Can’t seem to get enough magic and mayhem in your life? Lucky for you there’s The Wicked + The Divine. Since its first issue in 2014, this comic series has been using everything from epic mythological characters to vain pop stars in exceptionally twisted ways. It was the #9 pick for The Dan Cave’s The Best Comics of 2014, noted as “a scintillating look at celebrity culture, the nature of obsession, and modern mythologies.” Without giving away too many spoilers (but there are some minor ones, so please be warned!), we’re going to highlight a few reasons why you should definitely be reading Image Comics‘ The Wicked + The Divine.
Much like Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods, writer Kieron Gillen and Artists Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson have been concocting a new brew of mythology by blending sci-fi and fantasy elements with a millennial touch. The story starts with twelve gods reincarnated as young adults after facing their last ninety-year cycle. They become different breeds of popstars—flashy symbols of magical powers and fake immortality, since they only have two years to live in their young bodies. They’re either worshiped or hated by followers in the Digital Age (the first issue briefly starts on December 31, 1934 then jumps to 2014 and on for the rest of the series). References to all things mainstream from our current generation aren’t off limits: yes, these deities tweet and hashtag. Despite creating a collective of characters in the image of classical mythology, humanity isn’t an afterthought in this series.
Gillen has commented that the idea for this series came to him after his father was diagnosed with a terminal illness. WicDiv is written with the intention that all the characters—deities and mortals—are starting to become aware of their short lives. That means we, the readers, must also come to terms with characters dying off, akin to character deaths in Game of Thrones. Rather than looking at various mythological figures historically, Gillen and team created versions that all relate to one another, like fractured personalities of one whole. These characters are more than just omnipotent beings—they’re creators, artists, and musicians grappling with the each other’s success and fame, and the inevitable decline that follows. The theme shifts from what happens when even the gods start to die to what happens when they start to live? They act differently and question their existence—”live fast, die young” would definitely be the main hashtag for the first two volumes “The Faust Act” and “Fandemonium,” which consists of issues #1-11.These first issues are mind-bending introductions to individual figures we think we understand from reading Edith Hamilton’s Mythology in high school or taking world literature courses in college. Lucifer, for instance, is one of the first popstar goddesses we meet through super-fan human, Laura. Ultra David Bowie vibes circa Ziggy Stardust and Thin White Duke fizz off of this androgynous version of Lucifer—unintentionally, even though they share a particular date in common. Traditionally, Lucifer is portrayed as pure evil incarnate with a one-track mind, but WicDiv delves into this character’s uncertainty with good versus evil, life versus death. You’re never too sure of what this version of Lucifer is capable. And even though Lucifer is short-lived in the series, her impact definitely gets the ball rolling for all narratives to follow in “Fandemonium.”
A game-changer for the series occurred in issue #8, the middle arc of “Fandemonium.” Good ol’ wine-drinking Dionysus from the Greek pantheon is introduced—a character mostly remembered for that one goofy appearance in Disney‘s Fantasia (1940). But the WicDiv team took that frolicking fool and created their sleek eleventh god, a product of underground raves complete with sex, drugs, and rage. The description for this issue on the official WicDiv page reads, “Everyone’s invited. We can sleep when we’re dead—but when you’ll be dead within two years, you may as well turn up in your pyjamas. After seven issues of egomaniacs, it’s time for an issue where the crowd is the star.”The vignette on the pages of issue #8 are extraordinarily written, drawn, and colored. (Check out one above.) The vibrant blast of Laura’s confusion is matched with the collective euphoria of 120 heartbeats reacting to Dionysus’ DJ powers. This one night, one continuously turned up party, is everything for a god who’s going to die in two years time. And with this DJ AM-esque human incarnation, you begin to feel empathy towards the one Greek god no one’s really cared about in pop culture. Issue #8 pushed the point that the end arrives faster than you think, which is what “Commercial Suicide” delves into following a surprise ending in issue #11.
But “Commercial Suicide,” which collects issues #12-#17, has so far been the blacksheep of the bunch. Even though WicDiv was nominated for the Eisner Award in 2015 before “Commercial Suicide” was released, gaining the series a ton of notoriety inside and outside of the comic world. But “Commercial Suicide” was action orientated than most, with a few odd narrative chooses occurring throughout. They also brought in some guest artists and editors too, which explains the erratic arcs. But issue #17 is without a doubt the show-stealing stunner of the volume. The Egyptian warrior cat-goddess of vengeance, Sakhmet, is featured variant style by fellow Image artist, Brandon Graham (Island, Prophet, Multiple Warheads). These pages are drawn and colored precisely to fit the issue’s mood—as crisp as Sakhmet’s bleak attitude towards her fragile mortality. Issue #17 refocused the remaining gods and goddesses left on Earth and cleaned up all the chaos and confusion that occurred in previous issues of this volume. The critical consensus remains: the twisted positives outweigh the few negatives of The Wicked + The Divine. After selling more than 40,000 copies of issue #1 in 2014, WicDiv carries on with issue #23 on November 2 and volume #4, “Rising Action,” on October 5. There’s also a one-shot issue called “1831” coming out on September 21 that focuses on Lake Geneva and a handful of nineteenth-century Romantic writers (think Frankenstein). Plenty of magic remains for this series, and hopefully the mayhem will become more cohesive in the issues to follow.
Which divine deity are you a follower of? Let us know all your wicked thoughts about The Wicked + The Divine below!
Images: Image Comics