"The Wicked + The Divine" #17 wraps up "Commercial Suicide," the third story arc of the series, which saw a host of guest artists join Kieron Gillen for a handful of character-focused stories. While it's nice to finally learn something about Sakhmet in this Brandon Graham-drawn issue, this feels like a comic that has little in the way of payoff, though it will eventually have a larger purpose in the issues to come.
Sakhmet is a member of the Pantheon that we've seen little of up until now, and Gillen makes the reason for that lack clear in "The Wicked + The Divine" #17. Sahkmet's attitude towards her catlike attributes is more pronounced than so many of the other gods' connection to their inspirations. Sakhmet is presented as fickle, unreliable, capricious and ultimately dangerous. In other words, she really is the embodiment of a cat. While that's great for a background character, it's becoming quickly clear why she's someone we haven't had much of a spotlight on up until now. A character like Sakhmet doesn't work as a protagonist by her very nature; she's not only too erratic, but also a bit lacking in any actual personality. Sakhmet comes across here as a great background force, devoid of anything interesting enough to hold one's attention for long.
The end result is a comic where it's more interesting to see Woden and Morrigan's brief interactions with Sakhmet than it is anything focusing on Sakhmet herself. While the flashback to Sakhmet's transformation is intriguing, it also emphasizes the general unusable nature of Sakhmet as protagonist. She's a cat, and a fickle one at that. While Sakhmet does now feel like an example of Chekhov's Gun (planting someone now to be used later), it does mean that it's not the most thrilling of comics at the moment. Still, I am impressed Gillen managed to give us as much as he could with Sakhmet in the lead, without sacrificing the overall character concept for this god reborn.
Graham's art is at its best in the first few pages, where we see a pre-transformation Sakhmet at the British Museum. Her reddish eyes have a wonderful steely glint behind them; this is someone who's been hurt badly, even as she refuses to let anyone in. It's at that moment Graham instantly sells his presence on the book. That's not to say the rest isn't nice either; Sakhmet has a languid nature about her, one that contrasts perfectly with what she was like as a mortal. There's so much ease and laissez-faire in her demeanor that it shines off of the page, something that comes to life even more when she's leaping across the rooftops of London. Graham certainly gives us a strong sense of Sakhmet's physicality all throughout.
With all that in mind, though, it's the final page of "The Wicked + The Divine" #17 that readers will be thinking about until the book returns in April. Considering that Gillen titles it "The Inevitable Cliffhanger," it's clear he and McKelvie know exactly what they're doing here, too. It's a startling little twist, one that potentially has been sitting in front of readers for months now without ever calling notice to itself. More importantly, after a very low-key final issue in this story arc, it's a smart way to rev up the readers and make them eager to see what happens next. I suspect it's going to work like a charm. It'll be a long wait for "The Wicked + The Divine" #18. Nicely played.