Review: The Wicked + the Divine #31
The Wicked + the Divine #31 is the best the series has been in a long time as writer Kieron Gillen, artist Jamie McKelvie, and colorist Matthew Wilson hit a sorrowful groove as “Imperial Phase Part II” draws to a close. This is a memorable issue that will be dissected, oohed and aahed at, sobbed over, and yes, screamed at just like WicDiv #5, #8, #11, #13, and #18, which have been my favorite regular issues of the series to date. With these superlatives out of the way, WicDiv #31 features momentous events, like the Norns, Woden, and Dionysus finally turning on Ananke’s machine to the tune of a glorious Wilson color palette, Persephone coming clean, and some sort of real talk about Dio and Urdr’s feelings for each other. Plus a tragic twist.
I am really enjoying Gillen, McKelvie, and Wilson’s focus on the character of Dionysus throughout “Imperial Phase Part II”, and WicDiv #31 is no exception. In his first appearance, McKelvie draws lines on Dio’s usual smooth face and gives his eyes a hazy spaced out look, which is to be expected after he spent all of the previous issue sitting in the dark and pleading with Baphomet to leave his abusive relationship with Morrigan. McKelvie depicts Dionysus as a husk of his rave inducing self with basically bad selfie lighting from Wilson, but his wholesome spirit hasn’t faded.
He has a conversation with Urdr, who is a little on edge about the turning on Ananke’s machine thing because Woden is sketchy and Dionysus is tired, plus there’s the whole crush thing. But, even though Urdr and Dionysus don’t directly talk about their feelings for each other, Dio kind of nails how relationships and friendships should work. He basically says that emotions, especially love are important, but they shouldn’t get in the way of caring and supporting a friendship. This is really freaking selfless and par for the course for a man, who admits that his key motivation in life is making other people happy. Dionysus’ smiling face or crowd surfing body should definitely be in the dictionary next to mudita, a kind of happiness that comes from other people’s happiness. However, this ends up being his downfall as Woden uses his abilities in a more toxic way turning a happy party into a hive mind, worship into a cult. But, before everything gets fuzzy, Gillen and McKelvie give us a character defining moment of Urdr looking up and perhaps for the first time, realizing the effect the Pantheon has on other people and admiring those Eisner winning Matthew Wilson colors.
But Woden’s hijacking of Dio’s power isn’t just a simple “Dionysus is a cinnamon roll too good for this world” plot point, it actually takes WicDiv #31 back into the musical realm. Woden and Dionysus’ actions at Valhalla support my theory that, in the end, there are two kinds of dance floors: one filled with light, energy, fantastic music, and camaraderie and another one that is crowded, filled with groping straight men, and plays the Chainsmokers. Dionysus represents the first as evidenced by the immortal WicDiv #8, and Woden represents the second with misogyny, objectification of women, and general fuckboy attitude and spinelessness. Dionysus is about people having a good time and forgetting their troubles for a night and maybe having fond memories of waving their arms and dancing to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” with gods while sitting in their poorly lit cubicles. Woden is all about metaphorically (and probably) getting off the power of the patriarchy to rob women (And people in general in this issue) of their agency. It’s selfishness versus selflessness, and unfortunately, it looks like selfishness has the upper hand in 2017. But Dionysus’ nice little grape Pantheon icon isn’t a skull just yet so there might still be some hope for this beautiful, emotionally honest, and soulful man. I’m probably the naive one in this case.
Dio, Urdr, Woden, Amaterasu, and Sakhmet play the “active” roles in WicDiv #31, but Gillen and McKelvie don’t neglect their heroine, Persephone, who finally kind of does the right thing by telling Baal and the Outsiders that Sakhmet is lurking at one of her favorite haunts: the Egyptian wing of the British Museum. When Sakhmet is out, Persephone starts by lounging in her deliciously foreshadow-y skull and rose pattern leggings with McKelvie nailing her apathy before swinging into a bit of anger when she talks to her ex Baal on the phone. Plotwise, Gillen has her as a wild card, but that’s likely to change after she learns Amaterasu’s fate. Annoying problematicness aside, an Amaterasu gig back in WicDiv #1 was Persephone’s entry to the world of the Pantheon so it should have a major effect on her demeanor going forward. This issue also shows that Persephone has a bit of a conscience and is starting to maybe realize that chaos wasn’t the best decision.
Yes, chaos ends up in death: the death of Amaterasu to be particular as she goes to the British Museum to soothe the sharp teeth and claw toes of Sakhmet with her abilities instead of calling Baal for some muscle like he provided against Luci in the first arc. Amaterasu has a “nice” personality, but is supremely self-absorbed, and her little monologue about the glories of the British Empire’s treasures in the British Museum and family causes her to drop her guard around Sakhmet. It’s also a final nod towards her cultural appropriation as she has turned the Japanese Shinto faith into her own white girl ShinTwo cult, and sad, if poetic that she dies destroying the artifacts that the U.K. took from their old colony of Egypt. McKelvie frames it like a slasher flick with plenty of gore and killer/victim juxtaposition shot although this death feels earned and is also a product of stupid decisions. One thing I love about WicDiv on a macro level is that characters who make not-the-smartest-decisions like going against a bloodthirsty murderer without backup or teaming up with Woden get consequences. It’s like the early seasons of Game of Thrones where behaving nobly, yet stupidly led to death or negative consequences versus the current one starring Jon Snow of House Plot Armor.
WicDiv #31 is a smorgasbord of visual storytelling delights, like Matthew Wilson’s color palette for Dionysus’ (hopefully not) final performance) and Amaterasu’s last foray as a superpower or the weathering on Dio’s face from Jamie McKelvie, and quotable insights about friendships and relationships and even asexuality and aromanticism from Kieron Gillen via Dionysus, but it’s a big downer moment for the series even if Urdr gets her most uplifting panel yet. After the conversations, arguments, and tiptoeing around, this is the plunge after the deep breath. WicDiv #31 is the guns a-blazing after the Mexican standoff or conversations about Bible passages and American hamburgers in Paris.
To not end this review on a glib Pulp Fiction reference, WicDiv #31 (Especially the Amaterasu scenes) pairs nicely with “Rabbit Heart” by Florence + the Machine , which is one of the first tracks on Kieron Gillen’s The Wicked + the Divine playlist. It’ll break your ginger sun goddess loving heart.
Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Jamie McKelvie Colors: Matthew Wilson
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy
Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review