Friday, 14 November 2014

Tim + Alex Get TWATD #2.2: 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.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Words in Pictures, in Words

Once upon a time, I strayed from this blog, and set up a Tumblr. It's now defunct because eventually I wasn't unemployed, but it was a whirlwind romance while it lasted. For some reason, I've decided to do it again. Meet Words in Pictures.

It's a photographic scrapbook of all the tastiest morsels of novels, journalism, comics and anything else that could conceivably be said to feature 'words', each with an accompanying short essay. To give you an idea of what looks like in practice, here are five of my favourite things I've written so far:

Some cards from Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game
"Imagine a Cylon came into power. Imagine they managed to work out another player was secretly a fellow evil-bot, and made their position unimpeachable while they openly sabotaged the game…
Are you starting to see it? That beautiful, complex knotted shape? This is the game in its perfect form."
Read the rest here

A Passage from Rachel Edidin's "Hey, White Americans. We Need to Talk."
"With every protest or riot or strike, public sympathy often seems to lie with what pop-culture always taught me was The Man: they've broken laws, it's their own fault, they're just being lazy, being greedy, they've inconvenienced me personally. I'm far too timid for revolution (or, hell, even for probing people's reactions in a way that might make them uncomfortable enough to change their minds) but I worry that this is just the system's antibodies at work."
Read the rest here

Two Panels from Grant Morrison's JLA: Rock of Ages


"You can see the world as Lex does, with him as the hero. It’s a very different reading of the Superman story (oh yeah, that blue thing is Superman – ’90s superhero comics everybody!), but it’s one that sticks in the mind. What if all Superman comics are actually pro-Kryptonian propaganda? What if we don’t want to be overseen, which after all is really just another word for ‘watched’?"

Read the rest here

A Passage from Andrew Hickey's An Incomprehensible Condition

"Rather than performing a close reading of Morrison’s comic, Hickey manages to reproduce the feeling of it by being smarter than the reader by just enough, cutting between ideas just fast enough, that you can still just about follow. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind to Thomas the Rhymer to Isaac Newton to golem myths to M-theory. It’s dizzying, mimetic criticism."
Read the rest here

A Passage from Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test
"It’s utterly convincing when, for example, Bob Hare tells you psychopaths are practically a second species hiding among us like Cylons. Then you turn to the next chapter, and encounter a completely contradictory perspective, and are won over by that one too. They all kind of plaster over one another, giving The Psychopath Test the texture of a palimpsest."
Read the rest here

Monday, 22 September 2014

What I'm Playing: Hitman Go

I dedicated the last four posts of What I'm Playing to an attempt at figuring out what makes a good mobile game. 

And then the very next game I played was another mobile game which didn't fit into the grand pattern I'd mapped out for the posts. Such are the dangers of trying to write honestly about every game you play, I suppose.

Hitmango (6)
Hitmango isn't a game about the popularity of tropical fruits, sadly, but a mobile adaption of the popular games franchise about leading professional killer, baldie and hide-and-seek champion Agent 47.

Before I drop in a screenshot, let's talk about the first thing you're going to notice about Hitmango. Namely, how uniquely gorgeous it is. A few months back, I talked about how Hearthstone went out of its way to imitate a physical card game, but Hitmango goes further still.

In an attempt to distill the Hitman formula down into something that will fit on the small screen, it miniaturises the whole thing – the disguises, distractions and player-engineered deathtraps – and turns it into a board game.

Hitmango (4)

From the game-box loading screens to the plaque on the wooden bezel of each level, this is something you could imagine turning over in your hands. Or admiring the craftsmanship of the sculpted figurines that stand in for 47 and his targets, like a tourist gawping at one of those elaborate mechanical clocks in a German town square.

Hitmango plays like a board game too. You move your piece along a set track, one marker at a time, and then your opponent – in this case, an AI-controlled squad of bodyguards – takes their move. Just like clockwork.

Which is to say, smooth and well put together, but a bit stiff and mechanical too. Hitmango almost feels like it's satirising the lack of choice offered by most games – how, for example, a lot of stealth games is just watching for the gap in a routine patrol pattern. But if taking a Bioshock-style jab at the illusion of autonomy genuinely is the intention here, the Hitman franchise is an odd place for it.

Hitmango (1)

The Hitman games have always thrived on giving players as much choice as possible. Do you want to put a bullet in your target from a rooftop half a mile away, or pose as a waiter and slip poison into their caviar? While Hitmango recreates these actions, it puts them quite literally on rails.

Being fair, there are some choices to be made here. Each level has additional achievements, which are often mutually exclusive – kill everyone, kill no one – to encourage replaying, but this only highlights how narrow the perfect solution is. Too often, the answer is bouncing back and forth between two squares a maddening number of times, until a guard's patrol slips out of sequence.

In a way, Hitmango is more like a handsomely-furnished Threes than any of the other installments in the Hitman series, and I'll give the same disclaimer as I did in my blog on that: maybe it's just a failing of my brain.

Hitmango (7)

Here's the thing, though. There's a bonus pack which which adapt possibly the series' high watermark: the Blood Money level 'Curtains Down'. Taking down two targets in a theatre, Agent 47 switches a prop gun for a real one, then watches from the balcony as an actor accidentally executes your mark, firing the remote min he's stuck on a chandelier at just the right moment to crush the another.

It's a moment of memorably inventive violence which Hitmango faithfully reproduces, but it doesn't have the tool set to replicate its thrills. After all, the joy wasn't in merely watching these assassinations play out. It was the knowledge that you could have just charged in with a sub-machine gun instead, the feeling that you'd discovered these alternatives yourself.

In Hitmango, these aren't choices. They're mandatory checkpoints you drag your Agent 47 figurine towards. You're not a genius professional killer earning his million-dollar bonus; you're a competent snakes-and-ladders player.

Hitmango (5)


Other games what I've been playing:

Monday, 1 September 2014

Tim + Alex Get TWATD #1.2: Sex, Icons, God is a DJ

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. In two years, they'll probably still be doing this.

Welcome back to Tim + Alex Get TWATD.



                  

The Monarchs of Fuck

For a series whose core theme is the inevitability of death (as we discussed last time), The Wicked + The Divine spends a lot of time concerned with art’s other great motivator: sex.

The gods, as befits their largely pre-Christian origins, seem like they can’t get enough of it. While Inanna and Sakhmet (with her lifeless, drained entourage) are highlighted by Cassandra as the most prolific of the gods in this sense, we also have Woden’s “army of ethnic mono-cultured valkyrie fuck buddies”; Baphomet and The Morrigan’s Sid-and-Nancy-esque relationship; and Luci, who seems to have tangled with most of the pantheon, and flirts relentlessly with Laura. Even Amaterasu, relative paragon of purity and wholesomeness, causes fans to orgasm with joy at her concerts.

And then we have Laura, our window on the world, Virgil to our Dante. Laura is presented as neither virginally pure (she knows her way around an orgasm, it seems) nor particularly sexually experienced (she’s blindsided by Luci’s flirting). She is, in other words, your typical teen, surrounded by images of sex but not truly engaged with it yet. The gods are both her peers (in terms of age) and her idols, and are hyper-sexual in the way the world is when you are just 17.

Luci's Tongue

However, while the gods may talk the talk, we’re yet to see them walk the walk. The book isn’t exactly rated T for Teen (exploding heads, c-bombs, etc), but has so far shied away from any direct depictions of sex, graphic or otherwise. The sexuality of the gods is both everywhere and nowhere, inescapable yet entirely abstract. We can infer the kind of kinky hijinx Luci’s been up to or The Morrigan and Baphomet’s room-trashing passion, but so far it’s all been kept behind closed doors.

Sidenote: it’s worth pointing out that while Laura has been in close proximity to five different gods (or seven, depending on how you view The Morrigan) so far, her only moment of flesh-on-flesh contact with one is giving her hand to Lucifer when they first meet (and if that doesn’t strike you as ominous, you’re not paying enough attention).

The sexual nature of the gods is, at least in these first three issues, for our own interest, rather than theirs. It may be graphically detailed, but it’s there to fuel our speculation and our fantasy. The only hint of an actual stable relationship (Baal’s boyfriend) is noted as being “off-brand”. Just like real pop stars, the sexuality of the gods is there to tease, just another product for our consumption.

                  


Icona Pop

The last work from 'Team Phonogram' (Gillen/McKelvie/Wilson) was 2013's Young Avengers, a superhero comic for Marvel which attempted a whole bunch of things and succeeded at most of them. But my single favourite thing about the series was undoubtedly the promise of a double-page spread every issue. Fight scenes were rendered as diagrams or montages or some new eye-popping idea, every month, guaranteed. Comics as a Michel Gondry pop video.

So I was disappointed to hear they wouldn't be bringing the same approach to The Wicked + The Divine. Three issues in, though, it's pretty clear that these visual experiments haven't been abandoned .

I could point to the introduction of The Morrigan, probably the nearest direct relative to YA's visual setpieces. Two circular panels, at opposite corners of a double-page spread, are linked by a black flurry of crow shapes, thick enough to become an abstract shape. All other panels are knocked off their axis or even pushed off the page as reality is bent.


Morrigan 2

But I reckon The Wicked + The Divine's real visual achievement lies in a repeating set of much simpler elements.

Look at those covers. The portraits overlaid with text are reminiscent of the trend for movie posters that looked like the Social Network's, but here the concept is pared back as far as it will go. The covers are supremely confident – of how compelling a McKelvie-drawn face can be, and of the mystery of the pop-gods' identities. That confidence is not unfounded.

The covers are comfortably iconic enough that The Wicked + The Divine's interiors start playing with them from the very first page, echoing the face of Luci or Laura (depending on which version you picked up) with a big ol' skull in the exact same proportions – a trick issue #3 repeated with The Morrigan's head.

Look at the use of black. For four pages, as Laura takes a journey into London's underground, issue #2 almost turns into an illustrated prose story, each page featuring a single quarter-size piece of art and a smattering of words carefully on a sheer black canvas. In issue #3, they push it even further, beginning with black panel borders which eventually overwhelm the whole page. There's one entirely image-free page with just ten words on it, and I've stared at it probably longer than any other.

Like sensory deprivation, these sections highlight what's great about each element of the creative team in isolation – the rhythm of Gillen's narration emphasised by the room it's given, Clayton Cowles' ever-so-slightly-organic letterforms bringing Laura's chatty diarist voice to life, McKelvie's compositions toying with negative space to create a believable sense of place, Matt Wilson lighting these sets moodily to lead us down from the pinkish surface to the deep blues of the underworld – before bringing the band triumphantly back together for the end of the issue.

Look at those diagrammatic scene breaks. Iconic in the simplest sense of the word, the symbols on these pages act like a wordless 'Previously on...'. They tell us that there are 10 gods who have recurred, and that this leaves two spots to be filled, they imply a connection between factions of gods, they even encourage the readers to deduce who's who. Taken individually, each symbol is its own invitation to pick a favourite, doodle their sigil in class, get a tattoo.

If Young Avengers' spreads were superhero comics as pop videos, The Wicked + The Divine's design elements lean closer to the album cover – the kind of image that people might want on a t-shirt or a poster, even if they're not into the source material.

In a way, I needn't have written this piece. Look around the rest of the page, and you'll find our response to the unique look of The Wicked + The Divine. It feels ready-made for fandom, a DIY borrow-if-you-like visual language, and that's exactly what we've done. We haven't found a way to incorporate the black yet but we will. Oh, we will.

                  

Woden’t It Be Nice

As someone who spent a large chunk of his boyhood cultivating an interest in classical myth, it’s been fascinating watching Gillen, McKelvie et al reimagine the gods of The Recurrence for the 21st Century and weave the connective tissue between their ancient exploits and the pop archetypes they are made to inhabit. The teasing insights we’ve been offered into the gods we have yet to encounter have got my speculation engines working at maximum capacity, and none more so than Woden, AKA Wotan, AKA Odin, the Allfather, king of the Æsir, patriarch of the Norse gods.

Reinterpreted as a modern music icon, the most obvious genre for Woden is, of course, heavy metal. Between Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, Scandinavia’s clutch of church-burning, Norse-iconography-appropriating black metal groups and the fury and bombast associated with the Norse pantheon, Woden seems like the easiest god to assign to an archetype. However, I want to offer an alternative interpretation, based on what we’ve seen in the issues so far – Woden as the superstar DJ.

One of the first mentions we get of Woden is in issue #2, when Cassandra brings up that many of the gods are planning to socialise at his 'Valhalla', which she doesn’t seem too fond of. So far, he’s the only god who seems to have a close association with a fixed location – a home base, so to speak. Given that all the gods are manifesting as musical acts, it seems only logical that Valhalla is a venue, and while there are of course exceptions to the rule, nowadays the most likely acts to have strong ties to a particular place are DJs. Bands and artists have to tour, but a DJ can cultivate a following just by spinning at the same club every Friday night.

Issue #3 also mentions Woden that permanently wears a mask of some kind, and not the metaphorical kind. This could of course be in the Slipknot/Lordi/Gwar vein, but ask most young people today to name a musical star who wears a mask, and the most common answer is likely to be Daft Punk or Deadmau5.

Woden

And then we have Woden’s 'valkyries', who are implied to have somehow been transformed into something beyond human by Woden, and whom Laura has seen in concert on multiple occasions. There’s DNA from Phil Spector’s various girl groups there, but a more contemporary comparison would be a DJ with a rotating cast of guest vocalists, each one elevated to stardom for a single track before they’re thrown aside.

There are mythological arguments to be made too – the Æsir were a pretty hard-partying bunch, and Woden, perhaps more than any other gods we’ve met so far, needs a kingdom to rule over like a DJ commands the floor. Woden is often torn between his nature as a frenzied warrior (read: hardcore partier) and his role as a wise master of spells (detached overseer of the dancefloor).

Plus, in myth, Valhalla was the home of the ‘glorious dead’, and if there’s a better term for a gang of club kids staggering home at 5am, I haven’t heard it.

                 

Tim + Alex will return in November to discuss issues #4-6 of The Wicked + The Divine. Missing them already?

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.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Tim + Alex Get TWATD #1.1: Death, Parents, Needle Dicks


This is the high concept behind The Wicked + The Divine, the latest Image comic from Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson.
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.
Welcome to Tim + Alex Get TWATD. Each set of essays will be broken into two posts, to save our wrists and your eyes. We might be doing close readings of particular scenes or panels, picking out a theme or character that's caught our attention, or just speculating wildly. Spoilers will be everywhere, so if you haven't read the comics yet, avert your eyes or, better yet, grab them and come back later.
In two years, they'll probably still be doing this. The idiots.

              

“But not yet.”

You know, given that its very first page is dominated by a skull, and the majority of its cast's lives have a guaranteed expiration date of two years' time, The Wicked + The Divine has actually shown a remarkably light touch when it comes to mortality.

In the opening pages of #1, which take us back to 1923 and the era's own set of deities, we get a preview of the gods' inevitable fate. Eight have already been reduced to the aforementioned skulls, and a couple of pages later, we see the explosive murder-suicide of the remaining four. But their demises don't weigh too heavily on us – they're not characters we've had time to get invested in, despite their wonderful Jazz Age designs – nor, it seems, on their 21st Century counterparts.

Over in 2014, Amaterasu (aka 17-year-old Hazel Greenaway) is asked about her imminent demise by the comic's resident cynic, Cassandra. There is a regretful pause, a moment of wonderfully-drawn sadness in Ammy's big brown eyes, before she pretty much shrugs it off:

There are a few possible reasons for all this:
  1. They're teenagers. Do you remember being 17? The threat of dying before 20 feels more like a promise. Amaterasu's reaction is pretty much this.
  2. They're also kind of immortal. After all, that elegant set up makes two promises: You will die. But, in some sense, you'll be back, long after everyone else here is gone. It's just like pop music – I can just about conceive that Prince Rogers Nelson will one day die. But Prince, the artist previously known as an unpronounceable symbol? He's not going anywhere.
  3. They're too busy making the most of being not-dead. Creation is these gods' main business, both in the artistic being-popstars sense and the procreational one. Based on Luci's accounting in issue #3, pretty much the whole pantheon has touched pelvises. (More on that from Tim in our next set of essays.)
  4. Simple dramatic license. If The Wicked + The Divine was wall-to-wall moping about the gaping abyss (and not the kind Badb is taking about), it'd be about as much fun as hanging out in a funeral home. Besides, with a promised run of 30-40 issues, the comic has plenty of time to reach that point yet.
In fact, the one time so far that the comic has really pushed the issue – with a pure black page, lit only by the refrain “We're all going to die” – it came from the gods' music. (The two-page sequence being, as far as I can tell, a particularly abstract way of depicting the trance-like state of a perfect gig.)

It's a performance, and it's the message Baphomet and the Morrigan choose to send to the outside world. So it's probably telling that the sequence ends with three more words, lighting the darkness and breaking the rhythm: “But not yet.”
              

Won’t Somebody Think of the Grown-Ups?

The Wicked + The Divine is a series with its eye fixed firmly on the young.

Laura, our entry point into the story, is 17. The gods and goddesses are, at most, in their early 20s. Apart from the elderly and possibly immortal Ananke, the only major character that could rent a car in the US is Cassandra, who is old enough to have a Masters degree, but young enough to still be annoyed about her student loans. That said, one group of adults is very conspicuous in their absence – the parents.

Laura’s parents are both seen and heard, and her interactions with them root her as a 'normal' figure caught up in the supernatural events of the Recurrence. In issue #2 we are presented with a portrait of their normality, as the family sits around the television watching Baal’s interview. Laura’s father gently prods at his daughter’s affection for the gods, her mother prevents it escalating beyond good-natured familial banter. In issue #3, we see the consequences of Laura being caught (quite literally) at the Morrigan’s gig, and the ensuing row, again a picture of normal teenage life.

In contrast, we have the parents of the gods. Amaterasu is 17, Lucifer maybe a couple of years older. Minerva is only 12. It’s common knowledge that the gods live for a maximum of two years after they are awoken. Where are their mortal parents, lamenting their childrens’ inevitable early deaths? Or, given that we’re also dealing with pop stars and the modern cults of celebrity, where are the parents desperately trying to edge their way into their child’s spotlight, barely acknowledging their foretold doom? Granted, we’ve only had three issues, and the plot has been moving at a fair tick, but we've already had our attention drawn to the empty seats at the family table.

Lucifer’s parents (or rather the parents of the girl who became Lucifer) are twice referenced. First in Cassandra’s interview, where she conjures a picture of Luci discovering Bowie in her parents’ “embarrassingly retro record collection”, and then again when Luci regales Laura with the tale of her transformation into a god, while her parents “were out at some awful Britpop covers band”. If her parents are at the court hearing in issue #1, they never make their presence known, even when Luci is being tackled by bailiffs. Where are they, and what do they make of their young daughter suddenly declaring herself the Lord of Flies?

Of course, there’s another way to look at this. If anyone would have an absent parent who remains caught in the past, reliving their faded glories, oblivious to the damage their child is causing, it should probably be Lucifer...

              

The Baphomet Problem

Our gods so far: Luci(fer). A gender-flipped Bowie/Satan figure, dropping acidic soundbites like they were carpet bombs. Love her. Amaterasu. A young, even-more-divine Kate Bush who makes her fans leak from the trousers at gigs. Love her. Sakhmet. S&M-era Rihanna turned literal sex kitten. How could I not love her? The Morrigan. Three-in-one none-more-goth queen. Love her.

And Baphomet. Hmmmmm.

Maybe it's the look. Leather jacket, chains, mirrored aviators, animal skulls... Baphomet is the rare Jamie McKelvie costume design I wouldn't want to cosplay as. Even those exposed abs, against the dirtier crosshatching-in-every-corner world McKelvie and colourist Matt Wilson have conjured up, come off a bit Ken-doll.

Look at the texture of the first two panels below, the visual noise obscuring and framing Baphomet. Then he clicks his fingers, reveals himself – and everything goes a bit shiny.

Baphomet 2

Or maybe it's that I'm just not a fan of the musical archetypes Baphomet draws from. There's the swagger of a thousand cock-rock frontmen in his hips, some Sisters of Mercy, the hyperbole of early Manics, Nick Cave at his murder-horniest. None of them are really my thing.

Baphomet certainly falls into a character archetype I'm fond of, though: the kind of arrogant male Kieron Gillen writes so well. In his Uncanny X-Men, Namor is Kanye West's Power incarnate (I guess every superhero needs his theme music). Phonogram's David Kohl is a swinging dick of a human being who introduces himself with the Afghan Whigs' Be Sweet.

You get the impression that going to bed with Kohl or Namor, as much as you might regret it the next day, would be worth it. To quote the Atlantean king himself: “Only Namor has the ability to make the Earth move. And he reserves that privilege for one woman at a time.” David Kohl was recently named 'Babe of the Month'. Baphomet, on the other hand, is apparently blessed with a “needle dick”.

And then it struck me. It doesn't actually seem like the comic has much love for Baphomet either. Maybe this is the correct response. After all, he's introduced in a final-page splash – which, in the language of superhero comics (like Gillen/McKelvie/Wilson's last collaboration, Marvel's Young Avengers), tends to mean the reveal of our villain.

Like the real-life Top 40, The Wicked + The Divine is populated by charismatic problematic people. Luci's apparent desire to have sex with underage groupies is quickly forgiven amongst all the crowd-pleasing one liners and the humanising moment of her framing at the end of issue #1.

There's no real attempt to redeem Baphomet. When we first mee him, he's clutching the apparently severed head of a much-anticipated female character. Soon afterwards, he sets fire to a policeman and makes a speedy exit, leaving Laura and the Morrigan to face the consequences.

Given the brilliantly seductive dicks Gillen has written in the past, it's probably worth paying attention to the fact that Baphomet is the first male god we've been introduced to. In fact, he's the first male character in this series to get more than a couple of lines, and not shot/exploded/set on fire, and he's a total prick.

              

Next time on Tim + Alex Get TWATD: 
Laura, she's more than a superstar. Let's talk about sex, Badb. They're right and crazy pretentious!

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.