Once more, we return with two essays on the latest issue of The Wicked + The Divine. This time out, Alex lays out one final tribute to Jamie McKelvie’s costume designs, while Tim feels a strange sensation and considers how it might all end.
Spoilers all the way up to issue #41, after the cut.
The Liar, a Switch and the Wardrobe
Alex: Look, you don’t need me to tell you that Jamie McKelvie is one of the most talented character and costume designers ever to bless comics. Just take one glance at a poster for the upcoming Captain Marvel, how much of his iconic redesign is making it onto the big screen, and all the gorgeous merch that’s already spinning out of that movie. Or the hundreds of essays written to that tune by us, and the rest of the Tumblr fandom, and basically anyone with working eyes in their head.
But I do want to celebrate, one last time before the end, how he can make a costume change into just as much of a gasp-at-the-page-turn reveal as any major plot point or twist. Issue #41 seems like a rather apt time to do that.
Let’s start with the quieter redesign moment of the issue: the artist formerly known as Baphomet, now going by Nergal.
That first two-thirds-of-a-page panel squeezed an involuntary noise out of me. By the standards of the Pantheon, it’s a fairly downbeat costume: no make-up or physics-defining hairdo, and not a single ab in sight (a failing that has already been registered by the Everything Wrong With WicDiv Tumblr). Just a black suit jacket and high-collared shirt, open at the neck, adorned only with a goat’s-head belt buckle.
As new looks go, this one is downright vampiric – our boy Cameron finally going, to borrow one of Baal’s lines, the full Nick Batcave.
The elder statesman of goth is the clear model for this new look, right down to the open neck of the shirt and the slicked-back hair. Cave has always been in the mix of influences for Baphomet, but this is the first time he’s barged Andrew Eldritch out the way and made it right to the front. There’s a sense that, as Cameron has left behind the ‘Baphomet’ identity, he’s also ditched the hyper-masculine swagger of the old look. It was always just a front anyway – that’s what the trademark mirrored shades were about.
There’s even, in the baggy sleeves, a touch of foppishness – something that had no place in the old leather-chains-and-skulls costume. It reminds me of McKelvie’s first draft of Baphomet, glimpsed in that initial two-page ‘trailer’, the kind of guy you can see reading his poetry for you without having to coat it in ironic winks. It’s Cameron dropping the schtick.
That’s what flooded into my brain, conscious or otherwise, as I turned the page to meet the New Nergal. It’s why I squealed. All of that, squeezed into one image of a pale lad in a black suit.
Of course, this isn’t the biggest costume reveal in issue #41. That honour goes to the panel that launched a thousand fanarts: the freshly recapitated Lucifer, Inanna and Mimir.
For my money, there’s not quite as much semiotics squeezed into these three – they’re basically darker takes on the original costumes, inflected with the gothiness of their donor bodies. It’s more specific than that: Luci’s red hair and immediate suggestion of violence are a sign that she got Badb’s body, the torn netting of Inanna’s vest is a clear link to Gentle Annie, while the raven wing motif of Mimir’s Tron-suit suggest Morrigan Prime.
(I attempted coining portmanteau nicknames for each – Gentle Inannie? Morrimir? Mimirigan? – but got stuck on Luci. The best I could come up with is Badb Bitch, Meserach on Tumblr has put forwards the remarkable Badb out of Hell. Further suggestions welcome.)
There are certainly neat touches – finding a common ground between Lucifer and Morrigan’s symbols with the black feather around her neck – and there could potentially be some significance to Mimir switching his signature colour from the original blue to green: Morrigan’s colour but also, especially in the cybernetic neon piping, his father’s. But really, the signifiers of these three are same as it ever was: androgynous ass-kicker, sexually-inviting luxury, sci-fi form-meets-function.
The significance of the costume changes here isn’t so much to do with code-switching – the way we tweak how our identities are presented, depending on context. It’s more about selling this as a triumphant moment, the return of all our old favourites. McKelvie provides the exclamation point to this plot beat, the celebratory fireworks, the [DJ spams air horn sound effect].
There’s a lot of visual information packed into this not-quite-full-page-splash, down to the raven-shaped curls of smoke leaving these three bodies, and that encourages you to slow down and really drink it in. My eyes can sometimes jump automatically to the next cluster of words, skimming over the pictures in between, so this serves as a helpful reminder that, hey, dumb-dumb, this is a visual medium.
And yes, because McKelvie’s a genius this will be the wellspring of gorgeous fanart and unbelievable cosplay – less than a week from release, I’m sure someone’s already rocked the new Luci look – but this is what I appreciate most: the invitation to really study an image, squeeze out every last bit of meaning and beauty. Because hey, we only get twenty-some pages of them a month.
Something to Smile About
Tim: What is this unusual feeling? I’ve reached the end of an issue of The Wicked + The Divine and my heart is full of… not the usual dread, or curiosity, or frustrated anticipation? I’m not heavy with the crushing inevitability of death, or the fact that all our heroes will inevitably let us down. I think this is… hope?
Issue #41 stands apart from the rest of WicDiv in that it provides us with a series of unqualified victories for our protagonists. We confirm that Laura managed to save everyone from dying within the O2. She frees Urðr and the other Norns. Together, they liberate Mimir, Luci, Tara and Inanna, then successfully escape. Baphomet provides Mimir, Luci and Inanna with excellent new goth bodies, and in the process starts to move on from his abusive relationship with the Morrigan. And Cassandra, fresh from kicking some Valkyrie arse, seems to have a plan for what to do next.
For a comic that usually parcels out every step forward with a bittersweet cost, or two steps backward elsewhere, that’s a lot of positive momentum in a single issue.
In a conventional narrative, this kind of turn in the protagonists’ favour at this point in the story is common. After the clashing agendas and confusion of the second act, we need to boil the conflict down to a simpler one that can be wrapped up in a satisfying fashion. That means certain plot threads need to be tidied up before the conclusion. Giving our heroes some hard-fought wins after all the pain they’ve been put through sustains the audience, and sets us up for a final big cost that must be paid before good conquers evil.
But since when is WicDiv a conventional narrative? And is it even headed towards a traditional ending? Two issues into the final arc, the question of what kind of ending we’re headed towards looms large. After the most recent issue, the template laid out above seems like the natural one. There’s the definite feeling of a shoe left to drop somewhere, given that Minanke, Baal and Woden are all still out there, plotting and pursuing. And hasn’t Laura earned some kind of happy ending? She’s certainly been put through the emotional wringer over the past 40 issues and – if there’s any Persephone juice still left inside her – 6,000 years.
There’s reasons to be distrustful though. To start with, ending in such a conventional manner feels very un-WicDiv. Gillen has some history with tragic endings [eyeballs Journey into Mystery] and WicDiv has, from the very first page, been preparing us for a story where everyone ends up dead. One of the strongest thematic throughlines has been the inevitability of death, and for the story to swerve away from that at the last minute in the name of a happy ending would feel disingenuous and dissatisfying on a few levels.
And fairly unlikely, within the narrative itself. Woden, Baal and Minanke are three of the most competent and powerful gods, and Laura’s plan seems to rely on convincing the stubborn and uncompromising Baal over to their side – hardly a straightforward prospect. Plus, there’s the lingering threat of whatever the Great Darkness actually is, and Minanke’s planned doomsday virus. Laura et al may have rallied their forces together finally, but in terms of foiling any schemes, they’ve got a long way to go.
On top of that, there’s the question of if we’re even going to get an ending. Sure, the series is going to finish, but WicDiv is a story built on cycles. It’s called the Recurrence for a reason, and for all the progress Laura and others have made in undoing Ananke’s millennia-long schemes, there’s nothing to suggest that previous Pantheons haven’t got just as close. When Minanke takes a moment to celebrate her apparent victory in #39, her tone is still playful, implying that she’s still treating everything as a game and that Persephone getting this far along was irksome, rather than filling her with bone-chilling fear. We know Laura has a plan to bring Ananke’s scheme to an end right now, but even if she succeeds in the now, it might not topple the Recurrence as a whole.
That kind of pyrrhic victory would certainly fall in line with the tone of the book. Mortality. Inevitability. Once again, we return.
If we’re trying to fathom what kind of conclusion the series is heading towards, perhaps our strongest guidance is the name of this final arc: “Okay”.
Even ignoring the barbs of those quotation marks, “Okay” suggests both resignation and acceptance. It suggests that nobody gets everything they want, but, in the end, there will be some kind of peace. No apocalypse, but perhaps not the end to the cycle of death and rebirth that we’re all hoping for.
Or maybe something new will be forged in its place – a new structure designed to inspire humanity, one with a whole new set of rules, flaws and loopholes. Maybe the only way to win the game is to make a new one.
Trying to nail down any concrete plot points for the final few issues feels like an exercise in futility – Gillen + McKelvie are far smarter than I am, and have (almost certainly) dedicated more time to thinking through these last few beats. But in terms of tone, we’re likely looking at both highs and lows, and I doubt the final page of the series will have the same kind of punch-the-air, simple satisfaction that #41 brought. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t nice while it lasted, though.
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