This article contains mild spoilers. Although technically issue #23 started off the next “phase” of The Wicked + The Divine, titled “Imperial Phase,” issue #24 feels more like a proper start—a fact that’s both good and slightly annoying.
Despite not much happening plot-wise, the issue gives us a grand amount of “where we are now” exposition via character interaction in the first half of the issue. Minerva, Baal, Persephone, and Sakhmet are all probably living in the same building—Amaterasu might be as well, though the narration never makes it clear. The majority of the gods are on good terms with each other, with the always exception of everybody’s least favorite god Woden. Persephone and Baal are in an open relationship—I have a feeling this was more Persephone’s idea than Baal’s as Persephone is shown kissing Amaterasu and sleeping with Sakhmet, while Minerva outright states that Baal isn’t over Inanna. Nothing about this relationship is healthy and the creative team knows it: most tellingly, Persephone’s expression goes from a sad look to an angry sneer as Minerva claims her emotionally detached shtick is hurting Baal, telling Persephone to “Be more like Inanna.” As for Morrigan, Dionysus and Baphomet? Who knows where they are. Probably waiting for issue #25 before they show up.
Minerva is the real MVP of the issue. Through her conversation with Persephone, Minerva proves her status as the goddess of wisdom, but also the goddess of common sense, the goddess of caring for Baal, and the goddess of not being a massive hormonal mess (because lest we forget, all our characters are teenagers and twenty-somethings.) It’s a wonderful addition to a character whose personality previously boiled down to “cute kid” and “perpetually kidnapped.”
The rest of the issue is devoted to Urdr and Persephone teaming up to attempt to figure out the inner workings of Ananke’s murder machine, with Woden showing up to provide attempted blackmail. The issue comes to a close as Persephone attempts to do something very rash—our poor girl’s putting a LITTLE TOO MUCH STOCK into her moniker of “the Destroyer,” only further showing how badly she’s coping with her life post-godhood. All of Persephone’s actions are dangerously reckless as she continues on her exceedingly rash path of ill-advised actions. This is a girl who’s trying to convince herself that she simply does not care.
The small touches are where the issue shines. A beautiful shot of Persephone’s phone shows that Amaterasu is an all-caps drunk texter, Urdr uses emoticons and, in a slightly heart-breaking fashion, Urdr is listed as Cass in Persephone’s contacts. It’s a subtle reminder of Urdr and Persephone’s pre-godhood friendship as Cassandra and Laura, and a touch showing that for all her bluster, Persephone still has a hard time giving up parts of her pre-godhood life. Jamie McKelvie’s art is in top form, especially with just-woken up Persephone, who has a hilarious amount of bedhead and abs so hard you could bounce a quarter off of them. Likewise, Matt Wilson’s colors are lush and vibrant, a perfect complement to the art.
Overall, The Wicked + The Divine #24 is a good start to Imperial Phase (and a good catching-on point for new readers), even if it’s a slow one. Plot is sacrificed for character development and establishing the lives of the characters in this post-Ananke world. However, some of the lesser-known characters don’t really get their due. Likewise, for the start of a story arc that writer Kieron Gillen describes in the letter columns as “creative self-indulgence,” it’s oddly restrained. Still, this is the first issue in a multi-issue arc. Hopefully the next issues live up to that promise.