Review: The Wicked + The Divine #36

In WicDiv #36, the book is almost threatened to be swallowed up in act of formalistic hubris, but then Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson regain the thread and ride the relationship between Baal and Peresphone and last issue’s reveal that Baal is a child murderer to a solid, if sad ending (That’s a trend with this series.) On a pure geek (and fashion) level, it’s fascinating to see six millennia of recurrences, and the different, if repetitive iterations of Ananke and Persephone dueling until the end of time in lovely six panel McKelvie grids. It made me wish I still had my World History textbook from high school complete with big ass timeline to compare the events of WicDiv to what was actually going on in the world. There are some great history/religion/mythology nerd references along the way, and with the exception of its deepest roots aka the ending, the proverbial iceberg of the series has been completely revealed. Each panel of Ananke and Persephone locked in mortal combat from across time could launch any number of fan fiction prompts or even spinoffs like what Lucifer and The Dreaming were to The Sandman.

However, even though the 14 page opening sequence is a mini-masterpiece in historical formalism, varied colored palettes, setting and costume design, and research from Gillen, McKelvie, and Wilson, it definitely seems overly self-indulgent. This is even in comparison to other experimental issues of WicDiv like the rave issue which introduced the integral and beautiful character of Dionysus (RIP), the remix issue which fleshed out Woden’s character and had important plot details, and even the Kevin Wada fashion magazine issue, which deepened reader awareness of the WicDiv cast through prose and pinups. Unfortunately, the beginning of WicDiv #36 halts the story’s momentum and only serves in repeating the point that Ananke and Persephone have been at war for millennia, which was established in the beautiful flashback open of WicDiv #34. It doesn’t really add any new information or emotional resonance to their dynamic and is just a showcase for McKelvie’s skill with gestures and clothing. A few iconic images would have driven home the point of the high, historical stakes of the battle between Persephone and Ananke, and that Laura’s transformation isn’t particularly novel, but the constant variations of the same battle or conversation grow tiring. It’s really something that seems like it would belong in a future “Visual Companion to WicDiv“, as a short story in an annual/special type issue, or as bonus material in a future hardcover.

Thankfully, the last third of WicDiv #36 almost ends up saving the entire book and acts like the character showcase for Baal that he never got when the guest artists were doing one-off issues with different Pantheon members. (After reading this book, there was a reason for that.) It also firmly aligns him against Persephone, who may or may not being carrying his child, and with Minerva and the late Ananke, who are willing to do whatever it takes to stem the tide of the Great Darkness, including killing children. To take a page out of Protestant Christian theology, Baal is practicing “propitation” and making these child sacrifices every so often to placate a scary force that threatens all life and inspiration and on a more personal note, to protect his family because he still wants to be Valentine Campbell. Hence, the defensive postures that Jamie McKelvie draws him in and the flame red color palette from Matthew Wilson, including just three full pages of red with minimal text.

In fact, to go with the minimalism, Kieron Gillen goes for a more direct mode of dialogue and narration instead of using quips and fun ornamentation to show how dark and serious the story has gotten at this point. Baal is no longer Kanye swaggering around; he’s a broken, yet deadly vessel for the Great Darkness. Persephone realizes that in her captions, and McKelvie unleashes the waterworks as well as that intense blink you do when someone betrays your trust to the uttermost confirming his continued status as a great artist of both subtle and over the top human expressions. And then, Persephone doesn’t use her powers for attack, but to escape from the flaming destruction of Baal. But she’s still completely alone, and the phone that was her comfort in earlier of issues in WicDiv is no help at all. Gillen and McKelvie have her completely cornered and alone just waiting to be slaughtered like many earlier iterations of Persephone…

WicDiv #36 is really a tale of two comics so hence the mixed review score. There’s the artsy, fartsy, shoving-the-theme-of this arc down readers’ throats first half with a side of impressive worldbuilding. Then, there’s the intense, relationship driven latter half that uses an ever intensifying scarlet palette from Matthew Wilson, agile character acting from Jamie McKelvie ,and emotionally honest writing from Kieron Gillen to reach another tragic low point in the journey of “more than a superstar” Laura-turned-Persephone. It’s really a study in how to both ineffectively and effectively use flashback towards the end of a longform narrative and really freaking sad for all your former Baal fan-people out there.

Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Jamie McKelvie Colors: Matthew Wilson Letters: Clayton Cowles
Story: 6.2 Art: 8 Overall: 7.1 Recommendation: Read

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review