The Short Version: The world is still shaking after Ragnarock and the sudden deaths that twisted the entire plot of the series into knots. No one knows who to trust or even, really, what’s going on… and so it’s fitting to bring in some guest illustrators for one-shots and dive into individuals for a moment.
The Review: The title of this arc, “Commercial Suicide”, nearly applies to the actual choices made by the comic team too. Coming off of two high-octane arcs of gobsmacking inventiveness not to mention closing Fandemonium with a plot twist of mythic proportions, the team behind WicDiv going oblique and putting together essentially a series of loosely-connected one-shots might come off as up there with headscratchers like Chris Cornell going hip-hop or Steven Tyler going country or Bob Dylan going religious.
Turns out, though, the best analogy is actually David Bowie. Because, well, of course it is. Bowie never went straight ahead when he could make an interesting (if not necessarily successful) left turn – and that’s exactly what this arc is: interesting if not necessarily successful. This is only bolstered, I think, by the cliffhanger of an ending – which, while not as jaw-dropping as the last one, has a solid bit of “WTF?!” to it… but that “WTF?!” is primarily based in the sense that the arc-as-currently-stands then feels like it was just spinning in circles while we waited for the bigger plot to return.
This is not to say that things don’t happen in this arc, though. The individual pieces dive into some of the players in the Pantheon who we haven’t spent much internal time with – especially Wodin, who gets issue 14 all to himself (in a bold choice by the creative team to repurpose previously-used artwork in order to show events through his point of view – a risk that definitely pays off). Tara gets an issue to herself, as well: issue 13, which is an entirely self-contained tale and a great exploration of how shitty people can be to public figures. Tara struggles with her godhood, more outwardly than I’d argue the rest of the Pantheon, and she was a musician before all of this – but when she tries to play some of her old songs, she nearly incites riots at her concerts. A two-page spread of Twitter responses to one of these evenings is… it’s horrifying. All the more horrifying because it is absolutely how people speak to public figures: threats of murder & rape, strings of abusive language, slimy “well-meaning” flirtation, all of it. Men, especially, just do that and feel as though they’re entitled to it – but how the fuck is that a thing that anybody feels like they can say or do to another person? The ending of that issue is one of the most tragic moments in WicDiv so far, all the more so for the fact that it comes in the form of a one-shot and that the larger arc of the story (why the gods die, what Ananke is up to, and so on) will ultimately be of greater interest to readers in the long run.
The guest art is probably the most successful facet of the collection, even if it also adds to the incohesiveness of the overall arc at the same time. It’s fascinating to see these characters who we “know” at this point portrayed in ways that shift, subtly or even not-so-subtly, our interpretations. Kate Brown’s art in issue 12, for example, feels like what we more traditionally think of COMIC BOOK art to be. Brandon Graham’s art in issue 17 is wholly unlike the art of the rest of the series in that it pushes the realistic boundary, making the characters more long-limbed and “cartoonish”. In some ways, these issues serve the same function as cover songs: an opportunity to see somebody else interpret the thing Jamie McKelvie originally created.
But I do wonder if the partnership between McKelvie and Kieron Gillen actually matters to the story in ways we don’t realize – because Gillen’s focus seems a little diffuse here. Perhaps it was always planned, these one-shots, but his writing feels different when paired with different artists. I wonder if the connection between artist and writer actually blurs a bit when the primary team is at bat – and if they’re informing each other more symbiotically than we would notice, were it not for an ‘interruption’ like this.
Rating: 3 out of 5. Individually, there are great moments in this arc – but it doesn’t hold together as an arc, really. The others had a noticeable shape to them where this one feels like a collection of separate pieces. Oh yes, there is movement of the plot and the promise of issue #18 is super intriguing… but it doesn’t stop this collection from drifting through six issues that work more effectively as standalone stories, most of the time, than they do next to one another. This might have something to do with different guest artists in each issue, making for a visually disparate reading experience, but I think there was a reluctance from the main creatives to move the story too far without all the major players in place. This one’s still worth reading because a) it’s a great world and b) you gotta know some things to be ready for the next arc… but I’m all the more impatient now.