Tag Archives: the wicked + the divine

FlameCon 2018: Artist Kris Anka Talks Runaways and Gert’s Redesign

Kris Anka is one of Marvel’s superstar artists making a splash drawing some of the X-Books before moving onto titles like Captain MarvelStar-Lord and his current series Runaways with Rainbow Rowell of Fangirl and Eleanor and Park fame and colorist extraordinaire Matthew Wilson (The Wicked + the Divine, Paper Girls). He also redesigned Jessica Drew’s Spider-Woman costume and has a keen eye for character design and fashion.

I had the opportunity to chat with Kris Anka at FlameCon about his work on Runaways, approach to storytelling and costume design, and more.

Graphic Policy: Let’s address the elephant in the room. Why are your characters of all genders drawn so sexy? Why are they so attractive?

Kris Anka: It feels like in superhero comics that it’s always been part of it. If it’s people with powers, why not make everyone hot? Everyone can enjoy it. You’ve got something for everybody. It’s fun to make everyone hot, and they’re hot in different ways. Mostly, it’s just a lot of fun.

GP: One thing I like about your art is that the character clothing reflects their personality. What’s your favorite outfit that you’ve drawn in Runaways, and what are your inspirations for the outfits?

KA: Addressing the second question and specifically talking about Runaways, a benefit is that they’ve been around for a while. Hopping into the book, Rainbow [Rowell] and I know these kids. We kind of equate our run and the original run. The original run was looking for them, and now we know them. So, we’ve hit the ground running, and there’s not a lot of questions in our head of who these kids are.

Inspiration is fairly easily, especially since I’m from L.A. I was a freshman in high school when Runaways #1 came out. I was the same age. I went to high school with all of these kids so I knew them. It’s really easy for me to equate what their looks are and who they are in kind of a 2018 vibe.

Inspiration comes from life, and I can sort of string it all together and combine it into who they are. Because they’re growing and hitting their later teens. Chase is 20. That’s kind of the age where people start changing. We can grow with and kind of experiment a little bit. It’s kind of fun with Karolina where she used to be so young hippie. She was a vegetarian and health conscious. And, in L.A. now, people who are health conscious are fitness conscious. She’s part hippie, but she’s also a festival kid. There’s also athleisure, and she’s very active.

We’re kind of able to grow them into new looks that still feels like them. That helps narrow and specify your focus on them. It’s really fun building wardrobes and all these things. There’s not a lot of guesswork. I know exactly where to go.

In terms of a favorite outfit, it’s in [Runaways] #12, and one of them you can see on the cover for issue 13, which is Karolina’s dress. That dress took me eight hours to design. When you see issue 12, it took me so long to draw these pages. But it’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had.

GP: What do you think sets apart the Runaways from the other Marvel superhero teams, who might get more buzz or bigger movies?

KA: The Marvel Universe has always prided itself on being the world outside your door. The Runaways is even more specific where it feels like kids you might actually know. On a superficial level, the fact that it’s West Coast already sets it way far apart. That kind of allowed Runaways to live in its own world. In a lot of ways, it feels like a creator owned book that just happens to be in a world where you understand the powers.

It’s got this different of these feel like actual teenagers you may know. I think that’s what it’s survived on. The personalities are so specific, and it never forced them to be a big superhero book. Because Teen Titans and Legion [of Superheroes] and all those teen superhero books have that to them, but also have the huge, overarching superhero plot. We kind of don’t, and this allows it to be much more about them as people than things they have to deal with.

So, you get a lot of melodrama, a lot of teen heartthrob drama when you’re 18 and all the bad decisions you make. It makes the Runaways feel more whole because we don’t always have to figure out, “Who’s punching this issue?” We can spend a whole issue just crying and look at what they’re going through.

GP: Speaking of crying, the big Karolina/Julie Power breakup in Runaways #10 tore at my heart strings. How do you get in the mindset to draw such a big emotional beat that rips the Internet in half?

KA: That was a big one because Rainbow and I had talked about it for months. We needed to be very clear on what it was, especially in a world where there’s so many kinds of media with bad queer relationships, especially with how messy sometimes breakups can be. We didn’t want to sugarcoat it and not make it real because they’re also eighteen. Eighteen years old don’t make exactly the easiest decisions. They’re pretty damn rough about things. We wanted to ground it in who they are and what they’re going through.

Even if people don’t like the decision, they can understand why these two characters are in that same place and why this is happening. [Rainbow and I] talked about this scene a lot to get the right kind of nuance for it. This thing is happening, but they both have an agency to this decision rather than someone just getting thrown under the bus. I like Julie and Karolina together, but [the breakup] also felt right with this overarching story of bringing the family back together. How messy it got made sense with all the buildup.

So when we got there, it was kind of tough, and it worked with the rest of the story. It wasn’t something where we were like, “We gotta do this.” It felt right.

GP: Yeah, it didn’t feel like the comics version of a sweeps week plot twist. So, I was a big fan of Gert’s new look in Runaways #11 and her walking through L.A. What was your thought process in designing her new look?

KA: We had been talking about the Gert look since I started on issue one. When I signed back onto the book, one of the things that Rainbow really wanted to do was: A- bring Gert back. B was the fact that there’s this huge important factor of (The timeline stuff with her is so strange with the Marvel Universe and sliding timelines.) when Gert debuted in 2003, the idea of having crazy hair colors was so counter culture and a little taboo.

Gert’s whole character was about acting taboo. The guys’ clothes to hide her, having purple hair, and cynical and crabby. She wanted to be the antithesis to all the other girls around her. Now, that we’re in 2018, and [dying hair] is so commonplace, all these things that she had that were countercultural are common. What does that do to someone who is also coming back from the dead and seeing all her friends grow up without her.

Rainbow always wanted [to change Gert’s look], but I don’t remember the beginnings of that conversation. The big thing was that this allowed us to do the lost character arc that she was going through, superficially. Where she’s like, “What do I look like now?” We wanted to have a scene where she sees all these people with purple hair, and she’s like, “Shit, this thing I did to spite the adults and be this kind of rebel, everyone has”. [She’s] no longer a rebel in this world.

We wanted to have Gert refocus on herself where she doesn’t need to be this counter to everybody. She can kind of calm down. She’s still Gert, but we can have it where she doesn’t need to be so loud any more. [Colorist Matthew] Wilson also wanted to hint at the future Gert [who leads the Avengers] so a lot of that first outfit based on design cues from future Gert like the green corset top and the grey skirt. We wanted to allude to all of that, and the fact that she goes back to her natural hair color. It’s kind of fun to go in the middle of [her timeline] and find something that still feels Gert, but doesn’t feel like she’s trying. Because one thing we did in our whole run is that Gert doesn’t have her own clothes. For the entirety of the first two arcs, she’s wearing Chase’s clothes or hand-me-downs because she doesn’t have a wardrobe.

That’s part of it. She never was herself yet. She’s still looking. That’s our first moment. We spent a long time thinking about what Gert’s look was going to be. It took us a year. I remember one day that we arrived at the same thing where [Rainbow Rowell] saw a photo of Chadwick Boseman with this t-shirt with kind of a military button pattern. She saw that, and separately, I thought that Gert seems like someone who would see Hamilton and get really into Hamilton and dress like that. We both brought military jackets to the table and said that should be the Gert look. Also, that’s her parents’ look too: these steampunk military time travelers. We alluded to that, she would definitely be a Hamilton fan, and this was the look that Rainbow wanted so it all fit. That’s new Gert.

And stylistically, it also keeps her separate from all the other girls on the team. She doesn’t look like Karolina. She doesn’t look like Nico. She doesn’t look like Molly. There’s a lot for the individual, but not in a forced way any more. It’s only on one page, but that one outfit took 11 months of work.

GP: It’s cool. I love hearing about behind the scenes stuff. I have one final question not related to Runaways. I’m a big fan of the WicDiv Christmas Annual that you worked on, especially the Baal and Inanna male nudity part. How did you get onboard with that unique project?

KA: I had done the Baal cover of him getting out of the pool [for WicDiv #19], and it kind of became a thing. When [Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie] were coming up with the idea for a Christmas issue, they said one of the stories was about Baal and Inanna doin’ it. They were like “We should get Kris to draw it.” It was all very nonchalant. The amount of nudity that showed was up in the air, and they said, “As much as you want and whatever you’re comfortable with.”

We didn’t want to go super over the top with it, but we wanted to just get some dicks in there. It was very chill job. Let’s just draw these two guys having a good time and draw some dicks because there’s never dicks in comics. It was all fairly easy.

Runaways #12 is out on August 29, 2018.

Follow Kris Anka on Twitter

Review: The Wicked + The Divine #38

As The Wicked + the Divine #38 begins,the cast of characters that Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson has dwindled down, and they’re mostly bad eggs. And the good ones are irreparably damaged either physically or in spirit. Like every issue of this arc, WicDiv #38 begins with a flashback to the 1940s and 1950s where British poet and classicist Robert Graves is inspired by Ananke to write his seminal work The White Goddess about how goddess worship leads to inspiration, poetry, and is the “mother of all invention”. It’s very in much in keeping with the spirit of WicDiv as Gillen and McKelvie uncover more of the inner workings of the Pantheon, Ananke, Minerva, and the world of their story. With its juxtaposition of storytelling mechanics and intense character psyche burrowing, WicDiv  #38 is a pretty strong middle issue, and the the varied color schemes by Wilson are a nice treat.

In WicDiv #38, Minerva has blossomed into a fantastic villain maneuvering plots and manipulations in a manner that would make Ananke crack a smile from beyond the grave. Despite everything going to hell in a hand basket, Woden thinks he’s still in control because he has the Norns in the jail and thinks that he can do whatever he wants. For example, he makes a video of out of context moments of WicDiv painting Urdr as a dangerous rabble rouser just like her old name’s mythological equivalent, Cassandra. But this is definitely not the case as Woden sees the graffiti heavy and disfigured heads of the Pantheon members and freaks out while McKelvie draws Minerva in another panel with a shit eating grin as she knows exactly what is going on. She hides her plans for the endgame behind surprised expressions, childlike wonder, and two face dialogue that Woden won’t get even while he repeats his new favorite word, “subtext”.

Until a foreboding final line of dialogue on the last panel, Persephone and Baphomet’s scenes in the Underground might not seem as connected to the big ur-story of goddess vs. goddess, inspiration, and ritual sacrifice even if Persephone is the Destroyer and locked in eternal combat with Ananke. However, the quiet moments the once and future likable/not likable fans-turned-deities are the most human of WicDiv #38. Baphomet has really been the emotional carotid artery of this story arc and following Morrigan’s sacrificing herself for him after killing, there is definitely arterial spray. Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson finally get to descend into the deepest darkness with a blacker than black color palette and the tragic combined logo of a crow and pentagram and the even more tragic panel of Morrigan, Gentle Annie, and Badb lifelessly levitating in their temple. Although he was resurrected, Baphomet is crippled by grief and wants to stay in the shadows and not play an active role in the plot any more.

This listlessness extends to Persephone, who is pregnant and can’t really get anyone to empathize with her. Kieron Gillen goes full navel gazing, and McKelvie brings in a six panel grid to contain her thoughts and walk back to her and Sakhmet’s old crash pad. The real emotions comes when she picks up her old cracked and cellphone and thinks about how ridiculous Laura Wilson’s dream of godhood was. Her wish isn’t for righting wrongs or redemption, but just oblivion. This whole becoming a god thing wasn’t worth it, and perhaps walking down a dark, never ending tunnel that corresponds with McKelvie and Wilson’s all black panels is her retirement from divinity. Certainly, a panel on the final page echoes that idea, but Gillen, McKelvie, and Wilson keep Persephone’s fate ambiguous: a sad, juicy hook for the arc finale.

WicDiv #38, and the whole “Mothering Invention” arc by extension, has been an exercise in looking at the biggest picture possible of Pantheons, past and present, by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson. They show how the world works, establish innocents as villains, kill or incapacitate various darlings, and blur the lines between inspirational power and ritual sacrifice. There are lots of flashbacks, sure, but WicDiv #38’s sequences are more straightforward and connected to immediate plot and bigger themes of the series with some room for visual play with Wilson using a faded, almost monochromatic style for the Graves scenes that is like an old photograph.

And, most of all, Gillen, McKelvie, and Wilson don’t forget the characters we’ve cheered for, sneered at, and connected to a little too deeply even though it seems that everyone has lost their way. Minerva is great baddie, and in a weird fan crossover universe, is beating Young Avengers Kid Loki at his game over and over again like the eternal battle Persephone and Ananke were locked in.

Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Jamie McKelvie Colors: Matthew Wilson
Story: 8 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8.2  Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Godscast Issue 1 One Deity At a Time

Hosted by Steven Attewell and Chris Holcomb, Godscast takes you issues by issue through the hit comic series The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie.

Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. Welcome to The Wicked + The Divine, where gods are the ultimate pop stars. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.

Steven writes about the intersection of history, politics, and pop culture in “The People’s History of the Marvel Universe” for Graphic Policy. In his day job, He teaches public policy at CUNY’s Murphy Institute for Labor Studies. He is the founder of Race for the Iron Throne.

Chris Holcomb podcasts about pop culture and where we went wrong in the 90s. You can listen to him at “Unspoiled Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Review: The Wicked + the Divine #37

Like the previous issue, and perhaps in an even bigger contrast, The Wicked + the Divine #37 is a study in highs and lows of storytelling. There are ten pages of black squares arranged in a nine panel grid, and there is poignant, epic, tragic battle royale between  Baphomet and Morrigan, Nergal and Badb, Cameron and Marian with the identities flowing in some of Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson’s most brilliant visuals.Unlike the previous issue, which focused more on the sky gods, like Baal, WicDiv #36 is mainly concerned with the Underground and its king and queen, Morrigan and Baphomet, plus Persephone, who is also an underworld-connected deity and is kind of, sort of in a love triangle with them. There is a deep love between Morrigan and Baphomet as well as pain and abuse, and their relationship hits its climax in the big set piece in WicDiv #37.

But, before we get to all the compelling relationship, fight scene, and Luci, Tara, and Inanna having spoken dialogue stuff, there are flashbacks to 32nd century Egypt and 31st century Crete illustrating the death and rebirth cycle of the Pantheon. The choice of Egypt and a Greek island are interesting because Morrigan chose not to intervene in a battle between an Egyptian deity (Sakhmet) and a Greek one (Persephone) hoping the woman her partner in darkness cheated on ended up mauled to a bloody pulp. There is also a distinct visual similarity between the final page of the flashback and the comic. But, then, there are the ten pages of pure blackness showing the passage of time between Recurrence: ninety years to be exact. Gillen and McKelvie have a cool idea to show what the world’s like without the activity, inspiration, and general drama, decadence, and death of the Pantheon, but the execution plods along. There’s not even cool fashion to look at like the repetitive flashback in WicDiv #36, and it sidelines the comic’s momentum from the get-go. But, the full page, totally must have been a strain on Jamie McKelvie action sequences easily put the book back on track.

After the flashback, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie don’t immediately dive into Baphomet v Morrigan: Dawn of Cheating and Cheated On Chthonics and give a “regular” human POV on the events of Mothering Invention. It seems that even as Urdr, Cassandra still lives up to her Greek mythology namesake, and that regular Londoners are sort of non-plused by Pantheon members, like Dionysus, dying as long as the gigs are intense and on the edge. Even more so than the banter, I really enjoyed the almost documentary style approach that McKelvie took to panel transitions going from two gig goers chatting by the train tracks to the tunnel and finally progressing to Persephone catching up Baphomet on the bloody events of this arc. It’s a reminder of how recently they were the fans, Cameron and Laura, and Gillen writes them as being fairly honest and open about how they have no idea what the hell is going on. A Minerva/Ananke heads interlude aside, the moody is fairly light by late period WicDiv standards even if McKelvie and Wilson bathe the page in shadows. But, then, Morrigan cold cocks Persephone, and the rest is death match.

The fight between Morrigan (Mostly Badb) and Baphomet that is really the best chunk of WicDiv #37 doesn’t take place in the shadows, but in the lavish life with jagged panels of crows and flame flowing into monochromatic flashback panels of Cameron and Marian’s old life. McKelvie finds a new level of rage for Morrigan as she transforms her whole arm into a sharp bone blade and is about to cut Persephone’s throat when Baphomet intervenes and begins the one-on-one battle. Between the yelling, flame swords, and broken sunglasses, Gillen and McKelvie get to the core of their conflict. Morrigan feels like she’s losing control over the man that she pleaded with Ananke to make a god and wants to shape his fate instead of letting him choose healthier (definitely platonic) relationships like with the late Dionysus and potentially with Persephone. (That opens a can of worms though.)

The black and white illustrations of Cameron and Marian at the pub, dancing at the club, having sex, or playing Vampire: The Masquerade add an extra emotional layer to WicDiv #37. There’s a scene where Morrigan is crumpled on the ground, and Baphomet should easily be able to take her out with his flame sword when there’s a faint, flickering of a scene of them dancing and laying in bed together that causes him to hesitate. McKelvie shows this softening of feeling by having Baphomet open his eye a little wider in pity. Of course, the next page is all crows and chaos and red, yellows, and greens from Matthew Wilson to accentuate the violence. However, Morrigan has a moment of pity too as Gentle Annie makes her sole appearance, and there is a tiny slice of redemption for her. It’s only a sliver, though.

In a similar manner to the previous issue, and more effectively thanks to the epic sauce nature of the Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson drawn battle between Morrigan and Baphomet and the teary eyed callbacks to their Leila Del Duca drawn showcase issue, WicDiv #37 works as a comic when it’s not trying to be experimental and abstract, but diving into its complex and flawed characters. Kieron Gillen has bestowed some of his best character voices to this doomed pair and cranks the feelings up to eleven in this issue to match the power of McKelvie and Wilson’s art and colors. It’s the final act in a tragically romantic, yet toxic relationship that burned hot in the beginning, led to one hell of a power couple, and fizzled out in conflict and utter sadness. (I can totally relate.)

P.S. This issue pairs well with Sisters of Mercy’s final single as a band, “Under the Gun”, and both Morrigan and Terri Nunn have fantastic eyeliner game.

Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Jamie McKelvie Colors: Matthew Wilson
Story: 7.5 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8  Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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

Review: The Wicked + the Divine #35

In The Wicked + the Divine #35, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson begin to gleefully tear down the elaborate story castle they have been constructing for almost four years. The story begins with a flashback to 1923, and by extension, the actual WicDiv #1 as the 1920s Pantheon says its au revoirs, and I had a mini panic attack that But then McKelvie and Wilson lay down an explosion with clashing colors, and the book’s structure of 12 gods, every 2 years, Ananke being into necessity, and warding off the Great Darkness is called into question.

Throughout the two issues of the “Mothering Invention” arc, Gillen and McKelvie have really made Minerva earn her stripes as the goddess of wisdom and craft. Especially after WicDiv #35, you could see her as the strategist who bankrolled Odysseus’ wiliness and had enough of a petty side to turn one of her rivals into a nasty little spider. Minerva’s portrayal, both in 1923 and the present day, hits a sweet spot between innocent and malevolent. The vapid lush Susanoo of “a drink or forty” fame thinks she’s too afraid to participate in the apocalypse cancelling mass suicide, but she’s really just being manipulative and a tender hug turns into a head explosion/”teleporty” thing. McKelvie’s art in the flashback matches the excess of the age of flappers and philosophers with eyeballs flying out of Ananke’s head and plenty of blood and gore. And there’s plenty of red and orange flames from Wilson, which made this comic pair nicely with fever symptoms.

Even if it might get lost under the Jazz Age inferno, the Woden holding a gun to Minerva’s head thing, and definitely the third act Baal thing, Gillen and McKelvie cleverly connect present Minerva to her previous incarnation. They also use the relatable anxiety of someone typing for a long time on a text message to build suspense. Minerva has  played the innocent, bun wearer for too long, but finally her hair is down (Nice ombre, by the way.) and her scheming self is beginning to kick into high gear as she plays a game of mutual blackmail with Woden and another game of witholding information with Urdr.  However, Persephone still underestimates Minerva and decides to go solo into Baal’s secret room. The duality of Minerva’s nature (Aged plotter, innocent child) is summed up in  a great panel of her with lines and a frustrated expression on her that looks like maybe she could be thousands of years old as Woden continues to mess with her plan.

OldWomanMinerva

 

Even while it’s paying off plot lines from issues and years back in dramatic fashion, WicDiv #35 still doesn’t neglect human side of things. Kieron Gillen finds time for introspection via caption boxes revealing Persephone’s inner thoughts as she tries to piece her relationships back together after deciding to basically fuck off, embrace anarchy, and sleep with a murderer. However, these thoughts keep getting cut off by Woden chasing the Norns, who have the talking head of his son, Jon. Maybe, the former friendship between Laura and Cassandra can be rekindled by Persephone and Urdr mutually escaping. At least, we get to see Skuld and Verdandi’s abilities to get the spotlight for a brief moment with the help of a beautiful green palette from Matthew Wilson.

However, the real relationship that gets pushed to the breaking point in WicDiv #35 is the complicated one between Baal and Persephone, and it ends up getting intertwined with main plot and cliffhanger. Baal’s fresco from WicDiv #4 makes a muted return and is drawn more like a self-loathing Kanye slow jam from 808s and Heartbreak than a well-lit, triumphant bit of baroque glory from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or swaggering hubris from Yeezus. It’s just a facade like the lightning chain he wears on his neck to claim that he’s the powerful death and rebirth Baal and not the child sacrifice cult one.

AwwBaal

In a nice bit of craft,  McKelvie takes his time with six panels, six unkind cuts to Persephone and readers’ hearts instead of doing an explosive splash. This gives readers a moment alone with her to sum up their connection that went from fangirl to romantic couple to enemies and lot of stops in between. Then, the issue ends in all fire and frenzy with Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson harnessing the energy that has made WicDiv such a visual delight. The reveal of Baal’s secret room is such a big deal that he goes into full Heisman Trophy winning running back mode and stiff arms Minerva while going to the scene of his, well, crimes. The pose that McKelvie chooses for Baal is so powerful and is a memorable image before he and Gillen cut to another flashback as Persephone does the proverbial math in her head about her ex-fangirl crush/boyfriend/complicated leader of another Pantheon faction. It’s one hell of a way to end an issue, and May can’t come soon enough.

WicDiv #35 shows that Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson can play the long game with the best of them while still crafting a story that is a strong on an artistic and emotional level. The Baal and Minerva twists work because readers have had the chance to connect with them and see them form relationships with other characters (And each other). I still don’t know how a man who could have such a tender relationship with the now-talking-head Inanna  could be such a monster, but it’s one of many great questions raised by this comic that have me hooked until the end of the line.

Your fave will always end up being problematic…

Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Jamie McKelvie Colors: Matthew Wilson
Story: 9.5 Art: 9.8 Overall: 9.7 Recommendation: Buy 

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: The Wicked + the Divine #34

Wow, there’s a lot to unpack in The Wicked + the Divine #34. Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson kick things off with an extended trip back in time to the first Pantheon where the rules are made, gods created, and children killed in the name of necessity. It’s a violent tone poem with a dying light palette from Wilson and a rhythmic grid layout from McKelvie, who depict the original Ananke and her sister with age lines from love and war. These sequence is also the proverbial face has launched a thousand fan theories. Until the final series of juxtaposed images (A comic within a comic, hmm.), nothing in the issue quite reaches the heights of WicDiv #34, and that’s okay as Gillen is engaged in a game of putting the pieces scattered across the board together for one last battle royale a la the finale of this series.

From what I’ve put together, it seems like the opening scene is a Seventh Seal chess game between Ananke and the Destroyer, or Persephone. (Minerva aka the new Ananke might be involved as well, and even if she doesn’t appear in the comic, her presence affects the present day scenes greatly.) On a metafictional level, it could also be read as Gillen and McKelvie setting up the rules, themes, and characters for their new world and then murdering their new creations in brutal full page manner with cool magical effects from Wilson. To get a little less mythical and a little more political, this conversation represents aging conservatives consumed by greed and doing whatever they can to prolong their lives and comfort at the expense of future generations. It is a fantastic sequence craft-wise especially with different effects and hues that Matthew Wilson pulls off in his color palette and acts as a creation myth for WicDiv, its own Music of the Ainur.

Most of the present is Persephone, Urdr (Who has stripped her fellow Norns of their power because she is easily the Beyonce to their Kelly and Michelle in a great gag from Gillen.), and Jon trying to sort out their current situation and by extension, the current status quo in the series. Gillen and McKelvie also use this time to let readers know a little more about the Jon, the poor erudite boy whose abilities were used and abused by his father in the ultimate stage parent move. He is fairly chilled out and erudite with dialogue like “Change is just change. It’s neither good nor bad. It simply is” that definitely needed a beat panel of Persephone and Urdr scratching their heads after it. Jon is also there to deliver the exposition about the talking god heads and Luci’s murder, and everything is all messed up and extremely awkward between Persephone and Urdr.

Kieron Gillen seems to be writing Persephone a lot like Laura in WicDiv #34 with her fangirl side all but eroded thanks to events of the series general. Unlike the situation with her and Sakhmet, Persephone is a straight shooter and tells Urdr that she thinks something is off with Minerva even if the journalist-turned-face palming, former triplicate goddess doesn’t act on this. The enclosed space has turned her more honest and kind, and McKelvie even shows a subtle trace of nostalgia on her face when she thinks about Luci being a talking head and beyond a shadow of a doubt not being a murderer. Maybe, she will end up being the flawed heroine we deserve, or maybe I’m just being a naive fan.

With a symphonic prologue, WicDiv #34 cascades to its endgame, and Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson place the series in sharp, big picture contrast before starting to unravel an overarching plot that is entering year four (Oh god, I’ve been writing about this book for almost four years.) But, along the way, they never lose sight of their flawed, well-sketched characters, or Persephone and Urdr in this case.

Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Jamie McKelvie Colors: Matthew Wilson
Story: 7.7 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.3  Recommendation: Buy 

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Around the Tubes

It’s new comic book day! What’s everyone excited for? What do you plan on reading? Sound off in the comments below. While you wait for shops to open, here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web.

The Beat – Announcing the nominees for the 2018 Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity – Congrats to all.

Variety – Melissa McCarthy Joins Tiffany Haddish in Mob Drama ‘The Kitchen’ – Interesting addition.

Kotaku – Don’t Expect Much From Lego Marvel 2’s Black Panther DLC – Awe.

 

Reviews

Comic Attack – Swamp Thing Winter Special #1

Talking Comics – The Wicked + The Divine 1923

The Wicked + The Divine’s New Arc Will Provide Key Answers to Mysteries Surrounding the Gods

Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are back at it with an all-new mind-blowing story arc of the bestselling series The Wicked + The Divine which kicks off in issue #34. It will be available in stores on Wednesday, March 7th.

This penultimate story arc to The Wicked + The Divine series will answer long-asked questions about the gods and will unveil key events from Ananke’s history in the past.

The end approaches, but it’s not too late.

The Wicked + The Divine #34 Cover A by McKelvie & Wilson (Diamond Code JAN180652), Cover B by Johnson & Spicer (Diamond JAN180653), Cover C virgin wraparound cover (Diamond JAN180654) will be available on Wednesday, March 7th. The final order cutoff for retailers is Monday, February 12th.

Review: The Wicked + the Divine 1923 AD Special

WicDiv1923CoverAs The Wicked + the Divine starts to round its final bend, writer Kieron Gillen and guest artist Aud Koch (America) return to the literal beginning, namely, the Pantheon of 1923 that graced the first pages of WicDiv #1. In keeping with the modernist mood of the time period, Gillen and Koch experiment and tell a 56 page Agatha Christie (Ananke may or may not be a stand-in for her.) drawing room mystery featuring all of the Pantheon members, who have all stayed alive to this point. There’s also a lighthouse. Most of the comic book is Gillen’s prose, which is purple-y, atmospheric, and channels several of the great modern writers, including Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, possibly Langston Hughes, and T.S. Eliot, who is racist and pretentious as hell. Large sections of text are broken up by fantastic art from Koch showing the murders is  better than telling us about them and end in a fine, kinetic tribute to one of the first motion pictures.

The issue is a meditation on the conflict between regression and progression, so-called high art and low art (Poetry and film in this case, and possibly by extension, prose and comics.), and there is a driving angst about the possibility of yet another world rending war that isn’t helped by Nazi with a German Expressionist aesthetic, Woden’s pronouncements. And beneath the lofty themes, it’s one hell of a murder mystery. WicDiv #1923 AD is technically a standalone story, but Gillen and Koch make it into a period piece remake of “The Faust Act”  and potentially the whole series complete with a whodunit about the exploding head murder of Lucifer as well as a framing narrative leading directly into WicDiv. It’s a multi-layered showcase for the prose stylings of Gillen and Koch’s ability to tell a visually arresting story in a few powerful panels or pages.

The extended length of the book allows Gillen and Koch more than adequate time to explore the personalities and even some of the personal journeys of the different Pantheon members. Lucifer dies fairly early, and his living form only appears in the drawing of the dramatis personae on the first page, but he’s perfectly Fitzgerald/Gatsby. Lucifer is very new money trying to impress blue bloods like Baal, who’s an American trying too hard to be British like a certain limp wristed anti-Semitic bank clerk, and Set, who gets a sharp, sexy design similar to Desire from Sandman and the prose of Virginia Woolf. He tries to be profound, but is all fluff just like Fitzgerald’s novels. But there’s nothing wrong with having a little cotton candy, now and then.

lighthouse

My personal favorite member of the 1923 Pantheon is Morrigan, who is obviously James Joyce with his free indirect discourse, rapid shifts from omniscient narrator to third person limited, and affinity for Guinness. Gillen uses him as a kind of loner oracle that some Pantheon members find amusing, and most find annoying. But he speaks what’s on everyone’s mind and describes everything around him in great detail letting a little truth shine in the artifice of light dancing, purple prose, and Neptune’s speech, which is the opposite of purple prose. And Koch’s drawing of his death scene is the epitome of modern art with a bleak color palette He’s too much of a wild card like modern Morrigan so Ananke had to take him off the table. This is all in the service and to ensure events run on the smooth side rather than the artsy, mass murdering side because even if she’s less of a killer than modern Ananke, the immortal Agatha Christie will do whatever it takes for the next Recurrence to occur, the Great Darkness to be staved off, and for inspiration to continue. This involves tragic sacrifices, light shows, and silent film title cards because hey, this is the Roaring Twenties, and a little party never killed anybody.

The WicDiv 1923 Special, especially the parts where Set and Baal were extolling the supremacy of poetry (And, by extension, poetry by white people.) while blasting dance and silent film aficionadoes Susanoo and Amaterasu reminded me of my second year at university, circa 2013. That was the year I switched from writing mainly poetry to mainly pop culture and to be honest, mainly comics, criticism all thanks to a professor, who enjoyed ripping student poems to shreds and uncritically banned writing “genre fiction” in our short story unit. (I included as many references to Spawn and Nintendo 64 games in my story as possible to tick her off.) In WicDiv 1923, Set and Baal are angry that the “common people” have access to art via the new medium of film and want things to go back to the good ol’ days when books were chained to desks in monasteries. (They don’t mention monks and vows of silence, but it’s implied in other words.)

This is just like the poets and reviewers of poets I knew who, for all their attempts at populism, were just writing for a small, “elite” group of other poets. But, when I write about Star Wars or Superman or even WicDiv, more people can connect to the themes and ideas in what has unfairly been called “low culture” in the past. There’s nothing wrong with making art that actually reaches people and connects to them. That’s truly how you connect and inspire people just like Amaterasu’s dancing and film, which were inspired by style and film icon, Louise Brooks. (No brooks, no bob hairstyle.)  She has a selfless, democratic approach to art while Baal and Set want to keep theirs inaccessible like the top of the lighthouse, and this is where their connection to the totalitarian Woden comes in even though they sneer at his cheap monster movies, which were super influential on modern film. Who doesn’t love German expressionism? Especially the woodcuts of Frans Masereel, who could be considered as an early comic book creator with his 1919 work Passionate Journey. Nazis should all be punched though.  This is all serves to show that art is subjective and should be for everyone and not trapped in canons and hierarchies and all those stuffy, boring old things.

In WicDiv 1923 ADKieron Gillen and Aud Koch use the setting of the 1920s and the angst of modernism and the world between the World Wars to tell a riveting murder mystery, a wonderful homage to silent film, and a kind of ars poetica for WicDiv. Koch’s ability to shift from cubism to chiaroscuro-lit expressionism and even classic compositions are unprecedented, and all her pages from this comic deserve a MoMA exhibit and eventually a retrospective. All in all, this is a comic that everyone from wannabe flappers and pretentious poets to action junkies and mystery readers can enjoy and probably spend the rest of 2018 unpacking.

Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Aud Koch
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy 

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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