By Robert Larson
The Wicked + The Divine #23 radically breaks with prior format in this issue. In fact, it breaks away from just about every comic book convention you can think of. Instead of being a traditional comic, this reads like a miniature magazine, and the entirety of the book is devoted to interviews with various members of the pantheon. There’s barely any art in this issue at all, and the art that exists would be more suited to an issue of Vanity Fair. It’s an interesting gimmick, and one that gives us a new look at the pantheon. But it’s also a limited approach, in part because the picture that emerges of the pantheon members is all roughly the same, it lacks the brilliant art that makes up this series, and we ultimately end up no closer to the characters of the Pantheon.
The whole issue takes place in the pages of “Pantheon Monthly,” a periodical of which Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are editors. It’s been a few months since the death of Ananke, and the Pantheon, now led by Baal, has managed to smooth things over with the government. But nobody seems to know exactly what will come next, not even the gods themselves. The interviews show them by turn proud, nervous, weary, and determined, but there are no promises as to what will come next.
As an experimental kind of issue, this is interesting. It’s one way to avoid a lot of clunky expository narration about what happened after Ananke was killed and how all of the members are doing. The interviews serve as another way to gain some insight into the various gods, and by people who are a bit more dispassionate than our other observer, Laura/Persephone (who is conspicuously absent in all of this, apart from a couple of mentions). The deities get to mention what they’ve all been up to, but it’s also a way for them to present a kind of unified front to the rest of the world. Half of them fought the other half way to protect a murderer; is it really as simple as they make it out to be here? That in turn speaks to their likely confusion about what comes next as well, unless they have a true out-of-left-field master plan.
So, if I like the way the story is told, why don’t I exactly like this issue? It’s not that I dislike it, but it reinforces a problem this book has had for a long time now: the members of the Pantheon are barely characters. Minerva, Baal, Cassandra, Sakhmet and several others are barely more than roles, and the interviews don’t really dispute those roles at all. Woden is still a sexist, self-pitying schlub, Baal presents confidence but is making a vulnerable interior, and Morrigan is weird. Considering that this book has been running for close to two years, it would be nice if we could really dig any deeper into them, but I’m running out of hope that that will ever happen. And from a visual perspective, separating The Wicked + The Divine from its art also doesn’t exactly help the book.
None of this should be taken to mean that this little experiment was a failure. On its own, this issue was a solid read, and if nothing else, experimentation in comics is a good thing. I just wish that with the major twist of last issue out of the way, we finally would dig deeper into some of these people. Maybe we’ll get that next time.
The Wicked + The Divine #23
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artists: Kevin Wada, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson
Publisher: Image Comics