The Wicked + The Divine Book One (2016)
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie & Matthew Wilson
Approximately every 90 years, there is the Recurrence. This is an event where twelve gods of the ancient world reincarnate in human bodies. These forms are usually teenagers who are gifted supernatural powers, particularly the ability to influence the minds of mortals. Their purpose to combat an ill-defined forced known as The Darkness. Two years from their arrival, they will die, as it has been forever and ever. This is the basic premise of Kieron Gillen’s The Wicked + The Divine.
The core of the comic takes place in present-day London focused on 17-year-old Laura Wilson. She is a fangirl of the Pantheon who have incarnated this round as musical & performance artists. Laura attends a performance and ends up backstage with a number of the gods just in time to witness an attempt on the life of Lucifer. This sends Laura down a rabbit hole where the story becomes neo-noir, an investigation of who caused a series of murders among the Pantheon. This involves the young woman developing relationships of varying degrees with each god and a shocking cliffhanger ending.
If you are a fan of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods or similar media, this is right in your wheelhouse. It feels like what could have been a young adult series of novels if Gillen wasn’t already a comics writer. That being said, these things are not necessarily the type of reading I seek out, but I always like to try something that doesn’t automatically grab me. You never know when you’ll discover something fantastic. I definitely appreciate the noir-ish elements of this first book, and it’s an intriguing mystery.
I think one of the problems with the book is how rushed the cast is introduced in such a rushed manner. It can be a good thing to toss readers into the middle of an established world and allow them to figure it out as you go. However, I think Wicked + Divine would benefit from a slow introduction to the world. I kept thinking I had missed something but checked the cover; it was Book One.
Making reincarnated gods modern media icons is a brilliant concept, and it’s explored to an extent. I kept feeling like the script didn’t know whether to focus on the personal relationships between Laura and the Pantheon or the global view of how their presence is affecting the world. Because the book doesn’t come down on either side of this divide, I felt disconnected from the story in many places. I didn’t really feel like I got to know Laura outside of this sudden push into the depths of Pantheon or why they brought her into the fold so quickly in the first issue.
The art though, is pristine. Jamie McKelvie’s art was familiar to me on Gillen’s run on Young Avengers, and I love the style. It’s lots of clean lines and detail, similar to but not aping the work of George Perez. McKelvie has said in interviews he was influenced by Jim Lee’s early 1990s X-Men work and the variety of art styles in the British anthology 2000AD. The covers of the issues in this first collection are fantastic full-face close-ups, and the designs of each god are unique and help convey the attitudes and personalities of each one.
This isn’t a bad comic book; it just presents its story awkwardly and has too many important things happening off-screen. The world and premise are intriguing enough that I’ll be reading through the entire series this month. I’m curious to see where the book goes from here because a lot of the book suddenly shifts as a result of the finale. I am anticipating quite a bit of tragedy in the story’s overall conclusion, just hoping we can learn more about each of these people before we get there.