“If you exist, you’re staring at me.”: The Wicked + The Divine, Issue Thirteen

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THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #13 IMAGE COMICS
ARTIST: TULA LOTAY WRITER: KIERON GILLEN
BONUS ART: JAMIE MCKELVIE & MATTHEW WILSON LETTERER: CLAYTON COWLES
DESIGNER: SERGIO SERRANO EDITOR: CHRISSY WILLIAMS

(Spoilers!)

Compared to many forms of media, comic books (and books in general) have one feature many can’t advocate: immersion. When you’re reading a comic, you have to hold it in your hand, to study it, to linger on it, to briefly become part of it. As more and more comics go digital, one would think that feature would unfortunately fade- but not if the creators of The Wicked + The Divine are going to help it. With guest artist Tula Lotay, Kieron Gillen and the rest of Team WicDiv spend this month’s issue exploring the elusive Tara, previously unseen- and with it they present a terrifying, somber look at our world today, particularly the natures of fandom and social media, using a number of clever formatting tricks to truly help us understand who Tara is.

Tara has always come off in other character’s commentary as petty and self-centered, as someone who rarely appeared and who did things even the consistently over the top Pantheon thought ridiculous. Here, we see a much different image. Starting the issue with a POV shot from her perspective, we’re immediately taken deep into her mind as she spills with us some of her life’s defining moments, from being catcalled on the street as an eleven-year-old to the moment she gained her abilities. Even though the latter moment is the first time an ascension to godhood is shown from an outside perspective, its otherworldly, nightmarish nature only helps us relate to Tara more. It emphasizes the parts of godhood and celebrity the comic hasn’t delved into before: the idea of suddenly having your life upended, and having a billion eyes staring at you non-stop. Previously, we’ve seen being in the Pantheon as mostly splendid, up until your untimely end- but for Tara, it was anything but. Tula Lotay also emphasizes this with her portrayal of Ananke. Despite the fact that Tara professes to adoring Ananke, we readers know better, and Lotay thusly draws her as a terrifying, inhuman figure, with glowing eyes and bathed in bleeding colors. While each guest artist on this arc will certainly bring their own take to the Pantheon, Lotay’s Ananke may be the definitive take on the character: truly a monster, covered in lopsided skin.

Capture

And of course the most horrifying, and most brutally effective way, we get into Tara’s head is through the issue’s examination of misogyny’s relationship with celebrity. Taking obvious inspiration from incidents from the last few years such as the leaking of multiple celebrity nudes and Gamergate, we see how the world’s view of Tara has pushed her to the limit. Even seemingly milder scenes have a punch to them; when Tara goes to have dinner with the rest of the Pantheon, for example, Woden’s outwardly friendly greeting of “Looking good, girl” goes from natural to disgusting when you process the reasons why Woden (already established as misogynistic) said it. The issue’s crowning moment in this regardis a double-page spread of Tara’s Twitter @ mentions. A mess of racism, misogyny, sexual harassment and open threats, Kieron Gillen has stated that writing it was “horrible” and that he hoped readers wouldn’t read through the whole thing. The most devastating thing about it is its searing realism. Not only will many of the words in these tweets be recognizable to people who followed the previously mentioned categories, but the page is set up so that you’re hopefully reading it the same way Tara is, turning your tablet to the side to read it. It’s an entirely new level of stepping into a character’s shoes, one that wouldn’t have been possible before the advent of digital comics, one so effective that it may completely justify the growing process of transferring the normally print medium to tech. For many readers, including myself, reading the page may have been an exercise in seeing if something, anything, of those tweets was positive- but even the tweets seemingly encouraging Tara focus only on her “beautiful” appearance, rather than the art she wants so badly to share. It’s a reflection of how so many of the world’s famous actresses and musicians are appreciated for and judged by their appearance and behavior rather than their work, and exposes not just the hypocrisy of that but the inhumanity of it. By placing ourselves in Tara’s shoes, we readers realize we are complicit in her status- both by laughing and joining in on the “fucking Tara” gag in previous issues, and in any ways we’ve treated preforming women in the past in our own lives.

The Wicked + The Divine has always been cruel, but this issue is by far its cruelest, both on the level of the gods and the level of humans. Tara’s death, unlike Luci and Inanna’s, wasn’t founded on their godhood; it was founded on her humanity, and her knowledge that being in the Pantheon was far from worth it. More than ever, readers can understand why the recurrence is inherently flawed; it takes young people with their lives ahead of them and puts them in an impossible situation that none of them are equipped for. It forces us to look not just at the horror of WicDiv‘s world, but the horror of ours- horror that causes girls just like Tara to keep their expressions and art to themselves, when that work could enrich us.

EXTRA NOTES: 

  • I’d like to reinstate how gorgeous Tula Lotay’s art is, as well as how versatile it is. This issue is, due to its highly personal flashbacks, one of WicDiv‘s most grounded, but it also does an excellent job with the inhumanity of Ananke and Tara’s situation. One way Lotay does this is through her line art, which is both colorful and crayon-like rather than firm- it lets it vary from soft to surreal easily.
  • Apparently the Norns don’t hang out with the rest of the Pantheon (makes sense), but Dionysus has also dropped off the map due to anger over Morri’s treatment. It’d be interesting to see what his parties are like right now.
  • “Only god can judge me. And I am that god.”
  • On a serious note about Baal, I like how this issue emphasizes his negative qualities- over time he’s been softened to us readers, but it’s interesting to see the initial impression we got of him is still in many ways valid.
  • “I could eat them?” “Yes, we know you could…” I can’t wait for the Sahkmet issue.
  • I don’t usually read comics on a tablet, but I just happened to read this issue early during my lunch break and had to use my iPad. Thank god I did, because it worked so well for emphasizing the effect of the DPS.
  • The fact that Tara thinks Ananke is her only friend, and dies doing the performance she hates, makes her death even more heartbreaking and disturbing.
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