A Review of Kieron Gillen’s The Wicked + The Divine

Wicked + Divine

A Review of Kieron Gillen’s The Wicked + The Divine

By Tini Howard

The Wicked + The Divine, written by Kieron Gillen and illustrated by Jamie McKelvie, has a lofty title. Convinced the phrase originated from Dante or Milton or maybe even Shakespeare, I googled it. What came back instead were just two things: the comic itself and a highly metaphysical hip-hop group that seems like it’s been defunct since 2011. Which is actually pretty fitting.

The comics I enjoy writing about for At the Margins and elsewhere aren’t solely selected for being my favorites. I choose them because there’s something literary about them, something universal in appeal. In the same way that many of our favorite speculative novels cross the line between literature and spec fiction, the comics I recommend are every bit as honest and mind-blowing as the literature we can’t put down.

A current comic’s run is everything we love about reading and TV combined – both an intense story, with its effects unburdened by budget and heightened by professional art, and all of the breath-baiting wonder of waiting for next week’s episode. Like great TV, only better.

WicDiv, as fans are calling it, is produced by dreamteam Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie (Phonogram, Marvel’s Young Avengers). The concept itself is engaging, beautiful commentary – what if some of humanity’s gods incarnated every ninety years as pop culture stars, incandescent and inspiring and dressed to the sacred nines. (Ninety years prior, their past incarnation occured during the Jazz Age. Lurhmann’s Gatsby, anyone?)

With Kanye West declaring “I am a God” and Lady Gaga making appearances in a seashell bikini as Venus, it’s perfect speculative writing – the one more step feeling that takes a metaphor, makes it a literal reality, and forces everyone to handle the consequences. The book is beautiful, and prior to reading I was concerned the story would fall apart in lieu of high-concept visual references and music in-jokes. Totally eating that fear now.

At the center of the story we have Laura (whose name, word-of-God confirmed by open-book writer Gillen, is inspired by the Bat for Lashes song of the same name). Laura is a young girl from London who follows the fandom of the Gods, a collection of pop stars who each claim to be incarnations from various mythologies. The midpoint of the first issue is a scene that cleverly puts to bed any fears of the reader – the obvious callouts that these kids have just spent too much time taking Buzzfeed quizzes – isn’t playing dress up as a bunch of gods a bit problematic?

Everyone just wants to be special, Wicked + Divine asserts. And then maybe one day you find out you really are.

There is more to the story here, however. And not one that the gods control. Much like its suspected inspiration, Neil Gaiman’s classic graphic novel, Sandman, the narrative seems to be shaping up as one about the myriad ways being real can be ruined for otherwise immortal beings. With just two years of life for every ninety spent in waiting, it appears the Devil is being framed for one of the few crimes she didn’t commit. Now she faces spending it locked up, without so much as a place to press the creases back into her Thin White Duke suit.

Some of the most passionate and clever writers of our time are writing comic books, and The Wicked + The Divine is one I’d count among them. Gillen himself is a great writer for any process junkies to follow – he kindly recounts his inspirations for the curious in everything from writer’s notes on his Tumblr account to WicDiv-inspired playlists on Spotify.

While the book has a few flaws (Sakhmet is almost distractingly a Rihanna clone, for example, and Laura’s involvement seems a bit unclear as of yet), Issue One is nearly a perfect opener to a bright new world that Gillen and McKelvie have created. It seems God is a DJ after all.

Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, The Wicked + The Divine, Issue One. Image Comics, 2014: Print: $3.50, digital, $2.99.


TINI HOWARD writes about comics when she’s not actually writing comics. A winner of the Top Cow Comics 2013 Talent Hunt, her work is forthcoming from Image/Top Cow this November. Talk comics with her all day on Twitter @tinihoward.

The Human Flame War

The Human Flame War

By Tini Howard


As part of what I’ve reviewed for at At the Margins, I like to give people a nice, smooth transition into the world of comics, which hasn’t always been… super inclusive. There was a time – a time many of us grew up in – in which comics were an infamous hive of everything wrong with mass media. Everyone was sexually exaggerated and villains were based solely on racist caricatures on the regular and excused through shoddy narrative.

This gives comics nerds a really bad name, one that a great many people live up when it comes to the questions we ask about the recent rise in superhero media. Make a billion dollar blockbuster where Superman’s entire personality is disregarded in favor of neck breaking and no one bats an eye. Give Wonder Woman pants and everyone loses their minds, to borrow from the medium itself. Nary a day goes by when any attempt at inclusion or updating on the part of the big comic publishers is met with the scorn and outcry of a hundred thousand nerds over the most absurd and minor things.

The most recent announcement to generate this sort of insanity is the casting announcement for Fox’s upcoming Fantastic Four film. Actor Michael B. Jordan, who is black, has been cast in the role of Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, a character who has historically been portrayed as white.

I feel like I don’t even need to discuss the first type of backlash here. I don’t even really care to give it attention. I just don’t think the argument that “the movie has to match the comic” holds any water. As in none. At all. To everyone who says “he’s white in the comics,” I say, he’s also been dead in the comics, and now he’s not.

Or, if that doesn’t catch you, I suggest this: One young black guy who was previously going to watch that movie without seeing a single hero that looks like him now will. If that’s less important to you than Johnny Storm’s skin color, if you say (as so many people have), that “seeing a black man in a role that was previously portrayed by a white man ruins the character” for you, I don’t know what to say to you, other than there’s a word for that.

It’s a six-letter word that starts with R and should make you cringe. Hint: It’s not reboot.

Don’t suggest to me that I don’t really care about these characters, that I’m not a real fan. I adore Robert Aguirre-Sacasa’s “4.” I think it was a great run because – and I’ll spare you the recap where I post panels of all of my favorite moments and make emotional commentary – because it nails down what the Fantastic Four are about, what makes them different from the Avengers or the X-Men. And that’s the idea of family.

So this brings me to my second talking point – people claiming that that somehow is shattered by casting a black actor in the part of Johnny Storm. The suggestion has been made that perhaps Sue Storm should have been cast as a black actress – Kerry Washington was suggested, and I think that would be just perfect. She hasn’t been, and white actress Kate Mara is playing the part. But if your perception of the Fantastic Four as a family, of Sue and Johnny Storm as siblings, is just shattered by them being different races, I suggest you watch a few Cheerios commercials. Or take a look at the multi-racial family of writer Brian Michael Bendis – the author of Ultimate Fantastic Four.

I want to be clear, from over here at the margins, that most of the people I know personally and follow socially are not the backwater nerds who are pissed off about this. This is what kind of kills me about the whole thing – literally everyone I know who actually buys comics weekly, all of the people who are reading Fantastic Four, the people who are going to dress up and be there at the midnight showing, who will see the movie four times in theaters so they can fill their Tumblr with references – aren’t bothered by this. All of the people you’d think to be the most hardcore nerds, the ones you’d expect to be giant jerks over this – they’re all for it.

The weird, vocal group of people I’ve encountered who are angry about this haven’t bought a comic in years. If they had, they’d understand what the medium is all about now, how it’s become a haven for characters too other for television and for concepts a little too off-the-beaten-path for those weenies in the mainstream media. These days, we’ve got Batgirl’s transgender roommate, a biracial Spiderman, and a team of teen Avengers who are led by a perfect Kelly-Kapowski-and-Zach-Morris dream couple – only they’re both boys. Stuff that just isn’t getting the representation it needs other places finds a home on the pages of superhero comics.

If nothing else, hear me out on this: If you’ve been staying away from comics because of a vocal group who fancies themselves to be old-school nerds and adheres to canon at the exclusion of minorities, please, come into the fold. The core of us, the fans and creators and cosplayers and conventioners, we love our diverse world. We welcome you into our family. It’s Fantastic.


Tini Howard is a writer and semi-professional nerd living in Wilmington, North Carolina. She has recently been featured on io9, Kotaku, and Nerd Caliber. TiniHoward.com, @TiniHoward.

A Review of Matt Fraction’s Sex Criminals

Sex Criminals 1

A Review of Matt Fraction’s Sex Criminals

By Tini Howard

Comics are a brave medium through which to tell an adult story. While some of us know of Alan Moore’s Watchmen as comic literature and saw Chris Nolan turn Batman into Oscar bait, for plenty of people comic books still bring to mind stunted writers and readers who can’t handle real books.

Sex Criminals, written by Marvel veteran Matt Fraction and with art by Chip Zdarsky, is a real book. One of the realest and bravest books out this year. Sex Criminals addresses the shame, thrill, and occasional loneliness that come with sexual awakening via a bitingly clever metaphor that lends itself to fast-paced storytelling.

Lest readers think the title’s purely referential, allow me to educate. This is a comic where one character refers to his power as “Cumworld,” and there’s a panel illustrating “brimping,” undoubtedly the silliest sex act one will ever see. Make no mistake, Sex Criminals is about sex. Strange, silly, lonely, polarizing sex. Protagonists Jon and Suzie have both gone their whole lives feeling different. While it’s bad enough feeling like a weird teenager brimming with hormones, when Suzie and Jon independently discover masturbation as adolescents, they learn of an additional magic: the ability to stop time when they orgasm. Yes. Still reading? Hang on.

Their paths don’t cross until later in life, when they meet at a party and hook up. In that space after sex, where they’ve both always felt alone and strange, they find each other – joined in their time-stop continuum. (Remember “Cumworld?” Suzie isn’t a fan of the name either.) So, like any young, hot-blooded couple would, they use their newfound technique to commit crimes.

Sex Criminals isn’t porn, but it is full of sex. Apple has actually refused to sell it via the iOS ComiXology app due to its graphic content. (A somewhat hilarious choice, as there’s nothing in this book that isn’t in the lyrics of plenty of popular songs.) Criminals isn’t graphic novel literature, and it isn’t trying to be—but it’s far more than just a comic book. It’s both irreverent and deep; it stares in the face all of our weird societal feelings about sex and does something interesting with its tongue—maybe a raspberry or maybe a big French kiss. It’s unafraid and hilarious and real.

In issue 1, Suzie tearfully explains to readers that she uses the time stopped by her orgasm to dress and go downstairs, to say to her alcoholic mother all of the things she can’t say when time is moving normally, while Jon describes the loneliness of not understanding sexual desire for most of his young life. And then they bang and rob a bank. These people are real. Artist Chip Zdarsky never loses sight of that for a second, portraying them as beautiful and flawed, real and cartoony all at once. Every panel is stuffed full of visual jokes and commentary that encourages a laugh right when the awkward part might start. Just like the best sex.

Criminals is the story we all need—it isn’t afraid to address how we view sex workers in the same panel that it picks on the ludicrous names they sometimes choose. Is there a more perfect way to comment on we feel about sex? Perhaps not—as of early last week, Time Magazine named Matt Fraction’s Sex Criminals its number one graphic novel of the year.

Sex Criminals is a comic book for literary fiction fans, something that’s not always easy to find, and hopefully not the last of its kind.

Matt Fraction, Sex Criminals, Image Comics, 2013: $3.50 (print)/free-$2.99 (digital)


Tini Howard lives and writes in Wilmington, NC because she got the idea life would be better there. So far, she’s not wrong. For more of her writing on comics, check out her blog or follow her @tinihoward.