action quickly rises, but we’re not done yet. A bunch of misguided dicks will crash on Persephone’s debut.

I strongly advise all readers to listen to this song as they read this issue. It’s wonderfully fitting. In fact, I strongly advise to read all of this series while listening to Pure Reason Revolution. It’s an English band that was the bees knees, and they REALLY should get back together, please. Okay, back to the heat.

The bar is now considerably fuller as more people have come enthusiastically to see Persephone. She, on her part, seems ready for the inevitable arrival of Ananke and her goons. Of course, they have to pick the sneaky way, because they’re dicks. Woden stealthily plants what appears to be a smoke grenade, intended to clear the way for the battlefield. Persephone manages to contain the explosion, keeping everybody safe. And still, Ananke has the nerve to call her Destroyer. What a dick; and it’s no surprise that she has come with the dick-est Gods in the Pantheon: Woden (Valkyries included) and Sakhmet. Persephone’s far from daunted. In fact, she’s ready for the showdown.

Meanwhile, on Valhalla, Baphomet finds that Minerva had already freed the Morrigan. The Pungeon Master urges them to escape with him but Minerva is concerned about her parents, who don’t deserve a daughter like she, the fuckers. The Morrigan reasons with Baphomet that Ananke could retaliate by killing Minerva’s parents. It’s a pain he certainly can sympathise with. So, we get another ultra-quotable quote, courtesy of The Wicked + The Divine, as Baphomet concedes: It’s the mom and pop saviour hour! These Gods are not just Big Damn Heroes. They are Big Damned Heroes. There is a very distinct charm in seeing dark-themed characters doing the laudable acts.

In the meantime, Persephone is holding her own more than fine against Sakhmet, Woden and his Valkyries. Things are coming apart for the baddies. Furthermore, the carefully crafted facade of having the higher ground is cracking, as Woden recognises Persephone as Laura Wilson. Even he can show some sense at times. Nonetheless, the battle here comes to an end, as the Thirteenth God receives a text message. It turns out that her debut was a ruse to make a diversion for the Morrigan’s jailbreak. Speaking of, the runaway trio come upon Baal, who now wants to exact retribution for Inanna. However, the arrival of Persephone and Morrigan turning into her bloody-red persona results in their successful escape.

Ananke arrives in the nick of time to try and get the Morrigan back on her side. She claims that Laura had done something bad that concerns the Morrigan. We learn this to be true with the issue’s final page, a flashback to one month prior. It turns out that Persephone was alive back then, and she had met up with Baphomet for a sexual encounter that they already seem to regret. Regardless of this troublesome seed in the soil, one thing is clear as the difference between day and night. The teams are now set up in mutually exclusive dichotomy. Ananke still has players on her side, but her facade is not as credible anymore, even to her allies. This can prove problematic, for war is definitely coming.

Quite a way to begin a new arc. In my opinion, a very strong issue in terms of quality. After this, the heat must rise steadily. Ananke must pay.

The Wicked + The Divine #18 Credits

Writer: Kieron Gillen

Art / Cover: Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson

All images are courtesy of Image Comics

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