If you’ve read volume one of The Wicked & The Divine then you’ll know it ended on a bit of a bombshell, with lots of questions still to be answered and even more questions raised by Ananke’s actions after Lucifer busted out of prison. As volume two opens, the judge’s murder remains unsolved and Laura has failed to display any more powers since the isolated and low key incident with the cigarette, leaving her confused and dejected. Beyond that there’s not much of a discernible central plot; there’s a lot more inter-god feuding and Baphomet decides to go rogue and Ananke continues the search for the final few deities of the current Recurrence, but I didn’t get much sense of what this volume was about particularly.
I didn’t really vibe with Fandemonium as much as I did with The Faust Act. Story-wise at least, it felt a little bit directionless and was a bit of a slog to get through at times. If I’m being generous I’d say that was intentional thematic/narrative harmony, given that the main character Laura is somewhat depressed and directionless as she muddles her way through this volume. Not sure I’m feeling generous though. And even if I was, directionless stories aren’t compelling even if they are artistically and thematically harmonious. However, I like to start on a positive note where possible, and there was plenty of stuff I liked about volume two of The Wicked & The Divine.
Much like volume one, Fandemonium is a comic series that is very good at being a comic. It really makes the most of being a visible medium and does it in a really clever way by telling it through the personal experience and sometimes unreliable voice of Laura. In one scene for example, there’s a really great full page annotated drawing of Laura’s bedroom, entitled ‘The Life of Laura Wilson, Aged Seventeen and Three Quarters’, with letters denoting particular aspects of and items in her room, with little descriptions of their relevance underneath. One annotation I particularly enjoyed was for her clear floor, and the description ‘My floor’s messier in real life. Pictured like this cos I’m in denial’, reminding us in a clever way that this entire story is told from Laura’s perspective, and may not always be things as they actually happened. Later on Laura attends a con as a celebrity speaker and we get the treat of a big old double page spread that’s Laura’s scribbled-on copy of the convention centre map, where she’s marked the locations of where she got asked for her first autograph, followed soon after by the point where she got annoyed and stopped signing autographs. There’s a bunch of other stuff on the map too, like defibrillator points and food stalls with terrible god-based pun names. Point being it’s making great use of the visual medium to develop character and setting but also allowing you to construct the world in your own way and I think one of the marks of a great graphic novel is knowing when and how to draw your eye through the panels in a specific way, and when and how to let your eyes rove across the page how you, the reader, decide. It’s a freedom not supported by the linear progression of reading a novel and the writers and artists work really well together to give you that sense of agency when reading these comics.
I guess I don’t really have that much more to say about the plot. I’ve kind of already said everything I have to say about the seeming lack of direction, so won’t dwell on it too much. All I’ll add is that I also didn’t feel all that gripped by the story in volume one the first time I read it, but thought it was much improved on a re-read, so maybe that will end up being the case here too, should I ever decide to read it again. And one more thing before I move on; I think when reading any story, there’s good confusion (where you don’t really know what’s going on but the story has ways of hooking you in to find out) and there’s bad confusion (where the story itself is unclear and you can never quite tell if you’ve missed some crucial element that would clear things up). I feel like I spent a good chunk of this volume being bad confused.
It is somewhat rescued by the ending though, where there’s a few very unexpected plot twists that I really didn’t see coming. I’m still very interested in carrying on with these comics; for the art (which continues to be visually stunning); for the resolution to the murder mystery and those aforementioned plot twists; and also I feel like I’m owed some deeper insight into the character and background of some of the other deities. Some of that was developed here, but was a little bit shallow and I just want to see more. Which is a good thing! I’m interested enough that I want to know more. So yeah, overall this was a bit weaker than the first collection, but definitely still has a lot going for it.
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