Every ninety(ish) days, two handsome young writers return to this blog. They read the last three issues of The Wicked + The Divine, and they write three essays each.
This time round, we're focusing on issues #4 and #5 - and as you might expect, there's a big focus on Laura and Luci's relationship. Spoilers abound.
Elegy for the Devil
In many ways, Luci was the apotheosis of Gillen/McKelvie characters – a morally ambiguous, razor-witted woman with mythical powers, fantastic fashion sense and an asymmetrical haircut. In her swaggering DNA, we can find the traces of Emily Aster, Loki, Astrid, Silent Girl, America Chavez and more.
Of course she had to die.
Even in the world of The Wicked + The Divine, gods are defined by their stories. After all, while the deities manifest for only two short years, their influence stretches far beyond that. Their role is to inspire, to trigger something lasting from their brief time on Earth, and that means leaving behind tales that will drive people to obsession and fanaticism.
They are defined by their stories – the ones they live, and the ones they leave. Woden must hang upon his tree. Minerva must enter the world fully formed. Lucifer must fall.
So what caused Luci to fall? One could point to a number of emotions, both those that track with classical depictions and those very much unique to the book’s setting and interpretation, but in the end, I think it comes down to fear.
Laura’s final visit to Luci’s cell, just before her escape, strips away all the illusions the character had held. She will be left to rot in jail for her sins until she dies, cut off from those who worship her, unable to wield any influence, alone and forsaken. Her fellow gods do not care if she is guilty or not, if she is a good person or bad, all that matters is that the (super)natural order is maintained.
There is no justice. She will die, and leave little trace upon the world.
It’s the throughline of the series, the Big Message Laser focused upon one character. Read that page as she comes to term with the news. Is that a tear she wipes away? We’ll never know. Look at the slow push McKelvie draws, boxing Luci in more and more.
“You’re told you’re going to die…and some part of you just defiantly doesn’t believe it.”
“It was never going to be okay.”In the end, it isn’t fear of death that triggers Luci’s escape, and subsequent demise, it's fear of a death without meaning. It's dying without a chance to make an impact on the world, to write her name in fire and blood and headlines. The Wicked + The Divine isn’t just about death. It’s about what we do with the knowledge that death is coming. Lucifer has to fall, but she has to go to war with heaven first.
And of course, in those final moments, we see the young woman she originally was shine through, the one who doesn’t want to die before she’s 20. That small “Don’t”, a prayer and a plea against the inevitable. But then Lucifer is finally crowned with her halo, first one of fire, then one of blood, and her life comes to an end.
But her story? That will last a lot longer.
More Than A Superstar
Bat for Lashes' Laura is a song about loss which also finds the time to toy with ideas of glamour and fame. If you've been listening to it as much as I have over the past few months, you may just about be able to spot some connections with The Wicked + The Divine.
There's a good reason for that. In the Writer's Notes for issue #1 of The Wicked + The Divine, Kieron Gillen says that Laura is one of the key songs – if not the key song – that inspired the series. It's where our cheery (currently not so much) fangirl protagonist got her name. It's the song Gillen posted on This Is My Jam the day issue #5 dropped.
“You're the train that crashed my heart/You're the glitter in the dark.”The lyrics contain a pretty good summation of where we are at the end of #5 – I don't think it's much of a stretch so say that, in the film adaptation, it'd be the song that plays as that last scene fades to black – but it features a dark promise for the future, too:
“Laura, you're more than a superstar/You'll be famous for longer than them.”The end of issue #5 suggest that maybe Laura could take her place among the pop-pantheon. But the previous issues have also gone out of their way to establish that's she different from the gods. Their fate – infinite fame, very finite lifespans – was foisted upon them. Laura seems to be actively planning for it – no friends, no A-Levels, just a dream that makes everything else not worth living through.
Maybe Laura will fill one of the two remaining openings in that wheel of symbols, but I'd bet that if she achieves her dream – and it'll be interesting to see how much she still wants it all now she's has her first bitter taste of fame – it won't be as a god, omnipotent and disposable, but something else. Something more, according to the prophecy of Laura.
In order to rise above your influences and become something truly great in your own right, you have to kill your idols, as the saying goes. The downside of that, of course, being that your idols end up rather dead.
“You say that they've all left you behind/Your heart broken, the poverty died.”We'll see how that one pans out.
Every Superhero Needs His Theme Music
It was the suit that did it.
Jamie McKelvie has an immense talent for costume design (one only has to look at how many of his creations have become cosplay mainstays) and in particular for style choices that render a character iconic without placing them in an actual costume. From David Kohl’s black, black and more black to America Chavez’s star motif, he has an astounding understanding of what makes a character instantly identifiable.
For Lucifer in The Wicked + The Divine, it was her flawless white suit, and as Luci battled Baal and Sakhmet in issue #5, I noted that, while Baal’s suit was burnt away, Luci’s remained unblemished, with nary a scorch, scratch or blood splatter, until the moment of her death.
In the real world, suits carry all sorts of meaning, but in the world of superhero comics, suits tend to mean one thing – villains. Heroes who wear suits are thin and far-between, and are almost always morally ambiguous in some way, from the paranoid Question to the autocratic Jack Hawksmoor. Meanwhile, villains in suits include Lex Luthor, Kingpin and about half of Batman’s rogues gallery.
But wait. All this oh-so-clever of tailoring semiotics is irrelevant – The Wicked + The Divine isn’t a superhero comic.
Looking at certain sections of #5, one could be mistaken for thinking otherwise. Baal and Sakhmet’s assault on Luci is pure Marvel Comics kineticism, albeit with a better fashion sense – check out how Baal’s initial impact is powerful enough to send rubble flying across the panel borders.
It’s a dramatic shift from the relatively restrained power struggles and personal drama of earlier issues, but we can see the first traces of this development when Luci first reveals her powers. That Ben-Day Dot effect is like the more stylised world of traditional superhero comics pushing through into this serious examination of mortality, belief and the relationship between art, artists and fans. Whenever the gods use their powers, some of that sense of the fantastic leaks into the world.
When Luci decides not to play by the rules established by Ananke and the other gods of the pantheon, she also breaks to rules governing the conventions of the book’s genre. Flaunting her powers and drawing Baal and Sakhmet into a public conflict takes the book from a supernatural drama that sits comfortably in the mold of Vertigo or modern Image to something a lot closer to the overblown struggles of Marvel or DC.
This shift in genre also alters how the characters work. When the gods are playing at being artists and pop stars, tied down by constraints and ceremony, their morality and differing roles are a mess of grey tones, filled with ambiguity. When they embrace their divine heritage and show the world (and the readers) what they are truly capable of, the lines seem more clearly drawn. Lucifer becomes a villain on the rampage (she has, after all, killed at least two men, escaped from custody and set a chunk of north London on fire) while Baal is the hero trying to bring her march of destruction to an end.
It all comes back to the suit. Blood smeared across her face, echoing Bowie’s Aladdin Sane and the Joker in equal measure, Luci could have walked out of the pages of a Big Two crossover. Meanwhile, Baal’s suit (in a heroic tone of primary red) is burnt away to reveal his superhuman abs and the Shazam-esque necklace hanging prominently over his chest like an emblem.
In this moment, as they unfurl their true nature and demonstrate their miraculous might, they are far beyond human. They are icons and archetypes, bringing the fire of the fantastic to the mundane mortal world. Sound familiar?
Our second set of essays should be going up next week. But if you can't wait that long, here's how to find our heroes online:
Alex's ramblings can be found here at Alex-Spencer.co.uk. If you'd like him a little more succinct, his 'Words in Pictures' Tumblr features mini-essays on chunks of prose and comics. Want even more brevity? Catch him on Twitter @AlexJaySpencer.
Find Tim's blog at trivia-lad.blogspot.co.uk, where his piece on the semiotics of TW+TD's finger snaps first gave us the idea for this whole thing, on Twitter @trivia_lad, and even, if you think you can handle the sexiness, on Tumblr.