Review: The Wicked + The Divine #16

I could never manage the goth aesthetic no matter how much I loved black, or even at the peak of my cigarette-smoking habit. Partially it’s because I dig the color purple too much (the actual color, not the book/movie although that’s good too), but mostly because it’s always felt emotionally draining to up the nihilism in the manner that a pre-ascension Baphomet does following a personal tragedy. Regardless of how much I enjoy the look of my eyes with black eye liner, I’ve never able to keep the optimism from bubbling over. It’s my cross, and I bear it with a stupid bloody grin. Sweeping generalizations and stereotypes about goths aside, this issue does what the best The Wicked & the Divine installments do—it takes our preconceptions of members of the Pantheon, and flings it right out of the castle window, this one doing it while managing a bit of the humor that’s been mostly absent since the death of fangirl Laura. Taking place mostly in flashback, this issue shows us the relationship between the Morrigan/Marian and Baphomet/Cameron as the imprisoned the Morrigan explains in the present-day to Baal and Minerva why she takes responsibility for Baphomet’s actions. Throughout the issue, we see the two university students fool around in cave systems, paint figurines in their crappy apartment, and aid each other through periods of emotional difficulty. Furthering the present-day plot only a few steps, this issue demonstrates better than many others how these characters’ ascensions to godhood not only granted them supernatural abilities, but also transforms their character by highlighting aspects of their personality that align with the qualities of their godly mantle.

The-Wicked-+-The-Divine-#17-1One of the qualities I most admire about Kieron Gilen’s writing is his ability to present characters as neither fundamentally good nor evil even if their gods of death. Baphomet, the subboss of wicdiv so far, has been in desperate need of some added dimension following his acts of violence and cowardice, having abandoned The Morrigan to get pummeled by Baal a few issues ago. His interactions with the Morrigan, while not always painting him in the best light, reveal the level of care and affection he as for her, recognizing her as an amazing person even prior to her ascension. Although he doesn’t always behave in the kindest manner towards her and others (a complete 180 from the Baph we know would be unbelievable), their interactions show that he’s capable of much more than simply being a whiny dude with fangs and an inability to cover his sick abs. Seeing him as Cameron, attractive and nihilistic gothy kid, works wonders to show readers how his present-day fear of death is grounded in grief. It’s clear that Gilen doesn’t show us this to pardon his actions, but only to show us that Baph’s actions have causes that he himself may not fully comprehend.

With this issue, I’ve also finally realized just what makes this comic’s dialogue so compelling, the mixture of sentiment, humor and the characters’ refusal to act in any manner of ‘appropriate’ ways. There’s not much seen of the present in this issue, but I love the pairing we get of the gruff Baal with sweet Minerva, the youngest of the pantheon and also the god of wisdom. Leila Del Duca does a great job of highlighting the contrast between these two with an intro that sees the muscular and tall Baal standing next to Minerva who looks more her 12 years here than any other issue. Their pairing leads to some cute dialogue as Minerva begs Baal for the chance to join him when he heads to the Morrigan’s cell to give her a meal. On the flipside, there are moments where characters deliver dialogue that in lesser hands would only ever come of as cheesy. When Marian tells Cameron “We get to choose what we do while we’re here. I’m dancing” when Cameron’s circling a bit of nihilism during his grief, it reads as fittingly kind and appropriate for the Marian to say rather than an ill-suited attempt to insert life-affirming platitudes. Then you’ve got the final component where the characters say mean shit to each other (telling someone they’ll choke on your cock skin is rarely ever a nice thing to tell someone), and blam, the wicdiv trinity of awesome dialogue is complete.

Del Duca does a wonderful job as the most recent guest artist, and although there’s not many set pieces here for her to flex her superb talents at, she helps make Cameron and Marian believable young adults. For instance, their early sexual encounter in an early scene is really nicely executed thanks to details like Cameron’s pants still hanging on to the bottom half of his left leg, and the many layers of goth clothing strewn about the candle-lit cave. These details, as well as Del Duca’s ability to depict young adults as people that are something other slightly smaller adult adults, makes the scene humorous, and fun, a tonal necessity given the grim situation of this arc. Then you’ve got a beautiful page near the end where the Morrigan visits Cameron, evoking the sort of whimsical imagery she pulls off so well in Shutter. Her work solidifies the fact that even with Jamie McKlevie off main art duties this arc, the comic continues to be a beaut. I’m only now realizing how kickass it’s been that all the guest artists have been women so bonus on the team there for avoiding the easy route of going with white males to sub for the white male.

Unlike some previous issues (the remix issue, and the dance party issue) that played with form, this one’s a straight up romance story. It shows readers that the wicdiv team can tell traditional stories that don’t rely on anything other than stellar character work, amazingly illustrated art, and puns galore (#bapomeat).

Score: 4/5

The Wicked + The Divine #16 Writer: Kieron Gilen Artist: Leila Del Duca/ Jamie McKlevie (backup story) Colourist: Matthew Wilson Publisher: Image Comics Price: $ 3:50 Release Date: 11/11/15 Format: Ongoing, Print/Digital