I didn’t review the last issue of The Wicked and The Divine. That was partly due to being in the midst of the last of my thesis, but also because I didn’t feel as I had much to say on it. As always, Jamie McKlevie’s art was phenomenal, and I was particularly impressed by his designs for the Norns following Cassandra and her team’s transformation into Urdr, Verðandi, and Skuld. However, the reveal itself seemed to be the only thing of actual consequence in the entirety of the issue and it didn’t have the emotional weight it wanted to convince the readers of. Still though, the WicDiv team seemed to simply be gearing up for something much bigger this issue with Baphomet plotting to kill the new three in one gods, and this issue once again seems to continue in that build even as Kieron Gillen and McKlevie payoff some plot threads and do some of their best character work to date. This issue begins and ends in the Underground, the home of Baphomet and his lover the Morrigan as Baphomet whines about his impending death as a result of his selection as one of the Pantheon. Baphomet, more than any of the other gods, is unwilling to accept his inevitable faith, and his fear causes him to seek out the Nord in a bid to expand his own lifetime via the revised rule- if a god of death kills another god, the death god absorbs their remaining lifespan- a detail he learns from god den mother, Ananke . The bulk of the issue takes us to Ragnarok, the festival in celebration of the Pantheon, along with Inanna and Laura via cool pink flying orbs of light. We learn that the identity of Luci’s murderers, see Baphomet’s attempt to kill the Nord, and observe Cassandra’s premiere performance. Phew!
While the plot of The Wicked & The Divine is always unexpected, this series character development second to McKlevie’s innovative panel work keeps me coming back. In the case of this issue, Gillen finally wins me over as a fan of Cassandra, a feat that only required imbuing her with god-like abilities. Cassandra has never been one of my favorite characters as I couldn’t help but see her as the party killer until the previous issue where she finally displayed some vulnerability hidden behind her biting wit. In this issue, Gillen and Jamie McKlevie show Cassandra’s continuing humanity through her breakdown following her performance with her Norn sisters. Her desires for fans of the Pantheon become evident in her performance, and the resulting response does not meet her desired expectations in spite of her god-like powers. Her breakdown and the follow-up conversation with Cassandra display her as a truly amazing person who’s goals with her powers is to provide others with a recognition of their own agency in the world in an attempt to separate them from their obsession with the Pantheon, a feat even more commendable than Dionysus’s desire to provide others with joy until his death.
Gillen’s trust in McKlevie is apparent in the manner he allows the artwork to convey the intense emotions of the scene, scaling back the dialogue to the essentials and never resorting to extended bits of exposition. Through their brief discussion about Cassandra’s recent transformation we see the extent to which Laura and Cassandra have grown, Laura recognizing the bittwersweet reality of being selected as a god and Cassandra realizing that vulnerability and honesty concerning her fear and disappointment doesn’t make her weak. What I especially love about this scene is how apparent it is that McKlevie and Gillen consider this the crux of the series, devoting more time to it than the brief brawl that occurs when Baphomet makes his move to kill the Norn at Ragnarok.
As much as I enjoyed this issue over the previous installment, I think the series is now hitting its stride on all cylinders, managing to take both aesthetic risk while also developing emotional arcs in a realistic manner that builds over issues. Reading WicDiv as a trade seems like it would be the wrong way to go about it. The wait each month to pick up with Laura and the Pantheon enforces Gillen’s masterful script work that alludes to activities occurring between issues we’re not privy to, but that give the impression that the characters are growing even when not under the reader’s gaze. Plus, with next issue’s cover, who wouldn’t want that on their wall someday?