Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Tim + Alex Get TWATD #3.2: Disco Fudge, Prince of Hearts, SJWarfare

...Belatedly, we return. Only one month after the first half of this edition (and without addressing anything that's in issue #9 – rest easy, spoiler-heads), Tim and I are back with three essays on The Wicked + The Divine.  

We'll be back in 90 days. Well, probably more like 60 now. Who ever said recurrences had to be nice and regular? Oh.


Throwing Shapes in the Church of Dance Even before it was name-checked in Gillen’s writer's notes on the issue, I’d been planning on writing about issue #8 and how it compared to the sixth episode of the first season of the UK sitcom Spaced.

While there have been numerous films, TV shows, books and comics that have captured the magic of music in general, it’s the rare piece of pop culture that manages to get the joys of clubbing right, and so tracking the lines between two that do seems like a natural fit.

While they are born from two distinct scenes, the '90s acid rave/ecstasy boom and the modern day wave of EDM/Molly, the experience has barely changed since the late '90s – and issue #8 even nods towards the former with Dionysus’ “acciiiieeed” smiley face badge. When Spaced first aired, the rave scene was in its dying days, having truly peaked in the early '90s, but it had bent the world of clubbing into a shape that’s still recognisable today.
1
“Terribly sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt, I just wondered if you two ‘friends’ would like to come join the collective?”
Both now and then, one of the common things that clubbing meant, especially portrayals of clubbing in the media, was drugs (hell, I fell into this very trap above and you probably just nodded along). Trainspotting’s success in 1996 led to a wave of films centred around druggy, rave-filled weekends like Twin Town, Human Traffic and Go, most of which lacked the insight or pathos that Trainspotting was shot through with, while nowadays the likes of Skins, Glue, Misfits and a wealth of MTV shows will happily pump its teen cast full of substances and throw them onto the dancefloor to self-destruct and Learn Life Lessons.
4a
“Don’t pull your post-feminist art school bollocks with me, sunflower, if that’s your real friggin’ name, alright? I work for a living, what do you do?” “I write, actually.” “Oh really? In other words you’re on the dole.”
Both Spaced and The Wicked + The Divine manage to elevate themselves by side-stepping the issue of drugs, instead focusing on the experience which, speaking as someone who doesn’t really dabble with these things, is perfectly potent without giving your brain chemistry a poke. They centre on the dancefloor as a unifying force, something that brings people together even when earlier in the day they’ve been at each other’s throats.

4
“I’ve Got To Dance! LET’S WEAVE!”
In both, we witness the transition from arrival to participation. In The Wicked + The Divine, it’s the appearance of the eight-panel grid and Laura’s shuddering entry as the beat starts to overlay and a take control, and that sudden moment of clarity at the end. In Spaced, we have two markers. Mike, the least familiar with clubbing, slowly gains more and more accessories as he becomes comfortable, to the point where he is able to lead the dancefloor. Meanwhile, when the characters embrace the music and, more importantly, leave their previous drama and worries behind, a caption flashes up with their new identity. They are rechristened on the dancefloor, transformed into a version of themselves freed from baggage and focused on joy and dance.
5
“That’s a well-fitted body-warmer, Mike.”
Both pieces also feature someone to guide the main characters into the new experience. In Spaced, it’s Tyres, a drug-fiend bike messenger so in tune with music that he finds beats in ticking clocks, boiling kettles and traffic lights, and who attempts to disappear at the end of the night into a bank of smoke with a “My work here is done.” In The Wicked + The Divine, we have our newest god, Dionysus, the Dancefloor that Walks like a Man, who binds the attendees together in an experience so pure that they don’t actually need music. And while Tyres may have a short attention span and occasionally get stuck at pedestrian crossings, Dionysus no longer sleeps; has a constant club's worth of people inside his head; and, like the other gods, will be dead in less than two years.
“Last night? Last night was an A1, tip top clubbing jam fair; it was a sandwich of fun on Ecstasy bread, all wrapped up in a big bag like disco fudge; in doesn’t get much better than that, I just wish sometimes I could control these FUCKING MOODSWINGS.”
“Last night? Last night was an A1, tip-top clubbing jam fair; it was a sandwich of fun on ecstasy bread, all wrapped up in a big bag like disco fudge; it doesn’t get much better than that. I just wish sometimes I could control these FUCKING MOODSWINGS.”
                 
Sound + Vision
I hadn't fallen for any of The Wicked + The Divine's gods the way the story's fans do – until the introduction of Inanna.

Dressed like he's stepped off the cover of a Prince album, the literal purple rain falling around him, just a touch of androgyny in the way he's drawn, those big purple eyes full of a sympathy and humanity we haven't seen in any of the gods yet – it was love at first page turn.

His relationship with Laura is pretty much the fantasy of being BFFs with Prince, the kind of thing you imagine when you're a teenager and way too deep into your pop idol of choice. (What do you think he's like? Oh, I bet she's always... Smash Hits says their favourite food is...) But skipping straight ahead to that all-access fantasy means we don't get to see why Laura's actually a fan.

Inanna
We know that she's literally been there (“When Inanna did that whole week in Camden, I was in the front row crying every night”) and got the t-shirt (which, Team WicDiv, please make into a purchasable product ASAP so I can throw money at you). But with other gods, Laura's inner monologue has acted as a quick critique on the kind of pop star they are and the real-ones they're referring to. “I love Baal. That probably says bad things about me” lays out the character in a single caption, and strikes a chord with my own feelings about Kanye.

The closest we get from her is on Inanna's anonymous call: “The voice is what silk wishes it felt like. I feel it undressing me. I like it.” Which, to be fair, is pretty much exactly the way that breathy falsetto on I Wanna Be Your Lover makes me feel after three gin & tonics.

What's interesting about Inanna is that he actually performs this function himself. In a flashback, we see the person he was before his secret origin, dressed in drab colourless clothes that go beyond functional and towards camouflage – “my go-to cosplay was wallpaper,” as Inanna puts it. After his transformation, his clothes are the most attention-grabbing of the whole Pantheon, garish purples and leopard skin. That buttoned-up shirt is ripped open to the navel, showing off his chest hair. Because when you're a god and you're only going to live two years anyway, why the hell not?

Inanna Transformation

It's the most resonant moment in the comic so far, for me. “I can be whoever I want to be. I can be whoever I am.” It could be read as a powerful statement of coming out, but I'm considerably shallower than that. For me, those words are a mission statement for the dancefloor, with got the aforementioned G&Ts inside you and the DJ has just put exactly the right song on. Be who you want. Ridicule is nothing to be scared of.

                  

Talkin' 'Bout My (New Power) Generation

The Wicked + The Divine is most notably About Death, but it’s also about a lot of other things, one of which is music, fandom and the relationship between the art, the artist and the audience.

In issues #6 and 7, we get to explore an aspect to this theme that the first five hadn’t really touched on: the larger institutions of the Pantheon’s fandom, as opposed to the individual relationship that Laura has with the gods. We get to see cons, we get to meet other fans (as opposed to Cassandra, the critic) and we also get the revelation that Luci’s would-be assassins from issue one weren’t Christian fanatics trying to strike down the great adversary, but  fans whose love had been twisted into hate.

While the massive Fantheon (hurrah for portmanteaus!) that forms the centre of #7’s action is intriguing in its own right, especially with that gorgeous floorplan to pick apart, I want to turn the spotlight on the Ragnarock from the previous year we glimpse in flashback in issue#6 , in particular the attitude of David Blake, who is leading the talk we see Laura attend.

Blake
If you’re at all plugged into ‘comics culture’, it’s hard to ignore the seismic (and long-overdue) shifts much of it is undergoing. Publishers and audiences are finally coming to terms with the fact that people other than straight white men want to read comics, and that maybe the comics themselves should reflect that.

Video games are undergoing a similar transition, although theirs is far more violent, in every sense of the word. In both subcultures, as more diverse voices demand to be heard, those with a vested interest in hanging onto the past become louder, in what are hopefully the death throes of their grip on their respective industries.

This resistance to change has existed for a long while, and manifests in a wide variety of ways, but we can see many of them in David Blake. He is a gatekeeper, using the knowledge that he has acquired to dismiss those he disagrees with. “You’ve learned so little that our opinion is pretty much void,” he tells Laura when challenged on his assertion that the modern generation doesn’t deserve a Pantheon. His dedication has curdled into ownership; it’s not an uncommon phenomena, but just because you can understand the psychology of it, doesn’t make it right.

There are a lot of similarities between Blake and The Inventor, the first villain faced by Kamala Khan, star of the current Ms Marvel comic, one of the very titles that has got the real-life Blakes so angry. Blake says that “this generation is fundamentally lazy and entitled” and because he will not be part of the new wave of innovation brought about by the Pantheon, think they don’t deserve it.

In issue #10 of Ms Marvel, The Inventor has managed to convince a group of young people that their generation is so toxic that they are only worth to serve as human batteries for his technology. Laura and Kamala are both young women of colour who have taken the step from fandom into active participation (in Kamala’s case, she was a huge fan of superheroes who gained powers and decided to follow their lead) and both strike back against this viewpoint.

Ms Marvel plus Blake

Kamala rallies The Inventor’s prisoners, telling them that “the media hates us because we read on our smartphones. The economists hate us because we trade things instead of buying them … Just because they’re old doesn’t make them right.” Meanwhile, Laura stands up to Blake at the time and goes on to prove him wrong, not only bearing witness to a Pantheon manifesting in England, but becoming deeply entangled with it.

It’s worth noting that gods introduced over the course of the three issues we’re covering are themselves “ascended fanboys” – Inanna was present at Laura and Blake’s argument at the previous Ragnarock, and Dionysus was in the mosh pit at The Morrigan/Baphomet’s tumultuous underground gig. Even Luci was deeply rooted in the musical culture of Britain, even if that was largely down to her parents’ influence. All three of the gods whose lives we have glimpsed pre-awakening have been engaged with music as fans to some extent, and I doubt they have much patience for gatekeepers. They’re here to tear the whole damn doorway down and let everyone in.

                 
 
Next time on Tim + Alex Get TWATD: It'll be June! When the sun is out and the nights are long. Probably another god will be dead. See you there!

You can 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.


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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.