“Just because you’re immortal doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.”
A couple of weeks ago, I realized that I had a serious backlog of comics that I hadn’t read. Among the giant pile was the end of Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson’s run on Marvel’s Young Avengers. I know that part of the reason I hadn’t finished reading it was because I didn’t want it to end. I was late to the Young Avengers party, but I felt their iteration of the team was something special. It was funny, well-written and drawn, and it had a lot of heart. And the ending was fantastic. So once I finished, I spent the next week hunting down just about everything from the three of them that I could find. I made my way through both Phonogram Volumes 1 and 2 (if you were ever discouraged by Rue Britannia, then try The Singles Club instead; it’s a big step forward), then McKelvie and Wilson’s Suburban Glamour, then the next thing I know I was going back and reading all of Gillen’s writer’s notes on Young Avengers.
It was a hell of a week.
But on to The Wicked + The Divine. I knew just from seeing the preview on tumblr and elsewhere on the internet that I’d be an instant fan of this book (I adore the Wilson and McKelvie collaboration when it just comes to the art), but reading Phonogram kind of cemented it for me. Gods reincarnate as pop stars and then die within a few years? I’ve been in from day one, even before discovering Phonogram. I hesitate to say that Phonogram is essential reading before picking up The Wicked + The Divine, but it’ll definitely shed a new light on just what Gillen’s doing with the book. It’s not as close to Phonogram on the surface as the last couple of issues of Young Avengers were (it’s basically The Singles Club with Marvel characters), but it’s all wrapped up in the same themes of how music shapes culture, how artists shape culture, and how we as individuals are reached by the art that those artists create. Gillen goes on to talk about it a bit in this first issue’s introduction:
“The Wicked + The Divine also flips Phonogram’s core concern. Phonogram was about how individuals interact with the art that inspires, recreates and destroys them. It’s primarily about consumers. There is little to no interest in the artists, except the idea of the artists that exists inside the consumers’ heads. The Wicked + The Divine is primarily about the creators of art- and specifically the journey, choices, compromises and general fuckery that one makes along the road, the people they meet and how they help, fuck and destroy one another.”
– Kieron Gillen, The Wicked + The Divine #1, A Brief Introduction and General Yabber.
The Wicked + The Divine reads as a sister book to Phonogram, in its blatant appreciation of music and the culture that surrounds music. The pantheon of reincarnated gods that become our main characters are pop stars, worshipped in the world of the book in an almost literal way that casts a mirror on how we tend to worship celebrity in our own culture these days. In fact, many of those gods bring to mind modern pop icons: Amaterasu brings to mind a Florence Welch type, I get pretty strong Rihanna vibes from Sakhmet, and Luci is absolutely Bowie-influenced. So why I want to say that this is a completely fresh concept (don’t misunderstand me, most of it IS, absolutely), so much of it reminds me of The Singles Club. In a lot of ways, I think Laura (our protagonist and window into the world of the pantheon of pop gods), could fit right into that scene. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I don’t think Gillen is rehashing himself here. He’s taking this culture of music and expanding it, ripping it apart and analyzing it from different angles. It’s fantastic. Truthfully, my opinion may be colored by the fact that I spent time just before The Wicked + The Divine was released reading Gillen’s other books from a critical perspective, trying to find the similarities between Phonogram and Young Avengers. I’m getting my first taste of WicDiv at the end of a Gillen and McKelvie binge and it’d be impossible for me to not compare all these to each other.
All that said, this is a great, high-concept book. The idea of this pantheon of gods reincarnating throughout history, influencing the masses and then dying is beyond intriguing, and it gives Gillen and McKelvie endless possibilities in terms of the time periods and styles that they can explore. We already get a glimpse of an earlier incarnation of this pantheon in the first few pages, and Gillen has said that it’s not the first time we’ll get to look at these characters in the past. The art is crisp, and Wilson’s colors lend a lot to the basic style of these characters. I’m a bit in awe of the choices he’s made here in terms of Laura and Amaterasu’s make up, and it really works to bring the elevated world of these characters to life. (Chantaal made an attempt at Laura’s look from the cover of this issue, if you missed it on twitter.)
The Wicked + The Divine is a book that I know I’m going to be impatient to read every month, most definitely. I already kind of wish I had saved this one so that I’d have two issues to read all at once, but in the meantime, there’s always Kieron Gillen’s The Wicked + The Divine spotify playlist.
Story: Kieron Gillen
Art: Jamie McKelvie
Colors: Matt Wilson
Letters: Clayton Cowles