Review: The Wicked + The Divine Volume 1

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TheWickedAndDivine_vol1-1Every ninety years, some teenagers get to be gods. Two years later, they’ll all be dead.

I saw the preview pages for The Wicked + the Divine when they came out months ago – some rock gods named Amaterasu, Sakhmet, and Lucifer are being interviewed by a bespectacled woman who declares them “problematic.” The proceedings are interrupted when someone tries to kill Lucifer, who naturally takes offense, and everything goes kablooie. It’s hip, it’s now, it’s unbearably clever… and yet in my cold, cynical heart, I felt something stir.

This could be interesting. I thought. This could be like old times. So of course I stalwartly ignored it. I saw the preview pages, the amazing photo guide to pre-ordering at your local comic shop Kieron Gillen made, the gorgeous covers as the issues came out, and totally failed to do anything about it. Maybe I was busy. Maybe I was worried it wouldn’t live up to my expectations.

My comics nostalgia times were 1993-1999. The pre-millennial ball, when a thoughtful art deco batman was on every television and Vertigo ruled the shops. I remember sitting behind the cool girls from drama club, listening in on their conversation. “He’s called Dream. He was captured for a while, but now he’s back. It’s different from other comics.” I bought volume #1 of Sandman that weekend, read it in one sitting, passed it to my best friend the next day. She bought volume #2, I bought volume #3 and we took them on a school trip. Sitting on charter bus driving south into the night, I was reading about immortals and serial killers and dying gods. It was the first time I’d found a comic so relevant to my interests; something that got so deep into my brain. It made me feel things. It was wonderful, awesome, and I’m using both those words in the old-fashioned sense of making your heart feel overwhelmed and maybe oh-so-slightly full of despair.

I felt a tinge of that awe from the Wicked + the Divine preview pages. So when I saw the trade on the weekly list of upcoming releases, my heart skipped a beat. I tentatively raised my hand to volunteer. I’ve been looking for a comic that made me feel like a teenager on a dark southbound bus for years, with no success. Maybe this would be the one.

It was. I sat down and I read it straight – no note-taking, no meta-analysis, just utterly devouring a trade in a single sitting, lost to the world.

Jamie McKelvie’s art is gorgeous, Kieron Gillen’s writing is excellent, and Matt Wilson’s colors… ye gods these are the best colors I have seen in years. The glow of fire and divinity is carefully contrasted with the more prosaic palette of the ordinary mortal world. Sometimes horrible things are abstracted, pulled apart in garish retro colors and old-fashioned screentones. Sometimes horrible things are made real. The book is funny, too, with great comic book timing of the kind that can only be achieved when the artist and writer are really in sync. I laughed out loud at least five times reading this, and that’s no easy feat.

Volume one is primarily about Lucifer, and Luci looks like David Bowie and Desire had a chain-smoking baby and dressed her up in a monochromatic androgynous suit – which is totally what Bowie would do if he had a daughter with the father of lies. There are gods, teens, and references both current and dated. Lots of pop culture and actual culture to google. The comparisons to Gaiman are easy to make, but I’m not saying this book is the new Sandman. Sure, it flawlessly melds the eternal with the ephemeral, but otherwise they’re very different comics.

TW+tD is close-in and the stakes are more personal. These gods are still human, still young. They’re going to be dead soon, so in the short time they have left they want to be adored. Maybe the default vehicle for adoration was different the last time they came to earth, but today it means they’re all pop stars, rock stars, celebrities. Their story is told through the eyes of Laura, a mortal fangirl who has sympathy for the devil. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

This book took me back, put my heart into the beating heart of a teenager, made me relive that moment when I looked at someone famous, someone shining and talented and adored and in a moment of hubris thought “I want everything that you have.” Laura does that. She thinks it for us, and that makes it OK. All dumb teenage longing is now part of a shared mystical history of gods and worship and mortality. Of course, seventeen-year-old-me wanted to be Neil Gaiman, not Lorde, but it’s the same basic principle.

I’ve got to stop myself, because I can tell I’m in serious danger of overselling this. We’re only on volume one, after all. This book does have a lot of the modern edgy comics thing where the characters flirt and smirk and joke about how everyone has sex with everyone else. I’ll give them a little slack, seeing as these characters are both pop stars and gods and one of them is literally the devil, but there’s a serious danger of falling into the sex/drugs/rock’n’roll rut. We’ll see.

That said, if you’re a teenager cursed with occult tendencies and a brain that thinks too much, buy this book. If you can remember what it was like to be that teenager, you should also buy this book. If you like gorgeous art, rad coloring, and clever writing… well, you get the idea.

Now get this book.

 

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