“I check my look in the mirror. I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face…”- Bruce Springsteen, “Dancing in the Dark”
I have a confession to make. I don’t really read The Wicked + the Divine for the cycle of birth and death, Ananke/Minerva/Persephone, Woden machine, talking heads, Great Darkness overarching plot; I read it for Laura Wilson/Persephone’s personal journey, and these feelings have definitely intensified in the “Mothering Invention” arc and reached a fever pitch in WicDiv #39. Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson personify character development as Laura rejects godhood (Or does she??.) in a story that visually and content-wise goes back to the salad days of its first two arcs, “Faust Act” and “Fandemonium”, especially the breathtaking final page.
Free will and freedom of choice is the refrain that rings out, or mostly hums, in WicDiv #39. Gillen doesn’t frame these big ideas in philosophical discourse or even witty banter, but in action. Laura chooses to no longer be a god, and she chooses to have an abortion. After latching onto almost every WicDiv cast member, either platonically, sexually, or romantically, she takes ownership of herself even if that means sitting in the dark. She changes. McKelvie draws her in an vulnerable way with a plain, shorn hairstyle, face with just a touch of shadow to it that signifies her status as the Destroyer. There’s a real humanity in this simplicity, and the even palette that Wilson chooses for her panels compared to the ostentation, guns, crazy pink colors, and EDM womp womp of Woden’s new Valkyries aka Beth and her fan army. (Wow, fuck nerd culture.) They represent the empty show and lights of the Pantheon’s displays earlier in the series (i.e. the fights in “Rising Action”) while Laura is feeling and truth cutting to the quick like the sharp internal monologue that Gillen writes for her.
But WicDiv #39 isn’t about all the big ideas, it’s rooted in some big character development for Laura – arguably the most significant bit of her personal arc since WicDiv #11 when she became Persephone and was “murdered” by Ananke. The girl who dressed up like the gods and desperately wanted to be one and even took on the moniker of “ascended fangirl” rejected her godhood and chose a simple, desperate existence like the rest of the world even if that meant dancing, er, sitting in the dark. But she’s not like that any more and chooses to opt out of the 39 or so issues of drama that has been her life with breaks for flashbacks. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie also handle her abortion with sensitivity and even have one of the Valkyries empathize with her. It’s a choice that Laura made for herself, she’s not ready to be a mom, and that’s that. Like the Tara story in WicDiv #13 that dealt with online harassment of women, the plot point doesn’t feel like a PSA, but something that is part of her character and respected as such.
Sure, WicDiv might have millennia spanning long cons, magical contraptions, and flame sprouting finger snapping, but this is still a story about young adults and the choices they make. And Gillen and McKelvie explore these choices in a non-condescending way and even poke a little bit of meta-fun at poor writers in the first pages where Minerva tries to unpack the middle aged man, Woden, pretending to be a teenager for the most of the series. Woden has been one of the creepiest characters in the series, and Gillen, McKelvie, and Wilson find new ways to make him even creepier as the series progresses while keeping him fairly pathetic and not up to Big Bad status.
Speaking of Big Bad, WicDiv #39 is also the final transformation of Minerva into an amazing long con baddie complete with furtive glances drawn by Jamie McKelvie and using Woden and the Valkyries as the ultimate cannon fodder. (Even though Woden just thinks the Valkyries are cannon fodder.) She still looks young, but there’s something ancient in the facial expressions that she pulls after putting up with Woden, or to herself in the mirror as she reminds herself of her big, bad plan to knock out the rest of the gods, collect the final head, and continue the eternal cycle of death and rebirth. And Gillen writes her as quite genre-savvy (Living for thousands years is definitely a perk on this front.) as she never underestimates Laura although Woden just wants to snuff her out or leave her alone thinking she’s an emo nobody. The stage is definitely set for an all out showdown between them in the final arc like a present day incarnation of the eternal battle between them shown in previous issues of the arc.
In The Wicked + the Divine #39, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson go for the pivotal character moment over mass character slaughter (There aren’t many left.) and deliver callback heavy payoff for fans who have followed Laura Wilson/Persephone’s journey over the past four years. The closing moments where Laura muses on her decision to no longer be a god have some of Gillen’s most insightful writing, have simple, yet elegant visuals from McKelvie and Wilson, and are a reminder of why character growth is one of the biggest assets of a serial medium like comics.
Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Jamie McKelvie Colors: Matthew Wilson
Story: 8.3 Art: 8.6 Overall: 8.4 Recommendation: Buy
Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review