Review: The Wicked + The Divine #17

I knew I’d dig this issue because Brandon Graham would be the final guest artist and I’ve really enjoy his aesthetic on Island, an odd blend of Saturday morning palettes and curvy lines that definitely seemed appropriate for a story about Sakhmet. The  ‘Commercial Suicide’ arc has featured the most experimental art layouts and stories since the Dionysus party issue during ‘Fandemonium,’ but Kieron Gillen tell a fairly straightforward story this issue that provides some insight into Sakhmet’s background even while not actually giving much in the way of confirmed details, which makes sense given the character’s straightforward and abrasive attitude. Besides the late Tara Tara, Sakhmet has received the least attention in the series so far, but this issue shows that despite her outward demeanor she possesses just as much depth and complexity as the rest of the Pantheon. What’s most interesting about this though is that Sakhmet herself rarely comments on her past mortal life, leaving us with only an interviewer’s speculations, a few vague flashbacks, and a chilling scene that occurs during a rare moment of sobriety for the feline goddess.

In these flashback scenes, Graham does a wonderful job of visually conveying information about the type of person Sakhmet once was (we never even get her mortal name). In the opening scene we learn that despite her present cool demeanor, she was once a gangly preadolescent desirous of a way to take control over her emotions as she observes a statue of her future namesake that she admires for its ability to not feel anything. The other flashback scene we see here provides the requisite transcendence scene that most of the other spotlighted characters have received, but Gillen does something different here with it by only showing the preceding conversation between Sakhmet and Ananke as the former sits at a bus stop nursing something in a brown paper bag.

The-Wicked-+-The-Divine-#17-1Gillen and McKlevie, through and through collaborators, ought to be commended for making each of the Pantheon’s interest (disinterest in the case of Tara) in godhood distinct, and complementary their personal crisis. The recklessly exciting Lucifer was once a bored human, Morrigan was a goth kid battling nihilism, and Perspehone wanted to loved by others. In Sakhmet’s case, godhood means the ability to do whatever she wants (fight, fuck, scream) without the fear that she’ll come to harm and more than perhaps even Baal she looks at her two-year expiration date as a fair exchange for what she’s been granted. Illustrating just how much she’s taken advantage of this, we’re treated to a morning after scene where Sakhmet wakes up in her room at Valhalla surrounded by an assortment of bodies. Graham distinguishes this from similar scenes of hedonism by injecting it with humor through oddly posed sleeping humans, and props like the head from a panda bear costume, and a guy in the foreground decked out in the remnants of a sailor outfit. However, the scene I lingered on for quite a while was the aforementioned concert where Sakhmet’s music manifests phantom cats that roam throughout a crowd that’s clearly loving every moment of it. Unlike the controlled reverence and orgasm displayed during Ananke’s concert in the first issue, the folks here are losing their shit while also remaining content to simply pet one of the phantom cats.

This arc has done a fantastic job of telling these character-centric stories and still addressing the overarching tension between Ananke, Baphomet and the rest of the Pantheon, yet this issue is likely the one that shows the least interest in advancing the greater plot. That’s likely because Sakhmet also doesn’t really care about whatever is going on with the Pantheon as Baal reminds her during his training session. She makes her disinterest apparent in an interview following a feline rager she headlines, saying she is ‘War and Sex and Death.’ And although the death thing has seemed to be all talk in previous issues, here she does something probably more heinous than any action performed by the Pantheon, which makes for a great cliffhanger for this arc in addition to Sakhmet’s conversation with the Morrigan.

Although the final page literally spells out the return of a major character, I’m super excited to see what Gillen and McKlevie decide to do with this revelation given how successful the comic has been since that character’s absence. With ‘Commercial Suicide,’ The Wicked & The Divine showed how the use of guest artists doesn’t have to equate to a dip in art quality, or that large-scale aesthetic changes hurt a book’s overall tone. By getting guest artists at the top of their work with distinct art styles that complement the spotlighted characters, readers like myself were introduced to some great work. The world of #wicdiv itself has grown and benefited from its expansion into an ensemble narrative, and so too has its narrative greatly benefited from the inclusion of creators who are able in their own way to get to the core of what makes these gods enviable, and also what still makes them human.

Score: 4/5

The Wicked + The Divine #17 Writer: Kieron Gillen Artist: Brandon Graham Colorist: Matthew Wilson Publisher: Image Comics Price: $ 3:50 Release Date: 12/16/15 Format: Ongoing, Print/Digital