I get angry at traditionally attractive people sometimes, angry that their genes somehow combined in just the right order that provides them with symmetrical features, high metabolisms and the oh-so-elusive glimmer in their eye. The unfairness of it all leads to bouts of self-loathing that are further exacerbated by my knowledge that I’m just another dupe that’s been socialized into believing that there does exists some Platonic ideal to which I ought to be aspiring, and that I’m failing to get at. I say all that as preamble because more than any other comic this week, The Wicked & the Divine #13 left me both distraught and rethinking ideas of celebrity and beauty while simultaneously introducing us to the last member of the Pantheon we had yet to meet, Tara, or as she’s more often called by her fans?, fucking Tara. A much more focused story than some of the previous issues, this one spotlights the aforementioned Tara— a god of unspecified cultural origin who has grown tired of people’s shallow adoration of her. Told with narration from a letter Tara writes, the comic shows readers that even prior to her ascension to godhood Tara was a beautiful person who received unsolicited attention from people, mostly men. As early as eleven years old, we see Tara verbally assaulted by a man in a passing car asking her to show him her tits. Tara goes through life hopeful that others will ‘see beyond the obvious’ and look at her as something other than ornamentation or a trophy to be won. Fatefully, Tara has her meeting with Ananke on the same night she performs her music for the first time in the mask that becomes ubiquitous to her godly persona.
Performing at a show at the Roundhouse, Tara takes the opportunity to perform an acoustic song she wrote when she was still in university, momentarily releasing the enthralled crowd from her godly hold. This results in a riot that receives wide-scale media attention as well as death and sexual assault threats toward Tara via social media. Near the issue’s end, Tara meets with other members of her Pantheon where we learn that the Morrigan has yet to recover from Baal’s assault last issue, but things quickly shift away from that scene as Ananke returns with Tara to her house where the two intend to carry through a solution to Tara’s problem. I’m tempted to say more than that about the issue’s conclusion, but dare not deprive you of the despairing moments near the end.
What I most enjoyed about this issue is that writer Kieron Gilen nicely pays off the ongoing references to Tara that have been planted since the first issue when Fangirl Laura says that Ameratsu’s performance was ‘certainly better than fucking Tara.’ By providing such a skewed first impression of Tara from the protagonist’s perspective, Gilen gives the readers an idea that there was something annoying or disreputable about Tara that warranted that descriptive. Upon finally meeting Tara this issue though, it becomes clear to the reader that what everyone seems to hate about Tara is that she’s just not willing to wholly abandon who she was previous to her ascension, still desiring that people attempt to appreciate her for something other than her appearance or her godly ability to take her audiences to ecstasy. The impression we’re given is that Tara’s fans see her as nothing more than a facilitator for their individual pleasures, a thought that also crosses Tara’s mind at her Roundhouse show. Meanwhile, the Tara we get to learn about this issue seems far removed from the idea initially embedded in reader’s minds. Unlike the other gods, Tara simply hates that her ascension puts another barrier between her and others. Also unlike others though, Tara had a passion for music even prior to her ascension, and hates that her godly abilities allowed her to easily enrapture audiences.
Last issue, I definitely missed Jamie McKlevie’s work on the main story, but now that I’ve seen guest artist Tolay Lotay’s take on Tara, I can’t imagine any other depiction. Lotay does a phenomenal job this issue both in rendering Tara’s beauty, and managing an array of facial expressions in the few instances where we see Tara sans mask. I spent a lot of time marveling at Lotay’s costume designs for Tara, which all share her affinity for white and salmon, and exemplify her pre-ascension interest in fashion moreso than any of the other gods so far. As far as real life analogues, Tara most resembles an amalgam of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga through both her fashion choices and appearance. This similarity makes the final few pages that much more of a gut punch.
Although this issue doesn’t progress the book’s major plots (the fate of Laura, Ananke’s scheme, or the hunt for Baphomet), it thoroughly works as a standalone story on the trials of celebrity as well as the more universal problems bred of a rape culture that treats women as easily dispensable beings. I loved this issue for the exact opposite reason that I dug #8 (the one featuring Dionysus). Whereas that issue showed us what acceptance of one’s celebrity status can provide for others, namely nonstop partying, this one showed how problematic that celebrity can be for women. If the rest of this arc pulls off this level of character development for the remaining Pantheon members, then I’m fine with Baphomet goes uncaptured for a few more issues.