Every ninety years twelve gods are reincarnated on Earth. One character explains to another: ‘You will be loved. You will be hated. You will be brilliant.’ But there’s a catch: ‘Within two years, you will be dead.’ This is the central premise of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s new comic book, The Wicked + The Divine.
The first arc of the book, The Faust Act, is an introduction to the world and some of the characters through pantheon super-fan Laura with particular focus on Luci, short for Lucifer, a gender-bent David Bowie inspired take on the father of lies (all of the gods are influenced by various musicians, the character Baal takes inspiration from Kanye West, while Woden is modelled after Daft Punk to cite two more examples). At the end of the first issue, a judge is killed and Luci is the main suspect. Laura, believing her innocence, journeys deeper into the world of the pantheon attempting to solve the supernatural murder mystery.
The Wicked + The Divine is concerned with death and mortality. The series opens with the previous incarnation of gods committing group suicide. Two issues transition from a cover showing the glamorous youthful face of a character to a skull and a severed head, respectively. Characters talks about death. The plot is set into motion by a murder. And there’s the tragically brief time limit. Everyone is dying and life is moving far too quickly but there’s nothing you can do to change that. So what do you do? Amaterasu says the gods’ purpose is “to inspire”. Baal seems to have a similar viewpoint but with more of a fatalist edge, he talks about how the gods can’t change anything themselves, they change other people and it’s their choice what they do with it. Luci rejects Amaterasu’s inspire line, claiming all it really means it that they don’t actually do anything useful, however while stuck in jail accused of the judge’s murder she says it’s all pointless if she can’t be on a stage. Life is performance; life is a stage; life is art. Without that, for Luci at least, she’s already dead even if her two years aren’t up yet.
The gods are artists, hence the styling after musicians (previous generations seem to be artists of different kind, portraits in the background of one scene reveal Lord Byron and the Shelleys as previous incarnation of the gods). Performances are masses or small miracles that overwhelm the audience with different feelings: Amaterasu’s performance is literally orgasmic (‘The boy to my right falls to his knees, cum leaking from his crotch.’) and are so imbued with meaning, a meaning localised to that transcendent moment which feels like everything, the best and most important moment that’s ever happened.
A later performance/fight by underworld gods The Morrigan and Baphomet is very different, it seems to inspire a realisation, an overwhelming sense of existential dread: ‘We’re all going to die. We’re all going to die. We’re all going to die. But not yet.’ The gods’ worshippers are their fans and The Wicked + The Divine is a book about fandom. It’s about experiencing art that makes you feel like you’re living the most important moment of your life and experiencing art that makes you feel closer to death. But more specifically it’s about someone who doesn’t just want to experience that art, they want to create. While watching Amaterasu Laura experiences a thought that she calls a moment of hubris: ‘I want everything you have.’ What does everything include? Adoration, power, the ability to inspire? But what about death? Does Laura want to die within two years? Or is it just that she wants everything else so much that death is a price worth paying for it? If it means getting what you want, what’s the difference between two years and seventy?
The Wicked + The Divine crackles with life thanks to the art of Jamie McKelvie, one of the strongest artists and character designers currently working on comic illustration. Alongside colourist Matt Wilson they render moments such as the aforementioned mythical performances and explosive fight scenes while still perfectly portraying character driven dialogue scenes.
Expectations are played with. Characters are not always who you think they are. How you might assume the series will play out at the end of Issue 1 is absolutely not where the series is at by Issue 5. For the characters time is always running out and yet the final line of Issue 5 is ‘It’s not over.’ And it isn’t, not by a long shot. The series from Issue 1 to 5 has gone from strength to strength, I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
The Wicked + The Divine Volume 1: The Faust Act is out now. Issue 6 (the start of a new arc: Fandemonium) will be released on December 17th.