The Wicked + The Divine: Book I
Written by: Kieron Gillen
Illustrated by: Jamie McKelvie
Published by: Image Comics
Reviewed by: Joe Bones
Genre: Comic Book / Fantasy
“Just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re gonna live forever.”
We live in a world where celebrities receive more reverence than religious icons and ideology. Taylor Swift concerts sell out in minutes while church congregations dwindle. People follow the social media accounts of Kardashians while skipping past news of real world issues. We quote the stats of sports stars while religious texts gather dust on bookshelves. The Wicked + The Divine is a series as original as it is timely. It uses a new twist on mythology to reflect on the world we live in. It is an examination of our current society, told in a visual format, through the eyes of classic deities re-imagined into our modern world.
The Wicked + The Divine: Book I collects issues 1 thru 11, which make up the first two arcs of the series. The story follows teenage fan-girl Laura as she tries to get close to Lucifer, her favorite pop star. Lucifer is a member of The Pantheon, a group of twelve Deities who have been reborn as part of a ninety-year cycle called the Recurrence. Each Deity is incarnated in a human body and lives for a span of two years, before dying. Reborn in the modern era these Deities, Gods and Goddesses from many different cultures and religions, pass their blessings onto their worshippers in the form of song. In turn, they are worshipped by the fans who attend their concerts. The lives and actions of the Pantheon are watched over by Ananke, the ancient Greek personification of inevitability, compulsion, and necessity.
This series is by far the most original graphic novel I have ever read. The storytelling is sophisticated, balancing character development, world building, and an enthralling mystery in a complex way. The members of The Pantheon are a very diverse group and as such the story features characters of many different genders, races, and sexualities. Yet in this volume, all the characters’ personalities are most defined by who they are as people and not by their physical characteristics or the aspects of their given Deity. This element of the story makes characters who by all rights should feel otherworldly to the reader incredibly humanized and relatable.
Illustrator Jamie McKelvie’s artistic choices and style are another high point of this book. The art is both clean and elaborate. Nearly every issue has a new artistic surprise; whether that surprise be the depiction of a fan convention, a journey to the underground, or a God-fueled rave. McKelvie is adept at both drawing expansive scenes and intricate details. His broad scenes make the reader pause in their reading so that they can take in everything that has been drawn on the page. The intricate details bring the story to life; especially when combined with his color choices which never fail to fit perfectly with whatever scene is displayed on the page. Finally, McKelvie also excels at capturing the emotionality of the character moments Gillen writes into the comic’s script. This talent for drawing emotion further adds to the characters’ relatability and heightens the stakes of the story’s ensuing mystery.
Two things kept me from giving this book a perfect score, and both deal with clarity in storytelling. The first stems from a lack of explanation. Each issue, and story segment within that issue, opens with a diagram that depicts sigils representing each of the members of the pantheon. These symbols show the status of each character as the story progresses. Except it’s never clearly stated which sigil represents each God. The reader is left to figure this detail out by themselves. I’ve nothing against critical thinking or needing to extrapolate meaning, but in this case it just seems to weaken what would otherwise be a really cool design element.
The second thing that kept me from giving this book a perfect score is that at first the story feels a bit disjointed. Even as clues to the mystery are revealed, there is a lot that is left unexplained. Combined with the fact that this volume ends with a cliffhanger, this story could leave the reader feeling unsatisfied or like they have more questions than answers. That being said, I’ve read the next two volumes of the story and can assure you that the loose ends at the end of this volume are eventually tied up in subsequent issues. So what originally feels incomplete is revealed to be part of a larger narrative that continues as the greater story progresses.
There are many reasons why The Wicked + Divine: Book I should be read by both comic fans and non-comic fans alike. The concept is original and breaks away from the normative subject matter found in a lot of comics. The mystery and world being built within the story is enthralling and features strong characters representative of many genders and ethnicities. The art is fantastic and manages to highlight the story’s big moments just as well as its small moments. Regardless of what draws a reader to this series, there is sure to be something that they will find relatable and enjoyable about The Wicked and Divine.