Review: The Wicked + The Divine #40

It’s crazy to think that we’ve almost reached the end of the saga of the ascended, then descended  and part of a millennia cycle of goddesses killing each other fangirl, but it’s true. And Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson are in beautiful form in The Wicked + the Divine #40 that centers around Baal’s final gig at the O2 Arena where he hopes to summon and defeat the Great Darkness with the help of some Dio-esque (RIP) hive mind shenanigans and human sacrifice. It’s a little complicated.

But WicDiv #40’s strength is that Gillen and McKelvie don’t get caught up in plot mechanics and use both the in-story and real world time gap between the rise of the Pantheon and their swan song to brilliant effect. With the exception of some diagram/specs pages, until the literally explosive end of issue climax, McKelvie and Wilson keep the visuals dialed down. The comic is presented like a handheld documentary film or more appropriately a YouTube vlog with close-up’s and awkward angles intermingled with moments of truth and self-awareness. The comic opens with fanboys, Tom and Nathan, doing an “unboxing video” for their Baal gig tickets, and you can almost hear the obnoxious tones of their voices in McKelvie’s loud facial expressions.

But the over-the-top Gen Z parody gets replaced with real emotion as the comic progresses, and you get to know them, especially Tom. He gets more self-aware and successfully reads a situation where his former crush is getting hit on by some strangers and also has a profound understanding on who Persephone/Laura is. Not a destroyer, but a human being. (And so are you.) This empathetic tone flows throughout WicDiv #40 (Except when scheming Minerva has her little long con asides while still playing the child victim.) from Baal struggling to balance the deaths of 20,000 people with the destruction of the entire universe, including his family, and inspiration in general to little fan vignettes of worshipers at Baal’s gig before they “go under”. These scenes return to WicDiv ‘s initial exploration of the relationship between fan and artist/performer although the critic (i.e. Urdr) is not present. The comic begins with the more materialistic side of fandom (expensive tickets, waiting in line) before turning to its inspirational side right before Gillen’s plot hits the big moments.

WicDiv #40 is also yet another opportunity for formal experimentation as Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson lay out the issue in the style of a confessional running the gamut from Shakespearean soliloquy (Baal before his performance) to vlog (The aforementioned Tom and Nathan show.) with reality show and person on the street thrown in for good measure. Even if all the gods, except for Baal and Minerva, are dead or appear on the margins of the story until the very end, McKelvie and Wilson’s visual adaptation of the confessional to the comic book medium allows for quick identification with characters and their emotions plus some honest and soul searching dialogue from Gillen, including a rare look at the interaction between male bisexuality and toxic masculinity. Ultra bi fanboy Tom has conversations about this topic and identity that I had five years ago, and it’s cool to see that reflected in fiction when male bisexual characters are either coded gay or straight except for a bit of innuendo, winking at another man, or a stray line of dialogue. (See most representations of John Constantine.)

Talking heads are usually the kiss of death in comics and are either a chance for the writer to go overboard with their dialogue skills or give an artist on a tight monthly schedule a breather. However, with Jamie McKelvie’s well-documented knack for facial acting and eye for interesting details like the ever shifting, cheap blue blanket that drapes Tom while he waits for the Baal show, they’re never dull. And as the story progresses to the actual Baal gig, Matthew Wilson plays with color strength and situation going from a complex palette when fans talk about their connection to members of the Pantheon to a flat one when the mind control takes hold. The light effect he gives the worshipers is quite “eerie” and spirals the narrative into hopelessness before it takes a turn for the unexpected. And Wilson also gets to play with bold, brash colors thanks to the central role that Baal takes in the narrative.

WicDiv #40 is part jaw dropping arena show and vulnerable singer song writer gig with Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson spending plenty of time developing and exploring the personalities of the fans of the Pantheon, and how the gods have an effect on their lives. With Minerva’s master plan subbing in for the murder mystery, it’s a throwback to the original arc where Gillen, McKelvie, and Wilson slowly revealed the gods’ personalities and action through the POV of ultimate fangirl, Laura. There are murderous Minerva asides and heartfelt Baal self and family confessions, but WicDiv #40 gives a fresh non-insider perspective on the Pantheon before things get all opening sequence of recent Zack Snyder films. (This is not a complaint.)

Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Jamie McKelvie
Colors: Matthew Wilson Letters: Clayton Cowles 

Story: 9.0 Art: 9.6 Overall: 9.3 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review