The Wicked + The Divine #16 review: “I Was a Teenage Wear-Wolf”
Every aspect of this series is rich and deliberate. So much so that that I’ve felt overwhelmed at the thought of covering it. Where do I even begin to examine the layers? Until now. You see, I was a goth teen in the mid to late 90s. I took 20 skill points in Knowledge: Goth. I’m listening to Christian Death’s 1985 album “Ashes” as I write this. So at last, I feel prepared to write a review of this series. Because on this I am an expert.
The Wicked + The Divine #16 artfully presents Morrigan and Baphomet’s origin stories as Marian and Cameron. They go from roleplaying as masters of darkness in a live action roleplaying version of Vampire the Masquerade, to actually becoming them as a real war/death goddess and her consort, the god of– it’s unclear. I’ll get back to that. Definitely something dark.
Being young involves a lot of role playing, sometimes in literal ways— like LARPing and painting miniatures. But it also involves trying out roles of who you want to be. Marian and Cameron’s pantheon powers mean that their role playing became real and that their teenage identity will be their final identity.
Their lives are now a retort of “No Mom, I won’t grow out of it!” Growing out of anything is not even a choice anymore.
The first panel we see of Baphomet and Morrigan in this series was at the end of issue 2. The godsmacking image of Baphomet holding up Morrigan’s seemingly decapitated head. Knowing their history as role players together, this first appearance becomes no surprise at all. Of course they are role playing to scare the straights — because they have always been role playing and trying to scare the straights.
In Vampire the Masquerade the vampires’ efforts to hide their true nature and infiltrate in mortal society is referred to as “The Masquerade”. So technically speaking, both the game players and the characters that they play are performing in a Masquerade.
In this issue Cameron/Baphomet frequently refers to “The Game”. He says Marian was always the best at it. Cameron always overplays his hand— trying to paint his miniature in an advanced method even though he was a beginner. Trying the so-called Prometheus Gambit. But Marian was the best at roleplaying games when human, and is best at giving the underground what they want now that she’s a goddess.
Morrigan’s stylized dialog has always worked far better then it should. She even monologues to the reader in the final scene’s hamburger reveal. In the end, Baphomet is ground up hamburger “Bapho-Meat”. Perhaps a symbol of things to come.
Technology is comparatively quiet in this issue. Odd for a comic which regularly uses cellphones and social media as storytelling devices. I think tech is less apparent here because this issue is self-admittedly so closely tied to writer, Kieron Gillen’s own teen goth years. When we were teens there were no cellphones.
The only thing that indicates the events in this issue occurred recently are the trendy man-bun on Marian’s passed-out friend and the singular cellphone call that marks the death of Cameron’s parents (ok, and his choice of ringtone). Ok, ok, and the pile of Phonogram comics from the early 00s in his room. But otherwise, everyone’s gothic outfits pre-deification, would have blended in at any point in goth history from the 80s till today. Having the right clothes from your musical subculture was HUGE in the 20th century (how you dress doesn’t seem to have to match the music you listen to these days) so it’s edifying to see the artists get this right.
This issue confirmed a popular theory– one I figured out on my own damnit: that Baphomet isn’t really an equal member of the Pantheon. Because he was chosen by Morrigan and not discovered by Ananke he is probably best described as a demigod, or even just a Sacral King.
His name was the giveaway– Baphomet isn’t the name of a deity anyone worshiped historically. The name “Baphomet” was a Western corruption of the name of the Prophet Muhammad. When the Knights Templar returned from the Middle East, Philip IV of France accused them of worshiping an “evil eastern deity”. The Medieval French Crown got the name and the notion wrong (probably because they were busy being bigoted and also stealing their stuff) and accusations of the Knights worshiping Allah emerged through the other end of a medieval game of telephone as accusations of them worshiping “
And then no one cared for a while. And then Alistaire Crowley and later Anton Levay made blasphemy hip and next thing you know everyone is listening to Black Sabbath (which is metal, not goth and my inner teenager really needs you to know that. Goth came later.)*
Having our suspicions confirmed about Baphomet being Morrigan’s creation feels right. That is where the narrative weight has been heading and contrary to popular belief Gillen doesn’t evoke shock for its own sake. Having a fan theory turn out to be true is good storytelling here.
For now, we get to savor our moment of rightness. This all too real flashback to Marian and Cameron before they become Morrigan and Baphomet was exactly what I craved. Many grownups, like myself, reading this comic will find mirrors of our youth in various guises. It feels good to have the comic get mine right.
At the end of the flashback sequence, Morrigan’s shadow looms into Cameron’s window when she arrives to offer him a deal— some of her power in exchange for him dying in two years. Her feathers have never been more wing-like then in those panels. She is a black winged fallen angel inviting him to fall with her. His choice to accept the deal is clear now that we know he was still in morning from his parents’ death when this happened. Yes, he was always goth. But yes, he was also going through a trauma.
I had my pick of covers (thanks Forbidden Planet) for this issue and I chose the one by guest artist, Leila Del Duca. I chose her version because of how Morrigan holds Baphomet’s head and looks into the readers’ eyes. It’s the perfect cover for this issue. Del Duca’s art is so good throughout the book, every character has their own face, their own nose. She handles the transitions between Morrigan’s three personae with fearful symmetry.
Minerva’s relationship with self appointed big brother Baal continues to be charming. This is the first time we really get to see her smarts as she figures out a key clue everyone had missed. I’ve been wanting to see more from her and I have a feeling that she’ll be our next detective.
The final page of this issue is from series co-creator, artist Jaimie McKelvie. It is a demonstration that the rumors about Morrigan’s powers are true: if you try to take a photo of her you just see an image of your own death. So at least someone’s powers are what they say they are.
I’ve wondered before if the series’ iconic title pages has been lying to us. It situated Baphomet as a pantheon member and he isn’t quite. We never saw Laura’s Persephone graphic in there (I’m not convinced that Laura was actually a god, so this omission could work in either direction). So what else have we been mislead to believe in?
Footnote: * My history is fast and loose but you get the idea. Go listen to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History Podcast if you want to learn more about The Knights Templar.
- Review title is a riff off “I was a Teenage Werwolf” by The Cramps. They are punkabilly not goth but beloved by goths everywhere.
- Other recommended listening for this issue: Siouxsie and the Banshee’s album Juju.
- Watch this short 1983 TV news show visit to London’s legendary Bat Club. Ignore the at times inappropriate background music. But it’s a great snapshot of the scene and the humor and warmth of people who are often portrayed as anything but.
- The goth band Sisters of Mercy have a song called Marian. I’m sure her name is a reference to that.
Reading Kieron’s writers notes reminded me that I forgot to talk about the significance of Morrigan’s use of the title “King-for-a-Year”. If I know my English mythology from watching 70’s pagan-daytime-horror-folkmusic-cult-movie-masterpiece The Wicker Man a lot (and I do, and I have not read The Golden Bough) a King-for-a-day is a fool who is treated as a king for a day, then used as a ritual sacrifice. So yeah. Foreshadowing.
Writer: Kieron Gillen Art: Leila Del Duca, Jamie McKelvie
Colors: Mat Lopes, Matt Wilson, Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Story 9.5 Art 9.5 Overall 9.75 Buy
Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review, but Elana buys it anyway. It’s that good.