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Review: The Wicked + The Divine #23

tumblr_ocdihkx6kh1tuoa2wo2_1280Before the start of this latest arc of The Wicked + The Divine titled ‘Imperial Phase (Part I),’ writer Kieron Gillen told readers to expect decadence as the Pantheon finds a newfound freedom in the wake of Ananke’s destruction. Well, decadence was certainly right on the button as we enter the Imperial Phase with a world building issue from Pantheon Monthly. Because of course, there’s a monthly glossy mag dedicated to the Pantheon.

The structure of this issue was mostly done as a way for Team WicDiv to collaborate with Kevin Wada, whose gorgeous and fashionable art has graced many a comics cover and a Twitter feed, but has never been interior for a comic. Instead of making Wada’s style conform to traditional comics format, we instead see a format suited for him: drawing the gods of the Pantheon in the way of a fashion shoot spread. Even Morrigan gets in on the action, which a beautifully gothic set that adds a pop of color to the None More Goth goddess. In fact, all of Wada’s pieces capture the Pantheon’s individual style in such a way that we usually don’t get to see in the regular issues. This is not as a diss to Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson, who still get to shine in this issue with their “advertisements” from Baal and Persephone, but rather highlights how strength in drawing fashion can mean different things with different artists.

The issue pushes the magazine format even more with Gillen taking on more of an “editor” role and asking several of his journalist friends to write interviews with the gods. The results are astounding, from beginning to end. Leigh Alexander’s interview with The Morrigan is especially haunting, not just for the dark imagery Alexander captures, but for how she manages to humanize The Morrigan as someone she could have known back in school. While we as the readers will remember Marian’s backstory from the ‘Commercial Suicide’ arc, this piece is presented as the first time people in the world of The Wicked + The Divine have seen press for The Morrigan. Alexander strikes that balance well, alluding to the backstory of The Morrigan without delving information that isn’t known in that universe.

My personal favorite interview though had to be Laurie Penny’s interview with Woden, titled “Sympathy for the Nice Guy.” Penny constructs the interview as an unwilling assignment, preferring to talk to a “nice” God like Amaterasu or Dionysus and getting the reviled Woden instead. I’m not certain how much of his reviled status is an allusion to his status as the most hated character in WicDiv or is a true in-universe fact, but it’s good to know everyone hates him. Penny throughout the interview tries to understand Woden at least in the way he thinks, but also doesn’t give him quarter for his actions either. Reading it was fascinating and unsettling, and I was worried that something was going to happen to Penny by the end of it. It doesn’t, but it does end with a highly ironic remark from Woden regarding the more problematic aspects of Game of Thrones. Problematic, says the sexist sociopath…

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Through the interviews and notes from our “editor” Kieron, we start to get an idea what life is like for the Pantheon so soon after Ananke’s death. It’s a lot of mystery and growth, with Valhalla being abandoned for The Strand and Baal assuming de facto leadership of the Pantheon since he was the first of the gods to “ascend.” Minerva is struggling some with the death of her parents and the other gods are trying to find balance in the wake of it all. The presence of Persephone worries Woden especially, but you have to wonder how much of that is Woden and how much of that is Persephone. You also get some fun little background details of the gods, such as Amaterasu becoming a god on her birthday/the winter solstice and running to tell Lucifer while she’s in an interview with Mary HK Choi. It was an unexpected surprise to get those kind of details, to say the least.

Early reviews of this issue harkened it to Watchmen in terms of how deep it lets the story run. While I don’t know if I can make the same comparison just yet, the way that The Wicked + The Divine #23 builds the universe of the comic while letting others play in the sandbox is kind of mindblowing. Wada’s art alone justifies the existence of this issue, but the articles by real journalists writing about their interactions with these fictional characters is what makes the issue shine in those spaces between the art. If Pantheon Monthly was to return for another arc, this The Wicked + The Divine faithful would certainly not argue.

Story: Kieron Gillen, Leigh Alexander, Dorian Lynskey, Laurie Penny,
Mary HK Choi, Ezekial Kweku
Art: Kevin Wada, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson
Story: 9.0 Art: 10.0 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review