Regular readers of the blog have probably seen Erin’s close readings of Bitch Planet or our series on Once Upon a Time last season. Lifting at all the corners and plucking at all the threads is just part of how we enjoy things. So it might not have been much of a surprise when I collected my annotations for WicDiv #15 last month.
If you’re into this sort of thing, you can also check out Multiversity Comics’ annotations for the first twelve issues. Author Kieron Gillen publishes notes for each issue. And I’ll be doing panel by panel breakdowns of this month’s issue as time permits.
My annotations for issue sixteen were interrupted by travel, a conference, and holidays, but I finally managed to collect them into another monster post. This time it’s only a little over 4500 words. There are all kinds of spoilers beyond the jump.
Cover A: Jamie McKelvie
-standard format for the arc: 2/3 body shot with quarter inch margin and 4.5″ title circle with alternative palette
The Morrigan appears in grays and greens while the alternative palette is the blue black of photo negatives, The pose itself is reminiscent of our first encounter with Badb in issue #3, except in reverse.
Cover B: Leila Del Duca
The alternative cover depicts the Morrigan hovering protective and comforting over a detached Baphomet. The touch of pink in the grey palette softens and humanizes the pair. She gazes straight out at the reader, like she did the first time we saw her.
Bap looks gloomily down and away. His open, passive hand creates a tension between acceptance and rejection. The alternative covers for the arc are sharply on point.
Inner Front Cover
The logos are the same as the rest of the arc. No coloration or alteration. Lucifer is finally exonerated in the summary. It’s a small thing, but it’s a big thing. Woden, despite only kind of being an accessory, is now a codefendant.
The plot takeaway from last issue is apparently Ananke’s announcement of a coming war with a child of darkness…
“Hello, I’m Pantheon power player Baal. You may remember me from such issues as twelve, thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen. I’m… aw f*** me.”
That moment when you realize that you’re the star of the arc.
This panel is the page. The layout was used with specific intent last issue but it’s every bit as effective in this one, providing a sense of interiority for the other panels. The pages where we get blank gutters are probably going to be the novel ones.
The opening page is always dense and intense. That staircase, for example, is a spiral. So we’ve got a further up and further in thing going on. Rising dramatic tension and a look deeper inside. In this case, inside the Morrigan,
Baal’s carrying a food tray because they want you to eat when you ascend just like they do when you descend. And it’s a classic prison break trope, which we’ll see borne out on the final page.
Minerva’s literally doing everything she can here to give Baal control. Working him with posture and rhetoric.
Eyeliner-made-of-eyes is gross, but no less so than the popular rumor it probably derives from: that eyeliner is made of guano.
A notable contrast between twelve and thirteen. Gods, years…
She’s not like us. Like whom, exactly? Because Lucifer wasn’t…
You know what, lets just say all cthonic gods…
The Morrigan isn’t always associated with the underworld, but this one is explicitly. It’s just that us gets smaller every time someone brings it up.
Minerva is a Libra. Gillen doesn’t answer every ask, but he chose to answer this one. Fans have already decried the project, but…
Baal – Aries
Bap – Capricorn
This works on Baal every time. As long as they’re alone. She’s too clever to try it on the others. It’s okay to say, “Awwww,” here.
The color palette in this frame story, 3 pages on either side of the flashback, is otherworldly. Blue and teal, pink and purple, silver and gold, It’s like issue 4 without the muting effect of Valhalla’s blue light.
Minerva’s maintaining appearances here and Baal’s all over it.
She won’t have to tell Ananke…
Is this a first? Baal getting in two nicknames on a single page? It might not be but proving a negative is hard. Anyway crushing the velvet adds luster, okay?It’s noble, royal.
This page has the same structure as and even similar content to 15:6.
It’s reminiscent of a lot of shots in cinema and comics: The Silence of the Lambs and The Avengers,for example. But the particular context of a shapeshifting woman with an equally shifting personality, demure to dangerous, brought M’rrgla Qualtz from Top Ten to mind.
Of course, Gillen provided a specific referent in his Writer Notes for the issue:
The cage is inspired by one specific section of the Alexander McQueen exhibit that was in London recently. This ornate detailing surrounding these fashion-model dummies.
The exhibit is “Savage Beauty” and the piece is almost certainly:
In the #fuckingbaphomet panel Morrigan shifts to Badb. The panels speak to one another across issues. They even share the supersaturated lighting
Once again the first panel is the frame for the page. Our eyes move right toward the cage and every subsequent panel takes place within its bars.
Minerva can observe without being observed from that vantage point.
I joked about Baal’s suspicious centrality on page one, and here we begin to see some foregrounded hubris. He really doesn’t get it.
Talk about her ass and she’ll feed you your cock. She didn’t fight back in issue twelve. Even the triple goddess is rendered in bright bold colors, hair drifting toward pink.
Second seamless transition. “Just Beating is important here. The Morrigan aspect is nonviolent; defensive at best. But she’s also melancholy and wise. This is the price to pay for harboring Baphomet.
The first big lampshade of the issue. Baal, for all his power and all his confidence, is really no match for her. She let him win. Badb would tear him apart. Maybe Morrigan, too, is she so desired.
Dough-Fisted Boy is a triple pun, implying his blows lack force, suggesting soldiery, and adding a kneading, workaday insult. And the whole one’s own medicine thing.
Have you noticed how the camera’s been spiraling with the curve of the staircase? Essentially we’ve been approaching the Morrigan in a tightening gyre. And now we’ve nowhere to go but inward.
When your first catch phrase is your best catch phrase, it’ll be on your title card.
We can infer that the Morrigan probably incarnated in the autumn of 2013. The flashback probably ends right around the time The Faust Act begins.
The page after the title card is just as dense as the first page.
So, we transition from imprisoned Morrigan in the final panel of page three to pre-Pantheon Marian in a similar position, sequestered in her own panel, but breaking out of it via dialog. The spiraling camera has stopped and reversed direction slightly. We’re in the flashback which will be defined by different visual tools.
Marian’s giving all she’s got to some Vampire: The Masquerade LARPing. Prose has never been more purple than “What is this vermillion hunger that consumes me,” but you can almost taste it. The faces on this page are Leila Del Duca’s tour de force. She can get away with anything after displaying this kind of skill.
The aspects of the Morrigan are identifiable by their expressions as much as their outfits. This is an obscenely clever way of letting the reader know Marian had plenty of the triple goddess in her prior to her apotheosis.
Another panel that is the page. They’re in a cave system. In other words, while she’s broken out of the panel/prison, Marian’s still confined. It’s a panel for opposites. Upstairs in Valhalla versus underground here. Neon bright versus candlelight. Saturated color versus grayscale and browns.
There are thirteen candles in the full shot.
On the metaphorical level she’s submitting to the will of the Storyteller in much the same fashion as she submitted to imprisonment. Pantomiming being arrested mid motion, she bristles with tension while her eyes glaze over. She’s acting like she’s under control. She’s not.
Of course the show has to be about Cameron, so he interjects.
His face snaps into focus. Amaterasu identified with a game character and essentially became it. Morrigan and Baphoment were into subculture appropriate gaming that in many ways mimicked their later Pantheon relationship.
Cameron is a rules lawyer. Later Marian will mention his categorical rejection of systems, but he knows them inside and out. And he exploits that knowledge to integrate his brief OOC moment into the game.
Marian’s face is simplified as she looks back at the pair arguing.
The facial expressions aren’t the only artistic flourishes. The camera perspective is running through almost the entire range of shots.
Cameron doubles down on the insult. In character.
The result is predictably infuriating. It’s a feature; not a bug.
Unhealthy relationship is unhealthy. Oh, look! Gutters. This page is less about where than whom. This is the boy we see in the god before us.
Wordy. Self righteous. Inspired. Cameron’s feeling it. The something. Is it strong enough to make him a god?
He’s aggressively selling himself to Marian.
But she was already buying.
Silent. Direct. Gillen’s notes suggest the panel separation was Del Duca’s choice. Shuffling off the creators, the mind-body dualism is obvious.
Here’s the rules lawyer again. “Strictly speaking” stands in for “Um, actually” because rules are meant for breaking. They’re either perfect or terrible for each other. Or both.
“We’re not meant to touch,” could be a subtle nod to certain strictures of sacred kingship. It will probably be on the quiz. Marian’s not much for rules either.
There are twelve candles in this shot. It’s just that the 12/13 thing has come up twice, now. Anyway.
And Thanatos. The black panels and pages, beyond occasionally saving McKelvie some work, are employed during the reception of the Morrigan’s message and the grateful dead at the ends of the first two arcs.
The little death panel, in addition to being a pun, foreshadows the coming tragedy.
“And…” literally transitions from the fade to black, which is still lingering at the top of the page. The next morning. We’re moving into daylight and into a palette shift. What better way to note that then a splash of bright color?
What we’re seeing is Cameron’s careless impulsiveness; something that will follow him into the Pantheon. The image recalls the cover of issue 10 and winks at the final page of the issue.
The panel is the page again. This time it literally fades in from black, light’s allowed to stream in through the window, and then it’s back toward black again. A cramped flat. Cameron not taking the task entirely seriously and Marian offering what advice she can.
The ringtone is real. It’s even relatively timely.
This is a Baphomet issue. There are puns. He tells her not to patronize him but that’s ultimately exactly what she does.
Right around here you see how “Welcome to the Black Parade” sort of scores the issue and this page in particular: “So paint it black and take it back.”
He also tries the white as he either takes Ananke’s suggestion or defies her explicit instructions.
In one sense, this is just an old statement that turns out to be true. Baphomet tends to undermine his own image because he has trouble staying on message. Or having one.
In another it’s ironic. He ends up more the childe in the relationship.
But perhaps most significantly, it’s one of those heartbreaking moments where you say something needling to someone close to you at precisely the wrong moment.
.I keep cutting these out, but Leila Del Duca really shines right here.
Between the position of his hand and the placement of the phone you have the impression of it dropping, but the tendon standing out on his neck sells it by standing in for motion lines.
Cameron’s left hand is literally reaching across the space between the panels toward Marian. The vampire lord has been toppled. And Marian’s wearing Gentle Annie’s face.
From the Writer Notes: “Church is based on Saint Austin’s in Stafford.”
Point of view facing West. Black coffins. Blank faces. Reverting to the black/grey/brown palette with some sickly green.
Zoom Marian and Cameron into focus alternating with background blanks. Marian’s concerned and Cameron’s still in shock. Just getting through this. The camera moves alternately in and out here much like page 5.
Receiving lines in the receiving line. We’re allowed to move outside from the interior frame because we opened facing the exit. Assisted by gradual blackout.
Reminiscent of Death and Morpheus from The Sandman. The little black panel from page 5 resides in the window frame.
Life’s isn’t fair, so we’ll face the existential crisis with humor. He’s more or less trying on personalities from here on out. They’re all shades of the same gray, but he won’t really incorporate full on Eddie Blake elements until he’s transformed.
Appropriate is a good word coming off of issue 15.
Borderless oversized panel that’s not the entirety of the page. Mixes physical interior with the mental interior we see a bit of from these two. This layout’s used with a similar effect in Shutter.
From the writer notes: “Baphomet’s childhood bedroom.”
Light streaming in through the window. Purple palette. Marian asking the obvious question.
Contrast Cameron’s nihilism with Woden’s. Perhaps its only a matter of scale and focus. Cameron’s struggling to assert personal control even as Baphomet; he wants to believe.
This is how you know the blank faces in the church were a deliberate effect rather than a hasty one. Cameron’s showing suffering, disgust, and barely contained rage and Marian is sort of empathetic and horrified at the same time.
I really like what these last two issues have done to elucidate the gospels of the pantheon. As we get the edge of Marian’s message her panels take on a slightly more blue tint than Cameron’s. We’ve been largely focused on him, but this is her story. And she gradually becomes more distinct.
This is the experience she shares with her congregation, taking them to the edge and showing them the void. Leaving them appreciating the life they have and the time they have left.
Cameron goes on the defensive, of course. And of course she understands.
That’s not to say it isn’t a struggle. It’s be nice if he’d show some interest. Any interest.
Okay, whatever. It was fine. Moving on.
The more I look at this issue, the more impressed I am with Leila Del Duca’s faces. There’s so much going on there. It’s also a good look at Cameron’s nose. His name means “crooked nose” in Gaelic (cam sròn) and similarly endowed fertility kings are a local archetype.
Gillen pointed out that he was sarcastically quoting “No Time to Cry.”
And he’s been shown to deal with attempts at comfort and understanding with exactly this sort of behavior.
Marian doesn’t flinch. “I’ll never lie to you,” is sort of devastating considering how their relationship evolves.
Baphomet’s repetition can be read as an ongoing argument as well as a performance wherein he merely appropriates pieces of his one good thing and regurgitates them for the crowd.
The panel backgrounds suggest Marian’s getting through to Cameron.
And then empathetically reentering his sphere.
“I’m dancing,” is the key to her gospel. Laura’s subjective experience along with the beatific expressions of other congregants and the exhilaration of the trio in Videogames #4 all point to an affirmative existential crisis.
It’s also directly contrary to the sort of battle cry attributed to most of the Pantheon: “I didn’t choose this.”
Each of them is positioned directly below themselves with opposite expressions. Cameron goes from bristling derision to receptive vulnerability. Marian from literally reaching out to Badb taking away.
The panel frames the page and this phase of their relationship.
Reiterating the “Not yet,” that culminates her gospel. And, however briefly, it works. No supernatural powers. Just her example.
She’s symbolically marring the house, breaking the cycle of nostalgic denial.
Challenge. Accepted. Cameron’s all too willing to let go, here.
This is beautiful. Cameron’s allowing himself to be loved, which is nice and fleeting. But Marian’s holding him like one holds a child. You’re safe. I’m here. She really is everything’s going to be okayying him.
Once again, not everything has a verifiable visual referent.
The green palette from the funeral is back, though it’s a bit more vibrant this time. Borderless yet distinct panel. A sort of set piece for the two of them.
Cameron’s next to a trashcan and Marian’s next to a bus stop in front of an established cemetery. It’s visual metaphors all the way down. Everything, even the garbage, is a liminal space. Things are going to change.
It’s emphatically unimportant who she is. That’s the point. Cameron doesn’t care. Marian doesn’t so much either. Only that it occurred.
He lights up again, rejecting not just Marian but the option she offered as well.
Contrasting background. This is it for her. Even her hair is angry.
A panel for comparisons. Cameron’s clothes are color swapped from page eight. He’s blowing smoke in the opposite direction from the last panel of that page. In both, it’s away from Marian.
But if this were film the earlier shot would position him looking forward toward the future; bitter as he was. Here he’s looking back, toward the last page or toward his infidelity. In stronger terms, he’s going nowhere from here.
Throwing her words back at her. Another wonderfully dense expression. He’s gazed long into the abyss and its wormed its way inside. Baphomet’s a reverberating chamber for the pit.
Repeating the phrasing from the previous page marks an interesting and deliberate structural technique. This issue isn’t just a mise en abyme, it’s a fairly careful ring composition.
But one must at least pretend to care. Or be petulant and careless. the flick transitions to the next page.
The line of Cameron’s jacket lays over one of the bars of the fence, literally making him part of a prison. Marian’s goal for the issue is to get out of them. This is a repetition of the penultimate panel on page 10, but his posture has changed.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. A little on the nose. But not half so bad as upping the ante on the juxtaposition by igniting Cameron’s trash can. A Panel for the best of list.
Here he’s an idiot for starting a fire.
Morrigan begins her career of putting out Baphomet’s fires. In some cases literal:
Dancing at the edge of the pit, more or less. When Marian is into something, it’s easier for Cameron to follow along. Black ash and flaming cinders floating in the air foreshadowing corvids and eldritch fire.
Framing panel. Here’ he’s an idiot for throwing away their relationship. It’s difficult to disagree.
Interestingly enough. she escapes the symbolic prison by entering it. She’s stalking off into the land of the dead. Ananke’s visible in shadow and so are the bars of the opposing gate. As much as she’s escaping into the underworld she’s also walking into a trap.
Personal panel coloring again. If anything, more angry than last time. Ananke may have been wondering the same thing. Only we know for cerain who she’s looking at.
This is a void of its own. Stare too long and you risk finding that pain inside you.
“Rare. What are the chances?”
Of what, though? That a woman with empathy, rage, and mystery would be so conveniently to hand? That two future gods would be linked so closely? Or maybe that the Morrigan and Amaterasu would both show up in two subsequent recurrences?*
Marian is always in the mood for fucking games. That’s what the flashback narrative has been about. Just when she’s hit the put away childish things moment she gets drawn into another game.
Hello, abrupt nonconsensual exhilaration of your apotheosis.
On the balance, we’ve still see more gods descend the shaft. But this one is reminiscent of Tara’s.
At first glance there’s nothing remarkable about the panel. Maybe Anake’s looking the same direction as Cameron? Oh, wait, she’s just gone. That’s never happened before.
Spiraling crows. They’re spiraling opposite the Valhalla staircase. Morrigan enters from the sky. And escapes from one life into another, breaking the panel as she comes.
Was Lucifer the only god that got a hug? Morrigan has a real what have I become look here; just like in the vampire LARP.
Not exactly despairing or anything, but curious and aware. I’m going to die. But not yet.
* really the only thing curls and our triple goddess share is similar eye makeup
The crows are literally flying into her tattoos. She thinks it’s as cool as I do.
This page contrasts with Tara, who died not knowing who she was.
Leila Del Duca doing some smooth transitions from aspect to aspect. We get to see them all in a row. While her expressions here aren’t exactly like others in the issue, there are several instances of similar faces in more or less appropriate contexts.
Marian had Macha, Badb, and Anand in her all along.
First the aspects, then the spheres of influence. This Morrigan is death and war like this Baal is power. Ananke offers no censure and evinces no foreknowledge. The Morrigan may represent a significant wild card.
We know at least one other Morrigan recurrence shook things up plenty.
Crows flying down root tendrils into the eyes of the congregants.
The transition works better in print, but it’s effective digitally as well. We’re meant to make the direct association of “share your gift” with her gospel, but the secondary reading where folks posit that Baphomet isn’t a real god but something akin to Woden’s Valkyries is available as well.
We’re back to interior shots and encompassing panels. Morrigan’s underground in the first panel and the physical underground in the second. These kids look happier than any other audience we’ve seen.
Cameron humble. Not sorry. Your move.
Morrigan unmoved. Straight ahead eyes so she’s looking at the reader.
She actually let him get closer than you’d think. She travels en corvidae. These last three panels straddle the border of panel 2 and this one leads to yet another interior.
An unspecified amount of time has passed, but we can assume a number of hours. He’s committed.
Morrigan addresses Cameron as Childe, recalling their LARPing and establishing the contours of any new relationship. There’s an interesting parallel with panel 6.
Cameron’s taking a familiar path, here. Like Laura, he’s dropped out with a godhood-or-bust attitude.
Morrigan uses manikin as a general diminutive. She’ll continue to take shots at his stature and size during his first appearance as Baphomet.
He’s genunely awestruck. And just as genuinely sure that his approval means something. And utterly clueless why it might not. And Del Duca put that all into the expression, so bravo.
It’s not just the expression and the posture carrying over from that scene. It’s the burning and the breakup and it’s really tight. Someone special versus someone whose name isn’t even important to the narrative.
Cameron placating. He’s talking to her, which is a change. In every other scene he’s essentially talking to himself and she’s there. This is the first attempt to connect.
He gets through with the game, but to what end? Marian’s just as much of a rules lawyer as he is. She contends that Baphomet remains under her protection at Ragnarok because she stopped him. And she condemns him when she brings him to Ananke.
Ananke refers to her as Child, mirroring panel 1 but distinct from it.
Valhalla. Morrigan stands out for her unusual directness with Ananke. After her initial questions, she seems to have figured out the rules of the game and begun playing.
The key here is probably “twice over.” Readers will tend to see it as a straight definition for the Pantheon’s limited lifespan. They get two years, so twice over.
On the other hand, the king for a year tends to be a sacrifice. So, in a sense, elevating him to godhood condemns him. But she has something deeper in mind.
Another unusual detail. Ananke almost always goes to the children. I think Cassandra is the only other confirmed exception. And she was invited to Valhalla as well.
Cameron’s packing up the house. Or living out of boxes. Or both. HE can’t sleep.
Angel of death imagery. He’s been reading Phonogram. The cover of Rue Britannia is visible on top of the pile. And it helps explain this.
Shutter #1 is on the floor as well.
Partially shrouded and shadowed. He was excited in the tunnel. Here he’s witnessing the sublime.
Partially shrouded. Alight. “Let’s fall,” recalling the edge of the pit. She’s giving him enough information to allow him to choose if he cares to attend to it.
He’ll make a lot of claims in the future about his fear of death, but his refusal to take the events of this issue seriously is on him.
She’s not normally shown shedding feathers. The only feather scattering I remember was around Lucifer following her apotheosis. Adds a layer to falling.
And that makes some sense given where we’re seen the Sistine Chapel hands before.
Things don’t look great for these two…
Idiom popularized by a 1983 comedy documentary. Morrigan’s offering herself as bait in much the same fashion as Beth did in issue 12.
Baal’s word choice is amusing considering how Bap chooses to manifest in a couple pages. Mini’s looking right at him. Morrigan’s shifted from trading quips to honorifics.
Another idiom, this one a reinterpretation of “neither hide nor hair,” meaning there’s been no trace of him since he resolved to kill Inanna. But she clearly believes she can find him. Or use that impression as a means of escape.
Minerva’s watching him go. She hasn’t had her owlphone with her. Gillen’s Writer Notes for issue 13 mention patching it in to panels where it was missing, so it’s probably reasonable to assume its absence is deliberate. She’s waiting for his jewelry (see page 1) to be out of range before saying anything seditious.
Crow Road to Nowhere is a concatenation of Iain Banks’ The Crow Road and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Road to Nowhere,” because Baal can’t tell the difference between goth and metal.
Gillen noted that the Banks reference related to something Baal said in issue 15.
Probably not a Venture Bros. Dr. Mrs. The Monarch reference, but humor in the same vein.
She’s a crow, mostly. Sometimes a raven. She’s there because of her ceremonial union.
Why indeed? We know that, for whatever reason, Ananke wanted it this way. And Woden intervened on her behalf.
Mini may suspect. And she took plenty of chances and precautions to say this to Marian. But she looks so sad walking away. Is Marian collapsing or merely arranging her dress to sit. The panel has a real unflinching walk vibe.
It’s difficult to believe that Baal didn’t know what was in there. But, it’s magic food delivered to a magic cage in a magic house.
Did you try this? I tried this. I didn’t try any Thelemic summonings.
First seen in the convention map, issue 7.
Neither Gillen nor Baphomet can resist a good pun.
So this is great. Baphomet wanting and finding a way to communicate with Morrigan. Hands up. Demure.
This thing is adorable with it’s tiny ketchup fangs. And the necklace. Totally necessary.
Where Morrigan’s cage reminded me of Top Ten, this reminded me of another Moore title, Tomorrow Stories. Specifically Splash Brannigan.
She doesn’t exactly believe him, but she’s intrigued. How is he going to explain Ragnarok and Inanna? To her satisfaction, anyway. To her mollification.
From the writer’s notes:
“NO MORE perhaps gives a sense of where this is going? Or maybe not.”
Like maybe no more of the Pantheon die? Or no more die this arc? Both seem sort of unlikely. Hope is a fine thing, though.
If it gives a sense of where this is going, and it’s a lot of if, it probably suggests that this is the last recurrence.