It's all confusion and contusions in "The Wicked + the Divine" #19, as the rift between Ananke's allies and enemies explodes into a brawl. Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson have a blast with punchy sequences and splashy character entrances, while Kieron Gillen keeps the script exciting and efficient. Though the story doesn't have any gasp-and-drop-the-issue moments to make it a must-read, the climactic fight is a fierce spectacle and a total blast. "The Wicked + The Divine" #19 is another winner.
The Underworld melee is a naked celebration of this series' superhero DNA. McKelvie knows how to convey confidence, and his eye for posture is a real joy here. From Sakhmet's self-satisfied punches to Baal's snarl as he enters the fray, the gods are in full BAMF mode in this issue. The storytelling, though, is more measured; McKelvie balances explosive, full-page character moments with smaller, sequential series of panels that let the reader see the action from the cheap seats. When these larger-than-life gods are condensed into smaller, more digestible action figures, the effect is so much fun.
Though this is one of the few issues without dancing, Wilson goes full light-fantastic. Orange, pink and purple backgrounds light up the gods' confrontations, and it makes the contrast with the quiet of darkness all the more apparent. His backgrounds also drive home the superhero theatrics. In the Underworld, he renders the meeting of light and darkness with a colorful stippling effect that calls to mind Lichtenstein and phosphenes.
Clayton Cowles is crafty as ever, and he and McKelvie make space for the text so that it can pull the eye. Whenever Cowles letters, there's at least one moment that delightfully surprises me in the way that the word placement slowed or changed my reading, and this issue was no exception.
Plot-wise, this is mostly a "suspicions confirmed" installment, as secret alliances are solidified and evidence is revealed. It doesn't have the sort of jaw-drop endings and surprises one hopes for in this series, but it's still a super satisfying issue. Gillen is characteristically funny, with Sakhmet's sneering and Badb's furious kenning to keep the reader entertained.
The fight also works in large part because the creative team has a great sense for match-ups and team-ups. Of course it's Amaterasu who pays attention to Minerva when everyone else focuses on pummeling each other. It seems obvious, once it's on the page, that arch-feminine Morrigan and hyper-masculine Baal would have the most electrifying clash, and pitting Laura -- who feels too much -- against Sakhmet -- who barely feels at all -- makes so much sense. (That Baphomet goes around landing "gotcha!" blows at the end of other people's fights is also quite fitting.) Cosmic metaphors and epic battles work best when they make sense for the real characters involved, and "The Wicked + the Divine" #19 does that very well.
Once-Laura still remains something of a mystery. She has a fresh new attitude as Persephone, but I'll admit I miss hearing her voice in the series -- particularly after the introspective character studies that made up the previous arc. This shift in gears makes sense, but -- as a reader -- I'm still in the adjustment phase. I'm lonely for the narrator.
All told, "The Wicked + The Divine" #19 keeps the stakes up. This series works on every level and fires on all cylinders; there's a reason we keep hearing about it, after all.