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.