Every issue of “The Wicked + The Divine” surprises me, but I still wasn’t ready for the end of issue #5. The closing to “The Faust Act” is pretty near perfect, with tight scripting from Kieron Gillen and strong, smart artwork from Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson. It reads as a shocking, satisfying, inevitable escalation of everything that’s come so far, while still leaving loads of questions and possibilities for issue #6.
The ending is the most impressive and essential part of the issue. Cowles, McKelvie and Wilson really stick the landing with the last six pages. McKelvie and Wilson have built up a slick alphabet of visual signifiers, and while some of these — the snapping fingers, the cigarettes — could feel gratuitously cool when first introduced, here they’re used for phenomenal storytelling payoff. This is one of those devices that comics can often use more effectively than other mediums, and it’s great to see them make the most of it.
Wilson’s colors give the ending its real magic, though. They’re surprisingly simple and lovely, but they still make simple things like the glow from a lit cigarette or a television screen feel metaphorical and moody. Wilson also makes excellent use of the black-box panel. He and McKelvie played with white space quite successfully in “Young Avengers,” and I’ve enjoyed seeing them experiment with black boxes in “The Wicked + The Divine.” Here, the boxes drive home the finality of death and Laura’s sorrow. Clayton Cowles also switches to a smidge smaller font size in the black boxes, so that the text feels almost overwhelmed by the space around it. It’s a subtle way to highlight Laura’s sadness and depression.
In the script, Gillen keeps things moving at a fast clip, with the meta speeches at a minimum. (Ananke does get one in, don’t worry.) Luci is all snarls and nihilist mania as she makes her escape, and her heedlessness makes the conclusion feel at once more inevitable and more unexpected.
Perhaps what I like most (and perhaps what many readers like least) is that the characters in “The Wicked + the Divine” are shamelessly bad people. They’re gods in the old style — as needy as they are haughty, as desperate for attention as they are smug about receiving it. Their rules don’t make sense, they use their powers only for self-promotion, and they seem to spend most of their time screwing or fighting one another. They’re train wrecks — Luci especially. It makes them fascinating, but it does not make them easy to sympathize with.
Going forward, it looks like Laura will be the seat of the reader’s sympathy. Nearly the entire issue is narrated via her captions. (Cowles is the unsung hero of the issue for handling these dozens of caption boxes as well as he does.) Up until now, she has felt like something of a blank slate, but with her growing disgust with the Pantheon, she’s developing into less of a fangirl and more of a character. She’s the only one who seems to feel any outrage; even Cassandra is only grumpily disillusioned.
Altogether, “The Wicked + The Divine” continues to exceed high expectations. It’s just cruel that we have to wait until December for issue #6.