Sunday, 21 December 2014

2014: What I've Been Playing – Wii U

Another installment from my attempt to document everything I've played this year. On Friday I wrote about the multiplayer PC games I've most enjoyed as an accompaniment to alcohol, today I'd like to focus on the small black box which started occupying a space beneath our TV this summer – and in my heart not long after.

Wii U

Me & The Wii U
 

The most common reaction from people when I told them I'd just bought a Wii U was: Why?.

The implication being, I think: Why didn't you buy a PS4 or an Xbox One? Or, depending on the person, and given that I was in the middle of buying my first home at the time: Why didn't you just stick with the frankly ridiculous number of consoles you already have?

The former is easy to answer. A larger quantity of pixels isn't something I desperately crave, and the unique experiences on offer is only now starting to exceed what I could count on one hand. The latter... not so much.

I'll concede that the Wii U's key selling point – that tablet-style controller – is slightly silly. Very few games have actually made good on its potential and, as even my 50-something parents (who have now inherited my original Wii, as hush money) pointed out, the chunky plastic controller looks rather ungainly and old fashioned in an era of iPad Airs.

And yet, I can't remember building such an emotional relationship with a piece of technology, not for a long, long time. Why is that?

ACBF


Well, it's certainly not the selection of third-party games.

I own two, ZombiU and Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, both relics of Ubisoft's early dalliances with the console. Black Flag is a wonderful opportunity for period tourism across a string of 18th Century Caribbean islands, hamstrung by the tedious day-to-day of Assassin's Creed games.

ZombiU actually uses the controller better than most Nintendo-crafted games, pulling your attention away from the main screen and towards the smaller one you're holding in your hands to create tension, while you rummage through a bag as the undead shamble ever closer to your delicious, delicious brain. Combined with the wonderful specificity of its East London setting and the RTS-vs-FPS multiplayer, it's a nice addition to the roster for the sub-fiver prices you'll find it for, but far from the reason to recommend picking up a Wii U.

ZombiU

Maybe my love for the Wii U is driven by nostalgia, then?

Nintendo Land provides probably the best evidence for this argument. At launch, the game filled the same role for the Wii U as Wii Sports did for its predecessor – a bundled-in package of mini-games built to show off the unique capabilities of the new controller.

This means squeezing in features like the controller's built-in camera, used to display the player's hilarious facial contortions on the big screen, or touchscreen, to draw a line between obstacles that you can only see on the TV, or its microphone, to ...activate a fan by blowing.

Some of these inclusions are more successful than others, but the best games take full advantage of the second screen to keep the player using that controller more clued in than their opponents on the Wiimotes. Luigi's Ghost Mansion (or 'Cheeky Ghost', as it's known round our gaff) uses this to make one player the ghost, sneaking up unseen on four ghost hunters, armed only with a torch, and provoking some of the best jump scares I've ever seen in a multiplayer game.

Nintendo Land Ghost

As in Wii Sports, each mini game in Nintendo Land – there are a dozen of variable quality, but with three stone-cold classics – is simple but surprisingly deep and satisfying, with the caveat that you need to be playing them with friends crowded round the TV. But, tellingly, where Wii Sports created a new setting – admittedly, a rather blank one – for its games, Nintendo Land dresses up each in the patchwork clothes of a familiar Nintendo franchise. There's a Zelda-themed archery game, an F Zero X racer, a Metroid arena shooter, all of them using a sort of cargo-cult version of the series' own aesthetic to fit the charmingly wonky house style, where everything is apparently handmade out of recycled cloth and clockwork and crayons.

The effect is to make Nintendo Land a virtual museum of the company's history. This is literalised by its setting, which frames each mini-game as an attraction in a theme park. You can explore this Nintendo Land on foot, littered with statues and familiar iconography and jukeboxes that bit of menu music you played as a kid, which are awarded to you for playing an old-school pachinko machine.

It helps that (some of) the attractions contained within are so enjoyable, but somehow this isn't anywhere near as awful as it sounds like it should be. I wouldn't identify myself as a nostalgic Nintendo fan, despite the Gameboy and N64 being my first consoles as a kid, but it would be impossible to deny that the characters have built up a reserve of goodwill with me over the years, which Nintendo Land taps for everything it's worth.

NintendoLandPlaza

Overall, though, the most honest answer to that Why? is simply this: Mario Kart 8.

The Mario Kart games have always been an indispensable part of life in the Spencer-Dale household, so buying the latest a new installment... well, there wasn't really much question of us not buying it.
Looked at one way, MK8 is just the latest in a long line of chunky, accessible racers. But looked at another... Who the hell doesn't want that?

MK8 is broader than any other Mario Kart game before it, and polished so much it practically glares. It still feels exactly right to tug the controller left and right to steer your kart around corners, the way most of us did anyway in the days before motion controls, tongues sticking out in concentration – and even the parts which sounded gimmicky in the initial previews work far better than they have any right to.

The anti-gravity sections fit snugly, even when they're shoehorned into the remake tracks. Taking the pivotal corner of GBA Mario Circuit, for example, and tilting it 90° into the sky adds a much-needed pinch of spice to a rather vanilla track.

Mk8 Anti-grav


The replay mode, meanwhile, isn't perfect when it comes to picking which highlights to show – it always seems to miss out that one moment you really wanted to rub a friend's nose in – but it's a great showcase for the game's startling good looks.

In the heat of a race, the majesty of the twisty Moebius strips levels tend to get lost on you. But the replay's camera, which stubbornly refuses to follow the loop-the-loops, brings back the feeling of impossibility as a track bends back on itself, racers hanging from the ceiling so you almost worry they'll bang heads with the stragglers below.

It's a chance to appreciate the detail that each track is dripping with. The crowds of familiar faces, cheering you on in the background. The piano-shaped bend that actually plays the notes as you drift over its keys. The way racers rubberneck at a green shell pile-up or eye up rivals as they overtake them.

More than Mario's moustachioed face, or accessible family-friendly games, or their unusually wide palette of colours, these tiny moments of invention are Nintendo's legacy. They're what elevates Mario Kart 8 above being just another competent installment in the franchise, into something that's worth treasuring for the next however-many years until the next one – and I reckon they're also key to my surprise romance with the Wii U.

MK8 Tanooki

Friday, 19 December 2014

2014: What I've Been Playing – Drinking Games

For a while this year, I was convinced I could blog about every single game I spent a decent amount of time with. Then I remembered how life works. Playing something in 10 minute sessions over the course of months, or multiplayer with friends, isn't really conducive to writing about it.

So, over this weekend, I'm planning to post three breakdowns of the remaining games I failed to write up, split into rough categories. Starting with...

Drinking games

Games and alcohol, eh? The two are a reliable cocktail, one I've mixed in various ways over the years.

When I lived at home, games were a accompaniment to pre-drinks – Peggle, WWE Superstars, B.U.T.T.O.N. – with loose drinking rules draped over them. In our London flat, they were for the morning after – Worms, Spelunky, Mario Kart –  a roomful of people hiding their hangovers behind competitive multiplayer.

This year, especially since moving out to a bungalow in the far reaches of London, I finally cracked the post-pub game. Simple thrills that don't lean too hard on your brain functions, that keep you awake with bursts of laughter. I've written about Nidhogg before, and that has stayed in healthy rotation over the course of the year, but there are also some new challengers for the 3am gaming crown.

Towerfall title

Towerfall: Ascension is possibly the purest example of the form. Four players battling on a single screen, each armed with a bow and a limited number of arrows. A single hit means death. Kill or be killed.

That's an incredibly simple formula, but the little details manage to make it feel complex. Arrows embed themselves into the scenery, pin crumpled bodies to walls, waiting to picked up by someone who's prematurely emptied their quiver (it happens to the best of us).

While players scrabble towards this errant ammunition, they have one weapon left in their armoury: a simple Mario-style jump onto an opponent's head, as fatal as an arrow through the chest. That's not the only lift from Nintendo's leading practiser of turtle-head parkour. As in the original Mario Bros, each arena loops infinitely, so that dropping off the bottom of the screen will, bamf, have you immediately reappearing at the top.

 photo Towerfall.gif

All this gives Towerfall the feel of a deadly bouncy castle. A typical game moves moves in bursts. After an early exchange of arrows that's likely to fell the first player or two, the survivors will cautiously circle each other for minutes. But when it's time, Towerfall's action happens faster than your conscious brain can really track – just your bare muscle memory versus your opponent's.

And so the tension builds slowly, and is quickly released, which is where all the laughter comes from. This is the same basic mechanism behind most verbal jokes and it's also, I reckon, the secret of Nidhogg and Broforce.

Broforce

Broforce is the cheap thrill of a Steven Seagal film in the early hours on Channel 5, or of a just-before-the-shop-closes box of fried chicken, in the form of a co-operative shoot 'em up for up to four players.

At first glance, the game looks like a no-frills remake of Contra or Metal Slug. In tandem with its roster of knock-off '80s action stars with dodgy pun names (Rambro, Brominator, B.A. Broracus), you might expect Broforce to rely on retro nostalgia. Being completely honest, it does lean on these pleasures – but vitally, the game is also packed with smart and fresh ideas.

The levels you shoot your way through, for example, are entirely destructible. Over-zealous deployment of explosives can make it impossible to reach the end, meaning that your own weapons are as much of a threat as the thousands of balaclava wearers you'll run into.

Broforce 2

The way that the game juggles its enormous playable cast of 'bros' is pretty remarkable, too. Getting your hands on each new character, they feel just right. A Will-Smith-in-Men-in-Black bro comes equipped with a kickback-heavy Noisy Cricket, plus a Neuralyzer for stunning enemies. The twin Boondock Bros move, shoot and die individually, like Smash Bros' Ice Climbers. A bro version of Rose McGowan's character from Planet Terror propels herself through the air using her gun leg.

But what's even more impressive is the way these characters are built into the game. Levels are peppered with cages, which can be broken open to rescue the bro inside. This gives you an extra life, but also switches you to a random bro. It turns something as simple as a 1-Up into an interesting decision: if you're currently playing as your favourite, do you take the life and risk getting Indiana Brones (arguably the best action hero, but inarguably the worst bro)?

(In the multiplayer, if a fellow player is currently dead – which, given the chaos that ensues when four people play together, they will be – it simply brings them back to life. This is less interesting, though much more helpful.)


Broforce 3

Meanwhile, the game acts as a broad parody of jingoistic action movies, pitched somewhere between Team America and Hot Shots Part Deux. Each level ends with you blasting a besuited Satan then hitching a ride on a chopper as the level explodes below you, all to the soundtrack of a screeching guitar solo.

It's just funny, basically, especially to a brain that's spent the last six hours pickled in long island iced tea. These trappings certainly help but, again, it's the play itself which is funniest. Broforce is the rare kind of game where enemies not only hugely outnumber the player, but actually take more shots to kill.

A single bullet ends your life in a sudden splurt of red pixels, and that's funny enough, but watching a friend single-handedly master the rest of the level with Indy, only to be crushed by a falling square of concrete right on the finish line? That's hilarious.

Jack


I wanted to talk about The Jackbox Party Pack here, too – a compendium of five quirky quiz games, played on the PC and controlled using each player's smartphone – but two of my four multiplayer experiences with it so far have been marred by connectivity drop-outs.

A quick word, though: Two of the games, Fibbage and Drawful, are potential all-time classics, inviting players to offer false answers to a question or Pictionary-style drawing, which let you write the jokes yourselves. Lie Swatter and Word Spud both felt limp on first play.

The final, and central, element is You Don't Know Jack, an enjoyable quiz show-style game marred by the attempted zaniness of its presentation. The pop-culture-with-lateral-thinking questions are inherently funny, but the game tries to oversell them with a lengthy intro and outro for each question, which can weigh down even the strongest round of 'Kangaroo, Peanut, Albert Einstein or Uranus?'.

Jack 2

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Songs I Loved in 2014 Not Actually From 2014

It's my birthday! So, before we begin our two-week look back over the past year, let's go deeper still into the past.

A fortnight ago, I would have told you I'd listened pretty much exclusively to brand new music this year. But then, in preparation for these blogs, I started looking into my play counts, and discovered a whole bunch of tracks from before the year began.

So here are 11 songs, released as recently as December 2013 and as long ago as 1985, all of which I fell in love with for the first time during 2014.

I picked up in the fire sale of last year's 'best of' lists. Songs from old favourites which had somehow passed me by until now. Songs that have been sitting around for a while, just waiting to click in my brain.

Listen to the playlist in the widget below, or find it on Spotify here.


  • Charli XCX – SuperLove
  • Flume – Insane (feat. Moon Holiday & Killer Mike)
  • Star Slinger – Mornin'
  • Kate Bush – Cloudbusting
  • Joanna Gruesome – Secret Surprise 
  • Burial – Hiders 
  • Kanye West – The New Workout Plan 
  • Moderat – Bad Kingdom 
  • Schoolboy Q – Hands On The Wheel 
  • Wu-Tang Clan – C.R.E.A.M.
  • Bat For Lashes – Laura

Monday, 8 December 2014

Tim + Alex Get TWATD #2.2: Vogue, Letters, Baal

Slightly belatedly, we return, stretching the 'every ninety(ish) days' part of the T+AGTWATD format to its absolute limit.

As usual, here are three essays from myself and Tim, this time focused on the 'Faust Act' as a whole.



Grand Designs
Looking back over the first arc of The Wicked + The Divine, it's hard to deny that the story beats are unevenly distributed. There are a glut of events in the first and final issues and – at least if you view this as the story of Luci and Laura – not much of real consequence in between.

And yet, each new issue has genuinely felt like an event. A lot of that, I think, lies in the slow teasing of the gods. The book's set-up tells us that there are twelve of them, but we don't meet them all immediately. When the story starts, the world doesn't even know about a quarter of them, and five issues in we still haven't pinned down who Tara is. (Fucking Tara.)

Given Kieron Gillen's tendency towards full disclosure, he and the rest of Team WicDiv have been impressively quiet about the thinking behind the characters. That leaves it to the comic to deliver the compact package of ideas that is each god.

They're not just characters but archetypes, references, lines drawn across the twin histories of mythology and pop. They're vessels for cultural criticism, representatives of a diversity that's more unusual in comics than it should be. All of this is doled out a couple of panels at a time – and the only god we've spent a truly significant amount of time talking to so far has had her head blown off. So, what makes this tease seductive, rather than frustrating?
Faces
I don't mean to sound shallow, but I suspect it's all down to looks.

Jamie McKelvie was already one of the great designers in comics. His Captain Marvel redesign is a huge part of that character's recent success. In Young Avengers, each new costume change was a cause of great joy and much Tumblr fanart. In preparation for The Wicked + The Divine, however, it seems he ingested centuries of mythological imagery, catwalk fashion and popstar aesthetics. (Just look at the official WicDiv Style Blog.)

Amaterasu's psychedelic explosion of eye make-up. The sleek androgynous cut of Lucifer's suits, versus the broad block colours of Baal's. The Morrigan, three complementary designs that condense the gothy glory of Sandman's Endless into a single character. The Jazz Age glamour of the '20s Recurrence's gods. Ananke's wardrobe of elaborate veils.

All of those ideas I mentioned earlier, McKelvie manages to pack into the first glimpse of each god, remixing the broad influences into something we've never quite seen before. Which makes turning the page to something like this totally thrilling:
Meet the
Gang
“Oh shit,” indeed. This double page spread, from issue #4, is possibly the series' greatest moment thus far.

This is a spread to linger on, the way I used to with Where's Wally? and, after that, with the cameo-packed battle scenes in Marvel crossover comics: Oh. Tim was totally right about Woden. Ooh. Loving Ammy's new look. Hm. What's Minerva riffing on?

Arguably, it's completely separate to the story. The page is packed with descriptive information, but not much actually happens. That's pretty much the definition of world building, a term I normally deploy like someone handling a used nappy. So why do I like it so much here?

Maybe because the world of The Wicked + The Divine is unusually distinctive. This isn't world building in the 'give the seasons silly names, and make our orcs a different colour' sense, and each new piece of design does actually shine more light on the ideas that the story itself is communicating.

Maybe because it fits neatly with the subject matter so well. Most of us have loved at least one popstar so much that we covet each new glimpse of album art, each magazine cover shoot, each mid-show costume change. Maybe there's something mimetic about those covers, where McKelvie simply renders his designs as sharply as possible and lets Matt Wilson's colours, pushed reliably into overdrive, communicate the rest.

Or maybe I am just that shallow, and it's just because everything is so damn pretty. I'd be okay with that, frankly.

                 
Illuminated Gospels
If we use the common analogy comparing a comic’s creative team to a film crew, then a comic's letterer would be something along the lines of sound design – one of those categories that Oscar coverage tends to talk over, and people tend to ignore when considering how the final product is assembled.

Like sound design, bad lettering can cripple a comic, but good lettering is often invisible, because its whole purpose is to service the more 'showy' elements. With that in mind, let’s have a smattering of applause for Clayton Cowles, letterer for The Wicked + The Divine, and shine a light on his craft, and how it plays into the comic’s atmosphere.

The biggest lettering style element is the most easily skimmed over – the distinction between the all-caps word bubbles, in traditional comic style, and Laura’s narration, which is closer to handwriting. It doesn’t go to the lengths of Hazel, the infant narrator of Saga, whose asides are hand-written directly onto the art by artist Fiona Staples, but the lower-case lettering and rounded bubbles give it a vulnerability and naivety that the same words in all-caps would lack. It has the feeling of a diary or a confession, conveying personality and intimacy.

Some of the lettering effects have been more overt – Woden’s square-bubbled, neon green on black lettering, lit by a gentle glow at the centre, is autotune visualised, a voice stripped of any personality and irregularity, perfect in its anonymity. When Laura runs into Highbury & Islington Underground in the hopes of finding the Morrigan, her yelled plea first becomes a large, disjointed word that cannot be contained by the balloon. Then, as she leaps onto the tracks and a train approaches, the word begins to layer on top of itself, each echo slightly displaced and giving the word the appearance that it is cracking apart, much like Laura’s life is at that moment.
Lettering
However, to bring it back to a recurring piece of stylisation (and one I’ve written about before), let’s look at the snapping finger sound effect that signifies the gods using their miraculous abilities. That jagged “KLLK”, like a thunderbolt cutting through the page, so small but carrying so much weight, has been deployed by various gods throughout the first five issues. Throughout, the sound of the snap remains uniform, but the letters are always jostled against each other in a slightly different way.

It’s only Ananke, in Lucifer’s final moments, who draws the noise out into a longer “KLLLK”. That sound effect, gently swooping with momentum, large on the page, with the final “K” swollen to devastating effect, is no mere click, but the sound of a coffin door slamming shut.

These tweaks and effects are tiny, but each choice helps build the mood and theme of the comic, and goes to demonstrate just how much Team WicDiv are all working in sync when it comes to the decisions that will dictate what we as readers will take from the page.

So let’s hear it for Mr Cowles, and all the other unsung heroes of lettering out there, weaving their steady-handed magic into the books we love. They are our modern scriptorium monks, toiling for hours to transform simple words into complex art.

                 

Baal, Hackney Wick, 18 December 2013
He is a god. If you didn't know it from the interviews, you would tonight.

In the beginning, there was darkness, and a hushed silence. Then chanting, like beatboxing, like a looping sample, and suddenly – Baal. Appearing on stage in a flash of lighting, holding the perfect pose in the momentary spotlight.

Baal has been on the scene for a matter of weeks, but he's already the biggest star in the world. Since then, it seems like Baal has played a show every single night, every one packed well beyond capacity. After all, there's high demand – and if you believe the PR buzz, supply is deeply limited. We get maybe a dozen more of these and then it's all over.

Everyone here certainly parties like they know that. The crowd is a roiling sea of flesh, all their lust pointed in one direction. A quick Google of his mythological namesake suggests that Baal's absence caused spells of drought. There's certainly no danger of that tonight.
Baal
...The setlist? No idea. Who cares? It's a night of screams fed through synths, of bass rumbles like thunderclaps, and of that feeling. Baal is simultaneously everything you wish you were, and everything you wish you weren't. He takes those urges you're least proud of, unearths them, and makes them feel bulletproof. Makes you feel bulletproof, like he is.

That's all that matters tonight, until suddenly we're back on the streets of East London, and it's the early hours, and we have no way of getting home, and none of us care.

                  
We'll be back in February, after the release of issue #8, to talk about 'Fandemonium'. In the meantime, here's how to find our heroes online:

Alex's ramblings can be found here at Alex-Spencer.co.uk. If you'd like him a little more succinct, his 'Words in Pictures' Tumblr features mini-essays on chunks of prose and comics. Want even more brevity? Catch him on Twitter @AlexJaySpencer.

Find Tim's blog at trivia-lad.blogspot.co.uk, where his piece on the semiotics of TW+TD's finger snaps first gave us the idea for this whole thing, on Twitter @trivia_lad, and even, if you think you can handle the sexiness, on Tumblr.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Tim + Alex Get TWATD #2.1: Luci, Bat for Lashes, Superheroes

Once again, we return.

Every ninety(ish) days, two handsome young writers return to this blog. They read the last three issues of The Wicked + The Divine, and they write three essays each. 

This time round, we're focusing on issues #4 and #5 - and as you might expect, there's a big focus on Laura and Luci's relationship. Spoilers abound.




Elegy for the Devil

In many ways, Luci was the apotheosis of Gillen/McKelvie characters – a morally ambiguous, razor-witted woman with mythical powers, fantastic fashion sense and an asymmetrical haircut. In her swaggering DNA, we can find the traces of Emily Aster, Loki, Astrid, Silent Girl, America Chavez and more.

Of course she had to die.

Even in the world of The Wicked + The Divine, gods are defined by their stories. After all, while the deities manifest for only two short years, their influence stretches far beyond that. Their role is to inspire, to trigger something lasting from their brief time on Earth, and that means leaving behind tales that will drive people to obsession and fanaticism.

They are defined by their stories – the ones they live, and the ones they leave. Woden must hang upon his tree. Minerva must enter the world fully formed. Lucifer must fall.

Luci

So what caused Luci to fall? One could point to a number of emotions, both those that track with classical depictions and those very much unique to the book’s setting and interpretation, but in the end, I think it comes down to fear.

Laura’s final visit to Luci’s cell, just before her escape, strips away all the illusions the character had held. She will be left to rot in jail for her sins until she dies, cut off from those who worship her, unable to wield any influence, alone and forsaken. Her fellow gods do not care if she is guilty or not, if she is a good person or bad, all that matters is that the (super)natural order is maintained.

There is no justice. She will die, and leave little trace upon the world.

It’s the throughline of the series, the Big Message Laser focused upon one character. Read that page as she comes to term with the news. Is that a tear she wipes away? We’ll never know. Look at the slow push McKelvie draws, boxing Luci in more and more.
“You’re told you’re going to die…and some part of you just defiantly doesn’t believe it.”
“It was never going to be okay.”
In the end, it isn’t fear of death that triggers Luci’s escape, and subsequent demise, it's fear of a death without meaning. It's dying without a chance to make an impact on the world, to write her name in fire and blood and headlines. The Wicked + The Divine isn’t just about death. It’s about what we do with the knowledge that death is coming. Lucifer has to fall, but she has to go to war with heaven first.

And of course, in those final moments, we see the young woman she originally was shine through, the one who doesn’t want to die before she’s 20. That small “Don’t”, a prayer and a plea against the inevitable. But then Lucifer is finally crowned with her halo, first one of fire, then one of blood, and her life comes to an end.

But her story? That will last a lot longer.

                  


More Than A Superstar

Bat for Lashes' Laura is a song about loss which also finds the time to toy with ideas of glamour and fame. If you've been listening to it as much as I have over the past few months, you may just about be able to spot some connections with The Wicked + The Divine.

There's a good reason for that. In the Writer's Notes for issue #1 of The Wicked + The Divine, Kieron Gillen says that Laura is one of the key songs – if not the key song – that inspired the series. It's where our cheery (currently not so much) fangirl protagonist got her name. It's the song Gillen posted on This Is My Jam the day issue #5 dropped.


“You're the train that crashed my heart/You're the glitter in the dark.”
The lyrics contain a pretty good summation of where we are at the end of #5 – I don't think it's much of a stretch so say that, in the film adaptation, it'd be the song that plays as that last scene fades to black – but it features a dark promise for the future, too:
 “Laura, you're more than a superstar/You'll be famous for longer than them.”
The end of issue #5 suggest that maybe Laura could take her place among the pop-pantheon. But the previous issues have also gone out of their way to establish that's she different from the gods. Their fate – infinite fame, very finite lifespans – was foisted upon them. Laura seems to be actively planning for it – no friends, no A-Levels, just a dream that makes everything else not worth living through.

Maybe Laura will fill one of the two remaining openings in that wheel of symbols, but I'd bet that if she achieves her dream – and it'll be interesting to see how much she still wants it all now she's has her first bitter taste of fame – it won't be as a god, omnipotent and disposable, but something else. Something more, according to the prophecy of Laura.

In order to rise above your influences and become something truly great in your own right, you have to kill your idols, as the saying goes. The downside of that, of course, being that your idols end up rather dead.
“You say that they've all left you behind/Your heart broken, the poverty died.”
We'll see how that one pans out.

                  

Every Superhero Needs His Theme Music

It was the suit that did it.

Jamie McKelvie has an immense talent for costume design (one only has to look at how many of his creations have become cosplay mainstays) and in particular for style choices that render a character iconic without placing them in an actual costume. From David Kohl’s black, black and more black to America Chavez’s star motif, he has an astounding understanding of what makes a character instantly identifiable.

For Lucifer in The Wicked + The Divine, it was her flawless white suit, and as Luci battled Baal and Sakhmet in issue #5, I noted that, while Baal’s suit was burnt away, Luci’s remained unblemished, with nary a scorch, scratch or blood splatter, until the moment of her death.

In the real world, suits carry all sorts of meaning, but in the world of superhero comics, suits tend to mean one thing – villains. Heroes who wear suits are thin and far-between, and are almost always morally ambiguous in some way, from the paranoid Question to the autocratic Jack Hawksmoor. Meanwhile, villains in suits include Lex Luthor, Kingpin and about half of Batman’s rogues gallery.

But wait. All this oh-so-clever of tailoring semiotics is irrelevant – The Wicked + The Divine isn’t a superhero comic.

Is it?

WicDiv Supes

Looking at certain sections of #5, one could be mistaken for thinking otherwise. Baal and Sakhmet’s assault on Luci is pure Marvel Comics kineticism, albeit with a better fashion sense – check out how Baal’s initial impact is powerful enough to send rubble flying across the panel borders.

It’s a dramatic shift from the relatively restrained power struggles and personal drama of earlier issues, but we can see the first traces of this development when Luci first reveals her powers. That Ben-Day Dot effect is like the more stylised world of traditional superhero comics pushing through into this serious examination of mortality, belief and the relationship between art, artists and fans. Whenever the gods use their powers, some of that sense of the fantastic leaks into the world.

When Luci decides not to play by the rules established by Ananke and the other gods of the pantheon, she also breaks to rules governing the conventions of the book’s genre. Flaunting her powers and drawing Baal and Sakhmet into a public conflict takes the book from a supernatural drama that sits comfortably in the mold of Vertigo or modern Image to something a lot closer to the overblown struggles of Marvel or DC.

This shift in genre also alters how the characters work. When the gods are playing at being artists and pop stars, tied down by constraints and ceremony, their morality and differing roles are a mess of grey tones, filled with ambiguity. When they embrace their divine heritage and show the world (and the readers) what they are truly capable of, the lines seem more clearly drawn. Lucifer becomes a villain on the rampage (she has, after all, killed at least two men, escaped from custody and set a chunk of north London on fire) while Baal is the hero trying to bring her march of destruction to an end.

It all comes back to the suit. Blood smeared across her face, echoing Bowie’s Aladdin Sane and the Joker in equal measure, Luci could have walked out of the pages of a Big Two crossover. Meanwhile, Baal’s suit (in a heroic tone of primary red) is burnt away to reveal his superhuman abs and the Shazam-esque necklace hanging prominently over his chest like an emblem.

In this moment, as they unfurl their true nature and demonstrate their miraculous might, they are far beyond human. They are icons and archetypes, bringing the fire of the fantastic to the mundane mortal world. Sound familiar?

                  

Next time on Tim + Alex Get TWATD: Suit up. The Prismatic Age of pop. Words on words on words.

Our second set of essays should be going up next week. But if you can't wait that long, here's how to find our heroes online:

Alex's ramblings can be found here at Alex-Spencer.co.uk. If you'd like him a little more succinct, his 'Words in Pictures' Tumblr features mini-essays on chunks of prose and comics. Want even more brevity? Catch him on Twitter @AlexJaySpencer.

Find Tim's blog at trivia-lad.blogspot.co.uk, where his piece on the semiotics of TW+TD's finger snaps first gave us the idea for this whole thing, on Twitter @trivia_lad, and even, if you think you can handle the sexiness, on Tumblr.

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Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.