This morning, I had a powerful reading experience. The pages wouldn’t move fast enough, the colours wouldn’t stop screaming at me and the words wouldn’t stop echoing in my head: the first volume of The Wicked + The Divine was a spray of emotions, as it set up the story of twelve gods from the pantheons who, every ninety years, come to Earth and inhabit the bodies of humans for two years, before burning themselves, and their hosts, away from this world and this life. Until next time…
A team of awesome
The series is a collaboration between long time pals Kieron Gillen (writer) and Jamie McKelvie (artist), with the added talents of Matthew Wilson (colourist) and Clayton Cowles (letterer). With the aid of editor Chrissy Williams and designer Hannah Donovan, this team of creators has put together a tale that, while presented with a sleek ribbon around it, is just desperate to unwind and engulf you in all kinds of mythology, youth and pop culture and a story that won’t leave you alone.
Not even if you ask nicely.
Gods for a new age
The basic premise of the story, with this group of gods that return to Earth every ninety years, in human bodies, before dying after two years of Earthly existence, is set up really nicely with an opening flashback to the 1920s. It plays with the idea that this would have been the first time that the “recurrence” was properly recorded, on account of the technology available (print media, photography and film), and bringing in ideas that these beings help form a cycle of inspiration for humanity – (almost) regardless of what these divine beings may do during their time on Earth.
In the recurrence that brings the series in to today, we have our main protagonist – Laura. Laura knows about the pantheons and the things they can get up to. She’s a bit of a groupie and has the air of someone that the character David Kohl (from Gillen and McKelvie’s Phonogram comics ) would quickly pick up and then put down once he’s gotten what he wants. And you’re worried, with the ongoing revelations that Laura brings forth about the gods, that that is what they are going to do to her: use her up and then throw her away.
So I spent most of this first volume concerned for Laura’s character, because Gillen didn’t make her stupid, he made her open and thoughtful with a dash of naïvety. Because we’ve all heard the stories of what happens to groupies who follow bands and music artists around – and this idea of making the gods all pop stars really pays off in helping to contextualise a) why any humans would adore them at all and b) why anyone would feel inspired by them.
Everyone’s Bowie, in a good way
The most noticeable things about the character designs and the colouring is how it all looks like the many and varied incarnations of David Bowie from the first two decades of his career in music. There’s bold colours and elegant costumes and amazing hair. The gods embody the music that many of them are trying to represent, and for most it looks like a peg somewhere on the spectrum of Bowie. Then you get characters like Baal, who is all suits and broad shoulders and looks like thunder and lightning on the brink of crashing to the ground.
Or you get characters like Luci (guess who she’s got walking around inside) who is smooth and sensuous, and every bit as damning as you would suspect.
If you have, like me, missed out on The Wicked + The Divine so far, and have been unsure whether to check it out, then this first TPB collecting together the first five issues of the series is definitely worth checking in with. If you’re a fan on Gillen and McKelvie’s previous takes on the otherworldly then you definitely want to be reading this series. While it’s not convinced me to chase after single issues, I am definitely going to be collecting the collected volumes, because I want to see where this roller-coaster ends. Word of warning: this series does contain themes and language of a mature nature.
The Wicked + The Divine vol. 1: The Faust Act, published by Image Comics, is out now. Our reviewer was gifted her copy as a thoughtful Christmas present.