Over the course of “The Wicked + The Divine’s” run a series of six specials were released. They were loved. They were hated. They were finally collected into one volume before the series wrapped up. All of them, save for one story in the last were written by series writer Kieron Gillen and featured art from many people who weren’t Jamie McKelvie. Though he did contribute two pages in the last one to canonize the pun-tastic habits of his collaborator, which is the worthiest of all causes.
Gillen has stated that collecting all of the specials in the penultimate volume has been part of the plan since the beginning. So if you’re going into this expecting this to shed some series-altering insights into what has come before then you’re going to come away from this possibly ever so slightly disappointed. The historical specials mainly exist to provide some additional context for Ananke’s actions, to flesh out the rules of godhood a bit, and to allow some really talented artists to take a crack at “TW+TD.” In fact, a better name for this volume would’ve been “Ananke Shapes the Narrative (By Killing Lots and Lots of People).”
455 A.D.: The Roman Empire is on its last legs as the Vandals approach. Fortunately for them Julius Caesar has returned to save them! Or rather, Lucifer the actor has decided that the role of Julius is due for a revival after 500 years. The catch is that Lucifer has reached the end of his two-year godhood stint and, well… it’s not quite clear what’s meant to happen after that since he’s not dead yet.
“455 A.D.” is arguably more interesting for the context it provides to the larger story than the one it purports to tell. It all boils down to “Lucifer tries to break the rules, pays the price, and Ananke tells us what it all means.” There’s some nice art from Andre Lima Araujo to hold your eye, a sequence of gore that’s equal parts creative/disturbing, and Lucifer being Lucifer which is usually good fun. Not bad, but not up to the standards of the main series.
1373 A.D.: It’s the time of the Black Death and the focus is on Lucifer again. Instead of a male actor, this time she’s a female nun. If you think that’s ironic, then you may be surprised at how committed to that role she winds up being. It makes her the perfect foil to hear the plague-stricken Ananke’s confession as the mother of invention has one final card to play to have the devil give her her due.
This works better as a story than the previous one did, mainly because the battle-of-wills between Lucifer and Ananke has some real meat to it. Lucifer’s commitment to her role has managed to transcend Ananke’s game and it’s interesting to watch how the latter works to undermine the former’s resolve. That this story also features some impressively grim art from Ryan Kelly only adds to its appropriately dark and engaging tone.
1831 A.D.: A bunch of gothic writers tell stories to one another in a villa by a lake. This is how we got “Frankenstein” and the only thing separating that setup from this one is that the goths here are all gods trying to create life themselves. I’m sure nothing is going to go wrong here, especially with all of the disappointments and resentments that are simmering beneath the surface here.
You can feel Gillen indulging his inner goth with this story as Inanna, Lucifer, Woden, and Morrigan floridly talk about how they came to their godhoods, their troubles, and their plan for what comes next. It’s all in good fun and the art from Stephanie Hans is impressive in how its painted lushness invites you to soak in all the emotion invested in the work. While this story, and the one that follows, seem to be setting up potential plot points for the final volume the real kicker here is in the next-to-last scene. It’s where you find out that those resentments are what have really been driving the narrative here.
1923 A.D.: This is the densest of all the specials because, as Gillen notes in the backmatter, he was trying to cram a five-issue miniseries into one issue. The only reason he was able to accomplish this was by making a good chunk of this issue prose. Which is appropriate as it’s an Agatha Christie homage where the entire Pantheon is alive at the start of the story and by the end of it…
...there are only four. What? It’s not a spoiler. This is the only one of the specials that leads directly into a scene from the main series. As a murder mystery it’s not much of a whodunit. It works better as a character piece with the prose sections ably filling in the characterization for the issue’s large cast. My only real problem with those sections is that it means we get to see less of Aud Koch’s sumptuous sepia-toned art. Would it have killed Gillen and Koch to give us a full five issues of this? Probably, but I think they’d have gotten better afterwards.
Christmas Annual: This is basically a collection of “deleted scenes” from the ongoing series. Moments that Gillen and McKelvie wish they could’ve done but couldn’t find the space for. Which is why we’re getting scenes like Baal and Inanna having sex, the aftermath of Lucifer and Sakhmet having sex, and Baal and Persephone having sex.
The “Annual” isn’t all about the characters having sex, I just wanted to lead with that. You’ve also got bits like a pre-Nergal Cam hitching a ride to London and demonstrating his punsmanship along the way, Tara getting career advice from Ananke, Lucifer and Persephone having a tender moment in custody, and a brief history of the relationship between Lucifer and Amaterasu. That last one doesn’t involve sex, surprisingly.
As is the case with most deleted scenes, none of the shorts here really add a whole lot to the narrative. That makes the “Annual” the most skippable of all the one-shots included here, but that doesn’t stop each of the stories from being fun in their own way. It also has top-notch artistic contributions from Kris Anka, Rachel Stott, Emma Vieceli, Chynna Clugston-Flores, and Carla Speed McNeil.
The Funnies: This one is completely non-canon. So what makes it less skippable than the “Annual?” The fact that (as advertised) it’s pretty funny. Just about all of the stories hit, from Gillen and Erica Henderson’s punnishly titled “The Wicked + The Canine,” Kitty Curran’s “Scooby-Doo” homage “13 Go Mad in Wilshire,” to Kate Leth and Margaux Saltel’s “Guilty Pleasure Song” which I honestly wish was longer. It would’ve been if most of the cast wasn’t, you know, dead. Good stuff all around and a fine, fun way to close out the whole volume.