The Short Version: Laura – or, now, Persephone – is back and she makes her big debut. The Pantheon splits in two and one hell of a showdown is coming on… and nobody knows what might happen next.
The Review: What a welcome return it was to have Jamie McKelvie back behind the pen(s) for this arc. Commercial Suicide was an interesting experiment but ultimately bordering on forgettable; I picked up this book and remembered simply that Laura had turned into Persephone, been killed by Ananke, and then somehow she was going to be playing a gig. All of the smaller, more personal moments of that third arc didn’t feel like I needed to remember them so long as I understood where everybody was arrayed on the board.
This is far and away the most action-packed installment of the run so far and it burns a relentless pace. Persephone plays her first gig, immediately making some waves (especially for the fact that she’s essentially an extra god) and bringing the Pantheon a-running. This action all speeds forward towards a massive ass-kicking showdown at Valhalla and there is a real urgency in both the writing and the illustrations – an almost-too-fast-to-think urgency, which is fitting considering the behavior of nearly all of the gods. The team has worked on proper superhero comics (specifically Young Avengers) – they slip in a couple good cracks about them, too – and it shows in the way they handle the immense brawl outside Valhalla. Yes, there is a giant Voltron-esque Valkyrie robot thing. Yes, there is ass-kicking of all kinds. Yes, it is as awesome (in the literal and metaphorical senses) as you might hope. The addition of Persephone, in particular, seems to militarize the Pantheon in ways that we have only seen flashes of previously.
The few moments that do stop for breath in the sense of pausing the immediate action are also still breathtaking. Persephone’s time “in hell”, as it were, is in some ways the most relatable that we’ve seen a member of the Pantheon, struck down by “mortal” emotions. And Baphomet’s dual flashbacks, to both his ascension (hilarious) and his final moments with Inanna, are some of the most stunning work the series has done. Particularly that last one, where we see that the end of Fandemonium wasn’t quite what it seemed – a trick that Gillen has used before but that gets me every time. It’s deeply affecting and redoubles the reader’s engagement without making them feel as though they’ve been misled / that they have to doubt everything they see. That’s a fine line to walk and I’m impressed that Gillen pulls it off not just once but multiple times.
There are questions here of fate and knowledge, on a larger metaphorical level about stardom and youth and believing you know everything and I appreciate that, 22 issues in, the creative team behind this series is still bringing the thunder when it comes to intellectual engagement. We know that Ananke is playing these kids and that she’s up to no good… don’t we? For the first time since the series started, I felt a decrease in certainty about that ‘fact’ and it’s fitting, of course, that we should have yet another of the apparently-contractually-obligated explosive endings (I tease; I love the shocking cliffhanger thing, especially when it keeps working) just as that doubt creeps in. I thought, before, that I had no clue what would happen next… but now I don’t think anybody does, readers or characters. But I do think that we’re in good hands.
Rating: 5 out of 5. This one is pure rocket fuel, top to tail. The holding pattern of the last arc gave way to total forward motion and the situation, at the end of this book, looks completely different from how it did just a short while ago. I don’t want to give any spoilers away, hence the vague language… but basically, everything changes, both slowly and all at once. How lucky we are to be alive right now, in a time when the gods can do anything they want – both the Pantheon and the artists we love. This series just gets better and better.