It’s a tricky thing, judging a comic that’s as far along as The Wicked + The Divine. Based on what creators Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie have said about its intended length, issue #29 lands around two-thirds of the way through the series.
In a medium where a lot stories don’t end but rather change hands, renumber and continue onward for decades, there are two obvious comparisons at this point.
The first is Image Comics stablemates like Sex Criminals and Saga, now similarly a few years deep into their run. These books tend to take a month or two off between arcs, and then essentially relaunch with a brand-new status quo — a time jump, or a major change to the cast. That’s not really the case for WicDiv #29.
It does mark the beginning of a new arc, “Imperial Phase (Part II),” but, as that name implies, it’s the second part of a larger story, and the issue reads like a continuation. That means that this isn’t a particularly good jumping-on point for the series, so a quick recap might be in order.
Gods reincarnate as pop stars. They’re led by Ananke, a sort of millennia-old Simon Cowell, who turns out to have been murdering the gods for mysterious reasons. Our lead, Persephone (née Laura), is the target of one of these murders. It’s thwarted, but she loses a friend and a family and, out for revenge, murders Ananke right back.
At the start of “Imperial Phase,” the gods were left without a leader and, like a famous boyband after Zayn split, lacking a single direction. This ends, naturally, in murder — as Rihanna-esque cat goddess Sahkmet kills an entire room of fans. Which is where we pick up in #29: the very next morning, as everyone discovers what has happened.
Writer Kieron Gillen has compared “Imperial Phase” to a double album, of the kind made by bands successful enough to be self-indulgent. It’s certainly less tight than the WicDiv of years past, but the structure is deceptive. #29 still manages to squeeze in a character beat for almost every member of its sprawling cast, making it considerably more disciplined than the average issue of a superhero team book.
… oh yeah, I mentioned there were two comparison points for comics at this stage. The other is that late-‘90s crop of Vertigo classics. The likes of Preacher, The Invisibles and Transmetropolitan — influences which WicDiv wears on its fabulously tailored sleeve, and books that came with a finite endpoint baked-in.
There’s a familiar pattern to how those books feel when they reach the two-thirds mark. They can start to wander, going on a last adventure or two before everything has to wrap up. WicDiv has never taken its foot off the pedal marked “plot progression,” and it’s not been afraid to experiment every once in a while. But inevitably, by now you probably know what you’re getting in an issue of WicDiv, and that takes the edge off a little.
That’s actually pretty appropriate for #29, which is essentially a 23-page hangover after the events of “Imperial Phase (Part I)”. The issue even briefly flashes back to the early days of the gods, to remind us what these thrills felt like when they were new. Not just new to the reader — a sensation that’s communicated through Matt Wilson dialing his pyrotechnic colors up to 11 — but to Persephone, back when she was Laura.
So maybe when I say this issue feels a little muted, a little slight, it’s entirely intentional on the part of the creative team. Without the context of the rest of this arc, though, it’s hard not to feel that, to borrow a metaphor from one of those aforementioned double albums, WicDiv #29 is just another brick in the wall.