Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Tim's Person of the Year 2015

Tim Maytom's Person of the Year is a venerable institution around these parts, dating all the way back to 2010. Every year since, Tim has come to me, and the following dialogue has ensued: “Alex, can't I make you my Person of the Year this year? Please?” “No, Tim, that would look too self-congratulatory.” “But you're my hero, Alex.” “I know, but...”

And then Tim has to go and find a different name to add to our own personal Hall of Fame. In previous years, we've inaugurated Donald Glover, Amy Poehler, Pete Holmes, Matt Fraction & Kelly Sue DeConnick and most recently Taylor Swift. Most of the time, Tim isn't wrong. Will this be the year he finally slips up? 

Tim Person of 2015 Mystery

The criteria for bestowing the Tim Maytom Person of the Year Award upon an individual is a complex and inscrutable algorithm that is hard to predict. Sometimes it serves as recognition of potential and the personal impact the individual has had on me, while on other occasions it is awarded to someone who has already hit the crest of their career and garnered huge praise from the world at large. However, 2015 is the first time it’s gone to someone in the same year they’ve already been presented with a MacArthur Fellowship (aka a Genius Grant).

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the actor, rapper, lyricist and composer behind In The Heights and Hamilton, was announced as a MacArthur fellow in late September, but by that point he had already had quite the banner year. Hamilton, his project that combined rap and R&B with the life story of one of America’s founding fathers, debuted off-Broadway in January to rave reviews and sell-out performances. By July, it began the move to the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway, where over 700 people lined up for lottery tickets on the first night.

Hamilton LMM

By the end of the year, celebrities including the Obamas, Paul McCartney, Madonna, Steven Spielberg and Oprah had all paid a visit to see the show, and the success had led not only to his MacArthur grant, but also to a gig composing music for a scene in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and contributing both music and lyrics to the soundtrack of new Disney film Moana.

Hamilton is a revelation. The musical reframes the story of one of the key figures in the American Revolution as a hip-hop narrative, as Alexander Hamilton rises up from his birthplace in the West Indies to become Washington’s right-hand man and eventual Secretary of the Treasury, all on the strength of his writing. As a US history buff, a hip-hop aficionado and a fan of musicals, it is most assuredly My Jam.

Hamilton tells a story both triumphal and tragic, one that manages to make history feel vital and contemporary almost effortlessly. What’s more, Miranda makes this slice of history all that more accessible by placing it in the hands not of more white men, but of men and women of colour, both stylistically and literally (the only white member of the main cast plays King George III, a symbol of the status quo set against the revolutionary forces of the young United States).

That might all of that sound very worthy, the most important thing to remember about Hamilton is how fantastic the songs are. From big, key moments that employ that whole cast like “My Shot” and “Non-Stop” to devastating solo moments like Phillipa Soo’s heart-breaking rendition of “Burn”, the entire show is filled with top class song-writing and exemplary wordplay.

Miranda, who began writing the musical in 2009 based on a 400-plus page biography of Hamilton he was reading on his honeymoon, not only wrote the music, lyrics and book for the show, but also stars as Alexander Hamilton. It’s not an exercise in ego, though – Miranda is a fantastic rapper and singer, conveying Hamilton’s ambition, naivety, romanticism and arrogance through his performance.


He also leaves some of the best numbers for his co-stars, such as the fantastic one-two punch of “Helpless” and “Satisfied”, sung by Phillipa Soo and Renée Elise Goldsberry respectively, and “Wait For It” and “The Room Where It Happens”, performed by Leslie Odom Jnr as Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s rival and eventual killer.

The success of Hamilton has been astonishing. Broadway performances are sold out well into 2016, and the original Broadway cast recording debuted at #12 on the Billboard album chart, the highest entrance for a cast recording since 1963. The show’s popularity has led to crowds of several hundred people queuing for the cheap ticket lottery each day, and Miranda and other members of the cast entertain these hopeful attendees daily with so-called #Ham4Ham performances which remix the show in acapella fashion.

Its success also means the charismatic Miranda has become a regular on US chat shows, where he has demonstrated both his charm and wit, and his considerable skills as a freestyle rapper. Looking at Miranda’s work ethic and the amount he has achieved in his 35 years, it’s not hard to see why he saw a kindred spirit in Hamilton, who, as the musical reminds us, wrote “like he needed it to survive”.

Even before the powerhouse success of Hamilton, Miranda had won Tony and Grammy awards and been nominated for a Pulitzer for In The Heights, his musical blending hip-hop and Latin music with more traditional Broadway songwriting to tell the story of a largely Dominican-American neighbourhood in New York. He also won an Emmy Award for co-writing Neil Patrick Harris’ opening number from the 67th Tony Awards, has written music for Sesame Street and the Bring It On musical, and guest starred on The Sopranos, House and Modern Family.

For those of you keeping track, that means Miranda is three-quarters of his way to an EGOT, with only an Academy Award missing. And given both his involvement in a Disney film and the number of directors who have been sighted at Hamilton performances, the smart money says he’ll snag one before too long.

Hamilton has been the soundtrack to the latter half of my year, and captured my imagination in a way few other pieces of pop culture have in 2015. But more than that, Miranda is my person of the year for the sheer exuberance and joy he always seems to project. He is someone who has worked incredibly hard to reach the level of success he has, but still retains an almost overflowing level of passion and good humour, as well as a genuine sense of humility and generosity that come from having seen so many of his dreams recognised. I hope he continues to see the same level of triumph that he has this year, and I cannot wait to see what his next projects are.

Tim Person of 2015 Frames

As well as being a prolific tweeter and accomplished RPG-smith in his own right, Tim Maytom is the good-looking half of the Maytom & Spencer creative partnership. 
A relationship built from the foundations of Tim's Person of the Year posts, the two now work together 9-5 at Mobile Marketing Magazine, run a Wicked +Divine blog on Tumblr, and play (and write about) a mean game of Netrunner.

Together, they are the blogosphere's answer to Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Which is which remains to be seen.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Alex's Adventures in Internetland: July-October

It's another round-up! I've been leaving my wordy droppings around the internet again, but in case you haven't spent the last quarter tracking my every move, I've collected the finest samples from the last few months and brushed them into one neat corner for you to sniff at.

Artful Dodging: Why Invisible, Inc’s Rewind Button Is Great

Writing for Rock Paper Shotgun remains an honour. Getting to talk about Invisible Inc, which was a contender for my favourite game of 2015 before the year had even started was even better. I go deep on a single mechanic, and use it as an excuse to tell some anecdotes from my games.
Jolie ‘Banks’ Murphy is sneaking past two heavily-armed Obake drones with the help of her newly-acquired cloaking device when it suddenly cuts out. Turns out she didn’t read the label properly – it’s only good for one turn’s worth of invisibility. Both drones turn towards her, arm their weapons and click into overwatch mode. There are no hiding places left, and her supposed partner, the cyborg psychopath Adam Sharp, has already strolled into the level’s exit teleporter and flipped the switch.

What do you do?
Re-re-read the rest here.

The Issue: Empathy for the Henchman in ‘The Invisibles’ #12 (1995)

For the last six months, ComicsAlliance has been my primary outlet for freelance work (check out my author page for the whole lot). Earlier this month, I started a regular series on stand-out single issues that tell a story. The first one focused on The Invisibles' 'Best Man Fall', and it's still finding its feet a little, but I think the series has the potential to be one of the best things I've ever done.
There are panels where the young Bobby resembles Oor Wullie, star of a family-friendly Scottish comic strip of the same name. As an adult in his military regalia, he could almost be the star of a war story in a boy’s own adventure comic like the Eagle or Valiant; British comics, the kind I remember discovering in stained, broken-spined annuals at my grandparents’ house as a relic of my dad’s own childhood – and no doubt, a mainstay of Bobby’s too.

All of which combines to gives ‘Best Man Fall’ the ring of real human experience. It’s probably no surprise that the tiny tragedies are the ones that bite most. The wee Bobby clutching his teddy bear in a dark bedroom, as his parents fight in the next room, whispering, “It’ll be alright. I won’t let anybody hurt you”. The same bear seen, a few pages earlier, dumped in a bin.
Read it here and then feel free to tell me I'm totally wrong.

Making Sense of the Endless Reflections of Her Story

Killscreen is the games website for people who enjoy stroking their beard and perusing some Derrida over a nice snifter of brandy – so obviously I've wanted to write for it since day one. After playing excellent detective game Her Story, I finally got my chance and broke out the old English-Lit-student tools for a study of my single favourite gaming experience of the year:
“My name is Hannah. H-A-N-N-A-H. It’s a palindrome. It reads the same backwards as forwards. It doesn’t work if you mirror it though, it’s not quite symmetrical.”

That's how Her Story begins. At least, how it begins chronologically speaking. After saying yes to a coffee (black, no sugar), this is the second line spoken by Hannah in her interrogation. When you played, though, chances are this wasn't the first, or even second, clip you watched. The game is constructed out of hundreds of clips like this, which can be viewed in any order depending on which search terms you pick.

It's also the game's first lie.
Start your investigation here.

Return of the Je-DICE: An Entire Imperial Assault Campaign

Stars War! Imperial Assault is probably my favourite board game of the year, with its delightful miniaturised versions of cinematic icons like Han Solo, the AT-ST, and that weird cat thing from Episode II.

So, I got together with comrade Mike Didymus-True for a joint diary of our ongoing Imperial Assault game, for his blog The Boarding Kennel. The Notorious M.D.T. is a much funnier writer than I am, and that inspired me to up my game a bit, I think. The first two posts are up currently, with a much higher gag count than my average article, plus a fun cartoon of me and Mike. What more could you want?
Being evil is great. Red lightsabers, nefarious plans, rattling your enemies’ bones with lightning that shoots out of your fingertips, room-filling evil laughs. Mwahahahahaha.

But, real talk: it can get lonely on the darker side of the force. Also, there’s a lot of paper to shuffle through, and dozens of bags of cards and models to lay out. So, borrowing an idea from Shut Up & Sit Down’s Matt Lees, I lured another to my cause. Sharing the terrible burden of being monstrous with me as she does most of life’s burdens will be Imogen ‘Imi-perial’ Dale.
The saga begins here.


My latest post – at least, until I get off my arse and write the piece I currently owe – for Tim + Alex Get TWATD, my blog with your man Tim Maytom.

The Wicked + The Divine is the one comic I'm impatient to get my eyes on each month, and this issue was an absolute stonker. I wrote and posted this piece within a couple of hours of finishing the comic, so it's fairly raw, but hopefully that's part of the charm.
I’m not sure I’ve ever felt this dirty after finishing a comic. Ugh. Issue #13 is a magnificent piece of work, in the way you might tell someone, you’re a piece of work, you are. It wormed inside my guts and hardened, and now I feel like I need to shower.

A lot of that feeling is because I’m complicit.
Read the rest here.

Design and the Distillation of Ideas in Mike Del Mundo’s Covers

More ComicsAlliance business! In which I try to tackle the biggest weakness in my comics writing – an inability to fully describe the art – head on, by writing about some very, very pretty pictures.
You don’t need me to tell you that Del Mundo’s covers are gorgeous. He’s an incredible draftsman with an even stronger sense of design. Covers let him push the latter talent to the fore, dancing through various styles, from stark two-color minimalism to detailed paintings, via pastiches of Escher and Art Deco posters, all depending on what suits this issue best.
Judge several books by their covers here.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Tim + Alex Get TWATD #4.2: Triple Trouble (feat. Michael Eckett)

This time round, a third handsome face appears, as we are joined for night one only by special guest star Michael Eckett. Aptly enough, Michael is here to writing about Urðr, she who is three-in-one, kicking off a fans-and-creators special here at Tim + Alex Get TWATD.

Spoilers up to the very last drop of The Wicked + The Divine #11 below. Read that, then come back and read this. Please come back. Please, it gets so lonely in here...
Triple Trouble
Three Cheers for Sweet Remorse
Michael's face Time to sound entitled.

There are elements of performing that can be profoundly awful. Moments that go beyond making you want to throw in the towel and become a data analyst; ones which fill you with the dread that either you or the world is broken and you’re not even sure how to distinguish. It’s not the moments you’re prepared for, like trying to do a show whilst a stag party loudly plans what buffet they’re going to, or performing to a room of four people, whilst a snow storm goes on outside, only to be interrupted by a fire alarm. (Always stay in character, even if that character is the personification of an abstract concept. Or a tree.) The times that really break you are the ones can be the times when people cheer.

Issue #10 sees Cassandra, now one of the Norns, finally taking the stage with a willing audience ready to hear her message, that truth which she sees and has been dying to deliver. The moment is chilling and stark as their performance shatters the riot and their words cut through the silhouettes. Then there’s a beat. And then the crowd cheers. And we’re left with a broken person who cares too much.

Urdr Performance

In the past I’ve written plays with my suicidal thoughts and depression as metaphor, and people have laughed and clapped. I wasn’t sure how to react. I’ve made shows philosophising about life and death with monologues of existential angst and ennui because I’ve been lost, confused and scared and the only way I knew how to process it all or get help was reach out and hope someone else felt the same way. And they fucking cheer.

Writing can mean spending months contemplating how to craft the nebulous feelings into something simultaneously true and entertaining. It’s hard to go out and speak personally and vulnerably, hoping to connect to people because you have something important to say (whether that’s because it’s important to you or Important because you’re going to save the world).

The pain that follows the cheers is a selfish one. It’s hard to be too angry with a crowd who have been conditioned to show praise in a certain way, or who are polite and interested enough to ask what you’re doing next. (Turns out you can’t say “I just did a thing. You saw it. I poured myself into it and it nearly killed me, isn’t that good enough for you?”) But you have adrenaline pumping through you and at the same time you’re berating yourself for not being good enough to get the message across. Caring hurts, trying is hard and your successes can feel as bad as your failures. You feel like a prick for wanting more from people.

But sometimes you have something to say and you truly believe in it, and all you can do is hope that someone will hear it. The moment where Laura consoles Cassandra/Urðr works really well; there’s some excellent composition and framing and the message is sweet and true. Some people get it, sometimes a critic will treat your comedies seriously and will nail your themes and reference points, and sometimes your piece will inspire someone to write an essay because of how it made them feel.

I guess I write so that people can understand me better or to show that I could understand them; for a while it was all I had and there was an urgency to it. A performance isn’t necessarily entertainment – and even when it’s didactic, it’s mostly an attempt to connect.

The Crowd + The Congregation

When I read Issue #10 and the moment that Michael describes, I was also struck with a desire to write about it, although from a very different angle.

Everything Michael says is true. I’ve been on his side of the equation, although not in kind of public way that someone writing, directing and performing in a play has. I’ve known the feeling of laying yourself bare only to have people not ‘get’ it, or to be blandly appreciative in a way that makes it impossible for you to tell if they actually engaged with the emotions and ideas you were putting forward. It’s frustrating and saddening in a way that can make you question everything you’ve been doing. But I want to talk about the other side of the interaction – the audience.

So far in The Wicked + The Divine, we’ve seen a variety of audiences, but they have all tended to act as a mass. From the initial waves of ecstatic adoration at the Amaterasu concert to the goth riot at The Morrigan’s underground gig. At Dionysus’ rave, we find a crowd literally made one, united by the spirit of the god and surrender to the beat. Even more recently, we’ve had the Glastonbury-style gathering at Ragnarock that so disappointed Urðr and the writhing mass of bodies that comprised Inanna’s residency.

In each instance, the crowd is a single entity, with only Laura’s insights there to give us an occasional individual perspective. It’s both a telling element, and a truism. Anyone who’s been swept up in the euphoria of a great night on the dancefloor, chanted along with thousands of others or been carried on the waves of a mosh pit will concur – sometimes you cease being a person and become part of an audience. In those moments, considered nuance is surrendered to visceral reaction, and thought to instinct.

When, in issue #10, Urðr/Cassandra despairs that “they fucking cheered”, it begs the question, what else could they do? I’ve been at gigs where artists have poured their hearts out on stage, in songs about heartbreak, depression, suicide and loneliness, and at the end, when the last chord fades, the question stands. How do I show my appreciation for this act? How do I relay to this person that I have felt what they felt, that they have spoken of my pain in words I could never find? But then the crowd instinct takes over, and all you can really do is clap.
Urdr Crowd 1 Urdr Crowd 2
Like Michael said, we’ve been conditioned to show praise in certain ways, and at most situations where a crowd is involved, you have clapping, cheering or shouting in the hope you are heard above the din. None are particularly subtle, nor do they carry the weight of feeling we sometimes need them to.

There are some interesting exceptions to the rule though. Let us wander away from the realm of pop music and comics briefly, and consider the other great art form of the 20th century – professional wrestling.

Crowd reaction is a huge part of pro wrestling. One writer once described it as “a LARP where the wrestlers are playing athletes and the audience is playing the audience, and everybody’s in on it”, which gives you some insight into both the theatricality at work, and the importance of interacting with, and playing to, the crowd.

In pro wrestling, the lines are very clear cut. You cheer the faces and boo the heels. While that’s simple once they’re in the ring, entrances (often the best opportunity for a wrestler to convey their persona or hook) can complicate this – and one in particular, Bray Wyatt, is a great example of this, and how a crowd has adapted to it.

Wyatt, like many wrestlers, has cycled through a number of different roles, but currently plays a sort of demonically-possessed Southern preacher character. Most definitely a heel, but an intimidating, awe-inspiring villain, rather than an ostentatious one you could easily boo. His entrance consists of him walking slowly into a darkened arena, the only light a gas lantern he is holding aloft, while Mark Crozer (formerly of The Jesus and Mary Chain) plays.

It’s a fantastically atmospheric bit of showmanship, but not one that easily lent itself to the crowd showing their appreciation. Booing didn’t fit it, and while slow, measured claps worked for a while, they also took away from the power of the moment. Then, at some point, fans realised that if they held their mobile phones aloft in the darkness of the arena, they looked like a sea of fireflies, a silent mark of respect for a great wrestler, and entirely in-keeping with his character. Of course, before too long, the WWE were selling tiny plastic Bray Wyatt lanterns that lit up in a slightly more ghostly manner (and earning them some nice merchandising money), and the entrance was entirely transformed.

Of course, this sort of evolution of fan behaviour is dependent on the way professional wrestling works – the serial nature of character building, the ritual of the entrance, and most importantly the central nature of the crowd to the whole event. But maybe, just maybe, we can find some way to import some of the ethereal majesty of a spectacle like this into how we react the next time we’re in a crowd.

Or maybe we’ll just have to rely on something like this…
Material Girl
As we're talking about the relationship between audiences and performers this time out, I thought it was time to focus on The Wicked + The Divine's main point of intersection between the two: Persephone.

We only get a dozen panels of Persephone before [SPOILER REDACTED], and most of what's communicated about her in time relies on the comic's visuals.

The cigarette she's had between her fingers all arc finally flares into life, phosphorus-bright. It's a vivid realisation of Laura's story-long dream but implying, pages before the other boot drops, a sudden end. It's not the kind of flame that fades slowly; it's the kind that burns out.

Persephone 1
It's another great McKelvie design, obv, and those few panels have inspired an explosion of fan-art tributes. But her look is less cohesive than most of others in the series, in a way that feels intentional. Our Persephone is a patchwork god, her influences showing through in this first performance.

Not in the way some of the other gods are, cribbing from real-world pop stars – there's a dash of FKA Twigs in there, particularly her nose ring, arguably a pinch of Madonna in a certain mode,
but no direct reference point – but from the Pantheon themselves.

The white streak in her hair recalls Inanna. The heavy black boots and the skulls strung on her necklace tie her to the Underground gods, Morrigan and Baphomet. The asymmetrical triangle of markings on her face refers back to her Amaterasu-inspired make-up in the first issue, mixed with the harder angles of Morrigan in her Badb form.

The cigarette, of course, is a link to Luci – a bad habit picked up from a bad friend – but it flares with the trademark purple-pink of Inanna. In fact, the colour run through her entire outfit, having apparently become Persephone's own trademark, possibly in the wake of Inanna's departure a couple of pages earlier. (Is that too cruel even for Team WicDiv? I actually hope I'm reaching here.)
Persephone 2
But at the same time, Persephone is very recognisably still Laura. The lettering and colour of her speech bubbles stay the same – something that was par for the course with the initial gods, but not true of the last four we've met – and her physical transformation is less marked than the other before/afters we've seen.

Her asymmetric hair remains almost exactly the same as the one Laura wore pages earlier, except flipped from left to right, and with that streak of white. It's not the haircut one she started the series with, notably, but the one she picked on her way to godhood. Along with the make-up and the cigarette – symbols she's picked up along the way – perhaps this is a sign that Laura's has been a gradual transformation, rather than leaping fully-formed from the brow of Ananke.

Next time on Tim + Alex Get TWATD: Shit, the next arc's nearly here! The format of the story is changing, so obviously we'll be following suit.

For more of Michael's handsome face and words, find him on Twitter @meckett. The plays he mentioned were put on through Sigil Club, the production company he co-ran. He's not writing at the moment, as far as I know, but if Grant Morrison taught me anything about sigils, it's that sufficient focused masturbation can solve anything. So get wanking. For Michael.

You can find Tim's blog at, 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.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Alex's Adventures in Internetland, April-June 2015

The past month or two, the blog's been a little quiet because I've been busy writing things for other publications (apparently there are other sites out there on the internet – I know, I know, it came as a surprise to me too). 

Anyway, just in case you're craving a fix of my wordy nonsense, I thought I'd do a quick run-down of the best bits. Which is this. The blog that you're reading now. No, a bit further down the page...

Daredevil's Corridor Fight: A Breakdown of the Smackdown

You've watched the Daredevil series on Netflix, right? Then you'll no doubt have fond memories of the second episode's corridor fight scene, for my money one of the greatest action sequences in TV history. For ComicsAlliance, I picked apart why the scene is so damn effective, and what it nicks from the comics:
The increasingly weary movements of Cox and Chris Brewster, his stunt double, build on the foundations of the character the show has been establishing over the past two hours. Daredevil starts out moving like a superhero, quick and acrobatic, but the fight gets slower and slower as it grinds on. He leans on nearby walls for support, catches his breath while he waits for the next bad guy to rush him. It’s not a fighting style I’ve ever seen in an action movie. Cox fights with the moves of a backstreet brawler or, even more aptly, like he’s in the final round of a boxing match.
Read all about it here.

Every Superhero Needs Their Theme Music

In May, bearded blog-comrade Robin Harman curated Cover Versions, an exhibition of music-themed comics art (which I covered for ComicsAlliance here).
For the Cover Versions blog, I interviewed Kieron Gillen – a man whose works I've spent a lot of the last few weeks writing about (see below)  – about the playlists he creates to accompany his comics, how they help the writing process, and the true meaning of Justice vs Simian's We Are Your Friends:

“It has this weird element of, ‘you’re never going to escape us’. It actually sounds like a curse. Originally when I conceived Dionysus, the only thing I said was he wasn’t sleeping. The twist that, ‘oh yeah, he’s in a hive mind, he can’t be alone in his head, he’s never going to be alone again’ – the awfulness buried in that Justice record made me realise that about him. It had been on the playlist for a while, so I must have subconsciously known what the song was really saying.”
Read the full interview here.

Sci-fi & Fantasy Football: The Cookie Cup

The last few months, I've been part of a weird little game called the Cookie Cup, combining Facebook, spreadsheets and FIFA 2000 to create a fantasy football league which pits teams of fictional characters against one another. I wrote about it for Rock Paper Shotgun, and what it taught me about my relationship with sport:
In the back room of a pub in Norwich, a small group of people are excitedly shouting things like: “Buffy Summers! 390 points!” “Virgil!” “The one from Devil May Cry?” “No, from Dante’s Inferno!” “210 points!”
This is Draft Day at the Cookie Cup, a fantasy football league with an emphasis on the fantasy.
Read the rest here.

Why The Wicked + The Divine is Worth Losing Your Head Over

Oh look, it's that Gillen bloke again. His and Jamie McKelvie's The Wicked + The Divine is my favourite comic of the moment – or at least, the one I'm most wrapped up in – so with its latest
story arc just wrapping up, I reviewed the second volume for ComicsAlliance.

I can't take credit for that excellently cruel headline. That was the work of CA editor Andrew Wheeler, so please direct any hate-mail his way.
It’s probably not a coincidence that the front cover for the upcoming trade collection of Fandemonium is illustrated with an all-access pass – that’s exactly what we get in these issues, with gods who are much too willing to open up to Laura, often revealing that they used to be fans too. Inanna is a sexy M.F. now, but before ascending to godhood, he was a quiet enthusiast lurking at the back of convention halls. Superstar DJ Dionysus was part of the crowd at an earlier Morrigan gig. We even see resident skeptic Cassandra jump the fence from critic to creator, with her transformation into Urðr.
Read! Read! Read!

There! Those were the things! Congrats, you found 'em! ...A prize, you say? Oh, it's one of those 'success is its own reward' deals I'm afraid. Sozzz.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Tim + Alex Get TWATD #4.1: Anananananke! Spinning Around! Wickedpedia!

90 days have passed. The first year of The Wicked + The Divine is very much over. But Tim + Alex Get TWATD is still going strong, and both authors still have their heads attached. This volume: Fate & Death. Circles & Cycles. Questions & Answers (or ...& More Questions, to be honest).

Spoilers for every inch of The Wicked + The Divine #1-11 below. Avoid if you haven't read. Everything is going to be okay. (I promise)


Burn Out or Fate Away

Issue #11 changes, or at least challenges, so many of our fundamental assumptions about The Wicked + The Divine that it’s hard to know where to start. But let's start with Ananke, who has been fundamentally reframed from the series' Basil Exposition to its Big Bad.

Killing the current protagonist just after she achieves what she’s been chasing the whole time, and then murdering her parents for good measure, is not the sort of thing you can justify or seek redemption for, certainly not in the eyes of the readership. So if Ananke is the villain of the piece, what exactly do we know about her?
Ananke 1
The truth is, very little. We know she’s been alive for a long time (at least as far back as the 1920s) and doesn’t appear to age beyond her already elderly appearance. We know she’s powerful enough to kill other gods and turn their abilities aside with little effort. And we know she can cause the gods to manifest, in numbers beyond the established twelve. Beyond that, the origin that she details in issue #9 could well be a carefully constructed lie, as could much of the other information that she gives. We can fairly safely assume she arranged the attack on Luci in issue #1 and killed the judge, starting the sequence of events that led to her ‘justified’ execution of Luci. But the question of why has barely been touched upon.

Perhaps the answer lies in Ananke’s role as an agent of fate. The Wicked + The Divine is a book about death, its awfulness and its inevitability. The gods are fated to die within two years. The rest of us are fated to die, full stop. Ananke tells Baphomet that a death god is capable of extending their life by killing others – and what greater representation of death is there than the idea of fate, the inexorable advance of time and the tightly woven network of nature, nurture and predestination?

Ananke 2
Another interpretation comes from Ananke’s mention that Graves’ The White Goddess is based upon her. In Graves’ essay, the eponymous goddess is the font of all poetry, religion and culture, until she is supplanted by the male Judeo-Christian god. If the gods of the Pantheon are artists, inspiring humans to new ideas, new inventions and new ways of thinking, perhaps Ananke is culture itself, monolithic and eternal, consuming art and artists to fuel herself.

I’m sure there are answers coming at some point in the future, but for now it’s clear that the Ananke we have known so far, and the answers she has given us, are no more substantial than the lace masks she wears, covering up her true self and keeping her intentions cloaked in shadow.

Like A Record, Baby

Saying that circles are a visual motif in The Wicked + The Divine is a bit like pointing out that there are a lot of skulls in the comic, or that the creative team seem to have some affinity for exploding heads. If you've got eyes, you've probably noticed it already.

But seriously, there are a fuckload of circles in The Wicked + The Divine.

Let's do a quick recap, in rough chronological order: the twelve-god cycle of the title page, itself made up of smaller circles; the table the 1920s gods sit around; the eclipses in Amaterasu's eyes; eyes, in general; the occasional break-out panel; the holes Luci burns in her cell; the halo effect when the aforementioned heads explode; Dionysus' smiley face badge; speech bubbles, if you want to be like that; the layout of the Valhalla throne room; the magic circle of people in Ananke's flashback; the speaker-stack monoliths at Ragnarock '14; the stage and skylight at the church where Inanna performs; Baphomet's cross-inverting Sith Lord hand gesture; the rings in Persephone's ears and nose. The 'every ninety years' conceit. “Once again we return”. The whole bloody plot so far, if you've been paying any attention.
Circles 3

To be incredibly simplistic about it, 'Laura meets a god who becomes her guide to the world of the other gods, who she meets one by one, including a god only just manifested, before finally her guide dies at the hands of another god' could describe either of the first two volumes of The Wicked + The Divine. As the comic goes on imagery, dialogue and plot-beats get recycled wholesale, to the extent that almost nothing we see in the last issue is entirely new. The appearance of Ananke in Laura's back garden might be unexpected, but it echoes Luci's origin in issue #2. This is actually the third time we revisit the visual, thanks to a scene in Laura's garden at the start of the previous issue.

Once again, Baphomet lurks over a performance, realises he can't do what he was planning to, and summons the devil onto his shoulder. The dialogue with his anti-conscience is almost exactly identical to the previous issue (“Him or you/You or them?” “No choice at all.”) adding to the sense that it's a rote catechism, that killing doesn't come easy to Baph.
Baph Circles
Laura's tumbling transformation into Persephone is another visual we've seen twice before (issues #2 and #9, number-fact fans!). Ananke repeats the familiar words – “You will be loved. You will be hated.” – and, with the same hug for the newly-reborn god, “I've missed you.” It's a well-practised ritual, for both Ananke and the comic itself, and Gillen almost seems to be baiting the reader to dismiss it as needless repetition.

But suddenly (and it's worth noting that, as Ananke's grasping hand makes it way into the frame, forming into that Chekhov's finger-gun, the dread in the collective pit of our stomachs again relies on repetition – we've seen the gesture twice before, and understand what it means) the scene proves itself very different to its predecessors.
Circles 1

That rough plot structure I mentioned, with the pay-off of Laura's guide dying? This time round, it was just a distraction. The echoes multiply, one voice becoming two, and the repetitions suddenly get tighter and quicker, like reverb.

The same white-on-black text that marked Luci's death – “I guess I'm grateful”. The parents look out from the house into the garden, like last issue, like Luci in her origin, and see something supernatural. Ananke dispassionately apologising, again again again. An exploding building, just like the one that opened the series, and the one that echoed it earlier this issue. “It was never going to be okay,” a phrase whose echoes have argued with themselves throughout the past eleven issues.

This is a comic very deliberately eating itself, head becoming tail becoming head until there's nothing left but the circle. Not so much a mic drop as a guitar left propped against an amp, feedbacking long after the band have exited the stage. There will be no encore.

...Except there will be, which raises the question: what's next? With the series' main three characters all dead as disco, it's kind of hard to say. But it seems sensible that The Wicked + The Divine will become a comic about breaking free from those cycles. Its plot structure will almost certainly have to, so maybe the question becomes: can the gods break free too?
The Wiki + The Divine

So who killed that poor judge in issue #1?
Tim: Ananke makes the most sense, but part of me thinks we'll never get a solid answer.
Alex: The Y: The Last Man approach? It certainly seems like that part of the story is over now.
Tim: It depends a lot on who takes up the mantle of protagonist now. If it's Cassandra, I can see her keeping on at it. If it's Baphomet, I doubt he'll care.

Who the hell is our main character now?
Tim: Tara!
Alex: I think the options that make most sense at this point are probably Baal and/or Baphomet
Tim: In all honesty, I'd like it to become even more of an ensemble story than it has already been. I want more insight into everyone.
What's going on with this 'thirteenth god' business? Is it a one-off, or are there always more than twelve gods?
Tim: Well, if we work on the theory that Ananke is doing this to prolong her life – as the god of fate, she is arguably also a death god, and thus capable of using the loophole she told Baphomet about to extend her own life – there would have to be way more than twelve gods. But that's all conjecture at this point.
It would explain why some pantheons have different gods: those were the ones that Ananke lets gain the spotlight that time around. And if she's been at this for a long time, it explains what happened to the "missing" pantheons.
I think it's interesting that at the end of the issue, the twelve-god cycle diagram remains the same as it's been all series. Does it only represent the gods that the public know about – a sort of public face for the Pantheon – or something else entirely? It's worth noting that, for as long as Persephone's brief flame is lit, it disappears entirely. Can a diagram be an unreliable narrator?

Prometheus 2
The Prometheus Gambit – is it actually real?
Tim: Introducing the idea seems like an odd thing to do if it doesn't turn out to work in some fashion. You don't need to bring up the Prometheus Gambit to introduce the whole 'death gods extending their life', and I think that part is legit – or at least it seems to explain Ananke's motivations.
Alex: Or it could be a tool of manipulation for her. As you say, this mythology has developed over the centuries, and Ananke's been there the whole time – possibly propogating the Myth?
Tara already got her own cover, but we've still never met her – what the hell's going there?
Tim: It seems odd that Tara has remained off-stage – she's not exactly underground like Dionysus was. The fact that we haven't seen her is almost directly opposite to how she's treated in the story: posters everywhere, people sick of hearing about her.
Perhaps it's been a function of having Laura as our window on the world? She never seem particularly interested in Minerva either, who we haven't seen much of... But then we know she liked Sakhmet, who hasn't been explored much yet either.
Alex: I get the impression Tara isn't in the UK – is she the one god doing the whole World Tour thing? It'd explain why she hasn't been around, at least, and help to differentiate her from everyone else – because after all this build-up, I wonder how different she will actually prove to be.
If we see a different mix of gods every Recurrence, how do they get picked?
Tim: Well, if the gods function as inspiration to humans, something clearly dictated that this 90 year cycle was necessary. Maybe the same thing determines what gods are necessary to inspire that particular generation of humankind? Like, in order to bring about the Industrial Revolution, you needed Susanoo, Coyote and Thor, but for today you need Baal, Lucifer and The Morrigan.
To be honest, I'm starting to become suspicious of the entire idea of 'every 90 years, twelve gods, for two years'. It's reminiscent the 27 Club, the Voice of a Generation, that 11-year sunspot cycle thing that Morrison's into – and those maybe aren't the healthiest myths to be telling ourselves.
They've got something in common with the stuff David Blake was saying at the last Ragnarock. As the oldest non-parent member of the cast, I think he's got something in common with Ananke, and he's telling these limiting narratives: “vintage pantheons”, “cycles and precedents”. What if the whole idea of the Recurrence is just another one of those myths old people tell kids, like Authenticity and The '60s Were the Peak of All Culture?
Is everyone really going to be dead by the end of the two years?
Tim: I think so. Even if nothing else of the central concept remains, that will. Whether they are genuinely destined to die within that period is another thing, but I don't think anyone's getting out alive.
Alex: I'm starting to wonder if it's all self-imposed. Look at the '20s – it's a group of kids being convinced they have to end themselves, because That Is How It Must Be, they don't just spontaneously combust. As I said earlier, I reckon the rest of the story has to be about trying to escape the cycle. The plot has broken from its groove, can the characters do the same?
Tim: Yeah, I think that's the happy ending on the horizon now. But, given what we know about the series' themes, whether the plot is actually headed there is another matter entirely.



Next time on Tim + Alex Get TWATD: We'll be back sometime next week, ignoring the actual text and talking about ourselves – just for a change.

You can find Tim's blog at, 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.

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Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.