Review: Pantheon

Webcomics are an odd beast to review – because of the mostly free platform of the internet, one can find a infinite variety of stories and quality, for better or worse. And since many are ongoing – often over many years – it’s often hard to define how much a webcomic creator will improve their craft in the early days of their comic. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean discrediting webcomics from review at all.

From the on-hiatus multimedia behemoth Homestuck to the very webcomics I’ve linked to here (Overfiend Comics, Between Worlds and A Dark Matter among them), each one shows gradual refinement in terms of art and storytelling in some aspects over time, improving upon and dropping weak threads and facades in their work, leaving a stronger work for the audience. (The ones who fail to do that and don’t change are ultimately doomed – again, the internet is vast and there are things that can’t be unseen or unread as a result.)

The colourful cast of Pantheon (© S. J. Moloney, 2014)

The colourful cast of Pantheon (© S. J. Moloney, 2014)

Pantheon by S.J. Moloney is hosted in an issue-by-issue format: it’s a neat way of hosting a story in small lumps or a few pages at a time. rather than drip feeding the tale week by week, or forcing a huge amount of content on people with each new update. Which is all fine and dandy, as Pantheon looks like it’s going to be a massive feat of storytelling, and anything smaller than chunky updates will not do to tell its grand tale.

Modern life has been tough on older deities, as we begin Pantheon: their divine influence on the world has been shrunk as we sail forever onward to greater scientific advancements and increasing disbelief of the spiritual. Hanging on in there are small pockets of pantheons living in celestial mirror images of our Earth – with only some of them ‘underworlds‘ – by means of written human records and minor worship to acknowledge their existence. Each of these realms are assigned to a nation (or few), which safeguard the souls of famous dead people who are keen to run about and cause mayhem.

Which brings us to our eager main character, the cheerful Shinto goddess of the Sun Amaterasu, who investigates a disturbance back on Earth at the request of her father Izanagi, with whom she lives in Takamagahara. She discovers the odd occurence right in the middle of Tokyo, namely bumping into the spectre of Grace O’Malley, the infamous Irish pirate. O’Malley demands to meet with Izanagi, and after Amaterasu takes her to Takamagahara, begins to plant seeds of curiosity within Amaterasu’s mind: the goddess learns there is more than one realm out there, and other pantheons still exist.

Thanks to the stubborn xenophobia of her brother, moon god Tsukiyomi, Amaterasu has only discovered this information now, and Tsukiyomi is none too pleased having O’Malley within his home. O’Malley eggs him into a duel with her, and even after encouragement by his brother Susanowoo (a Shinto storm god), he loses the fight to O’Malley, proving she’s not all what she seems.

Nonetheless, O’Malley goes on to describe each outside pantheon to a very interested Amaterasu, with the new information being a catalyst for her journey. Amaterasu’s first stop is Kemet, the home of the Egyptian gods, her journey subsequently taking her as far as the Norse pantheon and having a deep chat with love goddess Freya, who hints that not all is well, and the gods’ fates could be cut shorter than anticipated. While nodding to the Greek deities pretty early on, as well as other locales and famous denizens, issue four of Pantheon ends with a congregation of each realms’ gods of death discussing Amaterasu’s travel plans and the consequences.

Pantheon is shaping up to be a very dense but very interesting story – it is hugely clear that creator Moloney has done the homework and crafted a very rich tapestry to keep on weaving with every update, not to mention juggling historical figures as well as world mythology. There are still some small formatting issues to work out, namely the cramped speech balloons accommodating the typefaces used for character dialogue, as the pages are quite small. While this can be worked out over time with practise (as I said, webcomics gain gradual room to grow and breathe), thankfully each page is clickable to view a larger version.

The character designs are also fun, bold and bright, and each deity is almost colour coded in regard to their nature and role (the ‘undertaker gods’ such as Hades, Hel, Persephone and Izanami are rendered in a macabre and solemn purple, hilariously save for snark master Osiris), and due to their strength they become a nice visual shorthand for anyone that is not familiar with other mythological figures.

On that note Pantheon nods at each deities’ past endeavours, but as the story starts in 2008, they are slightly older, mostly ignored, and thankfully have gained oodles of individual personalities in the interim. This isn’t a webcomic to read about which deity did what all over again (that’s what one’s own follow-up research is for!), but so far it’s a story about the older gods dealing with a time and place that makes their world smaller but more diverse, even hazardous as a result. And it’s funny. This is definitely a title to keep watching for future updates.