“I thought I was a god”
The Wicked + The Divine is almost at an end. One more issue to go, and then another after and then no more. It’s all over. This massive, years long endeavor, this massive mega-structure of meticulous plotting and long form storytelling comes to a close. On one hand, it’s incredibly exciting and moving, to see such a complex puzzle finally come together and reach a definitive end, as things tie together for good. On the other, kind of heartbreaking to look back on every issue you’ve read and realize there soon won’t be any more like that. This enriching experience is limited, which is what made it so meaningful. And considering what the book is about, that’s certainly fitting.
Picking up from the previous issue’s heartbreaking conclusion, we see The Pantheon members go to War on Valhalla, confronting Ananke (Minerva? Either works) and her legion of mind controlled Valkyries. A fight ensues and it lasts about as long as you’d expect (not long), after which some farewells are said then Ananke is confronted, with some long held secrets finally unveiled. Once it’s all out, the leads react to the revelations by making powerful and defining choices. That’s essentially the way the issue’s laid out.
But really, it’s arguably the biggest issue of the entire run, loaded with answers and context readers have been dying to see for years now. With the Gods united and taking out Ananke’s Valkyrie goon squad, everything builds beautifully to this much-anticipated confrontation and moment of truth. Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson and Clayton Cowles have finally arrived where not only we’ve been waiting, but where they’ve been dying to get to. No more secrets, not really. It’s the issue after which they breathe a sigh of relief, although there are two more essential ones to follow in order to land this entire ride.
And with all the revelations, WicDiv makes clear once more what it is, has been and always will be. At the root of the core premise is the idea of godhood, of divinity, which is granted to each and every member of the pantheon by Ananke. They get no choice and are even told which god they precisely are. And they buy it. They run with it, fully believing and living in the story, this narrative they’re told. They do especially because more than anything, they want to. Ananke picks which god is granted to which person (sans Persephone) and thus tailors the divine role and archetype to the specific individual in question. It’s careful manipulation, like a chess player carefully discerning which piece to place where exactly and how. And the root of it all? The story woven almost six thousand years ago by Ananke and her sister.
At the age of fourteen, both sisters discover that, much like Laura early on in the book, they’re able to perform miracles with the snap of their fingers. They find 10 more individuals like them. But and here’s the kicker, they do not die in two years. They live out until the age of 28 and then and only then is the very idea, the story of ‘godhood’ born. Ananke’s sister gives birth to this story, this magical, wondrous tale that has sucked away and captured so much of the human imagination and history. And she imagines the first god, The She-In-Thirds, who takes on the form of The Maiden, The Mother and The Crone. But that’s just it, it’s a story and it’s a great story to perform, but Ananke’s sister is no god. At the age of 39, the sisters witness the price of ‘godhood’ and the ultimate cost this shortcut to power brings, discovering that everyone has two choices: two years at godhood, a woven story that operates on the fundamental power of belief or a lifetime of work to learn one may can.
It’s a powerful revelation and it brings together perfectly what WicDiv has always been about. The idea of the divine being put forth on these seemingly once-regular people. And Laura’s journey throughout the course of the book is her rejecting said divinity and in doing so, no longer being a “god.” Her incredible powers vanish and she becomes Laura Wilson once more, being capable of small miracles here and there like earlier on the book, though she’s now gotten better. And that’s the heartbreaking, powerful truth at play in the story. It’s what brings tears to one’s eyes when the realization hits. All these individuals already had the gifts, they never needed anything more. What they were sold was a suicidal cage, an easy shortcut that was, really, a curse. And it’s held for generations, for 6000 years, for hundreds of people, because it preyed on their belief, which is what the entire thing operates off of.
Stories are things of belief. They work because we make them. They have power because of our belief, because we let them have that power. Power is belief or more accurately, belief is power. The gods gain power by believing a story, but at the same time, stories have a cost. They come with a price and most readily, that’s time. They consume time more than anything. And so the gods are left with two years at best, unless they renounce their story, their easy way and choose to put in the hard work of a lifetime to truly learn. And these are ideas that work on numerous levels, first on the basic conceit of godhood and then on the idea of them being creators, artists, people who are storytellers and craft stories that mean so much to so many people. It’s easy to be caught in the cage of the story you’re told and sold, where you become a part of others’ stories, eternally trapped with nowhere to go. But one should not be.
Stories are beautiful things, but they’re also just that: stories. A story does whatever you want it to, much like the gods do whatever you want them to. And the realization isn’t a demeaning one, it’s an empowering one. Stories aren’t less because they’re not “real” — they’re real. They’re absolutely real, because we make them real with our belief. And our beliefs are incredibly real. So rather than be trapped in fascistic narratives, full of half-truths and lies, sold to us by malicious people, with the intent only being to serve the past and the ideas of the past, which have not been allowed to evolve and stayed static, the key is to be very aware of the stories we believe in. The stories we tell ourselves matter deeply and it’s essential that we recognize that we are not just the stories we tell ourselves, although at times it can be easy to assume that. And that’s what the narrative of the divine is, isn’t it? A reduction of the individual into base ideas, concepts or archetypes. You are the god of “X or Y,” you are defined like a product, because you are a product of someone else’s narrative. But it’s not who you are, even if it’s desperately what you’ve thought all your life you are. You are more. You will always be more. And it’s important that one remember that.
In a lot of ways, it’s reminiscent of the truths espoused by Morrison’s iconic book The Invisibles. Particularly one powerful quote comes to mind: “Your head’s like mine, like all our heads; big enough to contain every god and devil there ever was. Big enough to hold the weight of oceans and the turning stars. Whole universes fit in there! But what do we choose to keep in this miraculous cabinet? Little broken things, sad trinkets that we play with over and over. The world turns our key and we play the same little tune again and again and we think that tune’s all we are.”
WicDiv is certainly in similar space, exploring what art is and means in its own utterly fascinating and impossibly impressive way.
Ultimately, WicDiv is a chillingly potent warning, about the best of us and the worst of us. It reminds us why we’re so brilliant and what also makes us so fallible. The tragic irony of humanity is its desperate desire to be special, rarely realizing we already are and always have been. We’re magical and full of potential and we’re all storytellers. As alluring as the myth of divinity is, we don’t need it. The gods are trapped; the mortals? They have a lifetime, they have agency, they weave their own stories and define who they are and they cannot be reductively summed up. They’re gloriously inspiring, in all their messiness and success. What is life, asks WicDiv, with its core premise? It’s living the best you can and telling your own story and being whoeever you want to be, knowing that’s possible and never surrendering to anyone’s idea and narrative of who you are, for it’s a crippling cage. For a book with a cast made up of mostly queer characters and especially so many people of color, it’s an incredibly powerful message.
Ananke is a woman who is immortal, but does not “live” and she can no longer tell stories, at least no story except this dated, age old falsehood. She is not an artist, she is not a creator, she is a stagnant, unchanging remnant that merely hangs on and desperately tries to plunge culture backwards. Her sister, on the hand, truly lived and did so by believing in the future’s power to change and move forward. In truth, it’s not the world that needs gods. It’s the gods that need the world. Or more accurately, for all the specialty one might buy into in regards to creators and how much we need them, the creators arguably need the world more. What’s an artist without an audience?
The Wicked + The Divine #43 is a beautiful issue that loops back to the book’s fundamental heart about creators, art and storytelling and how they can both liberate us or trap us and we have the choice in deciding what happens. McKelvie delivers gorgeous performances with his characters and captures the glorious nuance of every single moment, with Wilson’s colors bringing every single beat to life. Gillen’s words, as delivered and guided by Cowles’ incredible lettering, strike hard and are resonant, with all of the pieces in perfect sync, as the team begins to tie the work together to prepare for a bow.