What Gillen and McKelvie have created in “The Wicked + The Divine” is an unapologetic, brazen new series, hell-bent on exploring the nature of the creativity and the culture which surrounds it in a novel way. The second issue of the series draws readers deeper into the world of The Pantheon, their devotees and their adversaries by allowing us to become better acquainted with Laura, a superfan, and Luci, the devil herself. Every page turn will find the reader pursued by the muses and demons that lurk about the business of making art.
Written by Kieron Gillen
Illustrated by Jamie McKelvie
Diabolically divine pop-god Lucifer is in trouble. She offers superfan Laura an unprecedented deal if she helps. It’s a bargain. A Faustian bargain, and they always turn out so well. Who knows who Laura will turn to fulfill it? We do. Clearly. It’s our comic. You can know too if you buy this fine pictorial narrative with your human money coins.
“The Wicked + The Divine” #2 continues to deliver cinematic clarity with intimate, character-driven storytelling. Striking an impossibly brilliant balance between entertaining and intellectualizing, the book succeeds on a number of levels. From dialogue to design, from color to character and from subtext to substance this title proves that the devil is indeed in the details.
This series follows a group of gods, called ‘The Pantheon,’ who are reincarnated as young humans every ninety years. Their most recent incarnation positions them as pop stars, a perfect platform for collecting followers and inspiring the masses. Facing organized skeptics, the twenty-four hour news cycle and readily available information courtesy of the internet, none of which existed at the time of their last recurrence, these supernatural stars are confronted with an entirely new set of challenges. Forced to consider public opinion and how their actions affect their images, The Pantheon offers an interesting examination of the pressures of celebrity and the consequences that fame has on the creative process.
At its heart though, “The Wicked + The Divine” is a clever and cunning coming of age tale. Following mortal protagonist, Laura, through her search for autonomy and identity, the story finds a personal connection that helps readers to become emotionally invested. Laura asserts her independence from her parents through her loyalty to The Pantheon. Using her communion with the gods at their live shows as an unnecessary rebellion, she begins to separate herself from her family. She also uses her allegiance to form her own set of values, choosing to help her heroes instead of proceeding along the charted course; abandoning her studies, Laura chooses to instead pursue her passion. She believes that her destiny is linked to The Pantheon so strongly that she is willing to forsake all other avenues for the chance to chase it. Rejecting the role of a child and establishing herself as a capable and determined force within the story, Laura displays a capacity for evolution that promises to add a dynamic energy to the series going forward.
The creative team handles their characters with the highest degree of skill. McKelvie’s designs are memorably striking, and Gillen’s profound grasp of organic language brings them to life. Laura’s narration is the perfect introduction to this world in which deities take center stage for two years only. Her voice, which is both intensely relatable and beautifully engaging, remains consistent and recognizable throughout the series. Every observation stings with an unfiltered authenticity and guileless honesty. Perhaps the most notable quality that Laura possesses is her likability. In the age of the sarcastic anti-hero, Laura is a girl next door. Vivacious and fearless, she will quickly win most anyone over.
Opposite Laura, Luci’s charisma and charm are magnified. Luci, or Lucifer (as she is more commonly known), is the personification of a literal devil-may-care attitude. Her dialogue sparkles with wit and self-assuredness. The pair’s interactions highlight their differences and help establish a unique dynamic. She is a gorgeous re-imagining of the Father of Lies; from her blonde pompadour to her white tasseled loafers, Luci is a beautifully conceived, elegant take on the most storied villain in Western history. A lengthy conversation between the characters functions as centerpiece for this issue, showcasing the strength of Gillen’s dialogue and the articulate command of subtle facial expressions inherent of McKelvie’s work.Continued below
Gillen’s writing shifts easily from comedic to terrifying. He is as ironic as he is earnest, combining the mundane with the mythic in ways that keep the audience guessing. Helping to make these tonal shifts feel organic are Wilson’s color palettes. Each scene is given its own unique voice, defined by tones and techniques that evoke emotions suited for its subject matter. In addition to providing another level of storytelling, Wilson’s colors truly animate McKelvie’s characters; every expression is highlighted by his work, making the story even more engrossing.
Featuring near perfect pacing, this series expertly guides the audience’s attention through its events. Nowhere is this more evident than in the final pages of this issue. As Laura makes her way to an underground show, the deep white valleys between panels are abandoned for dark spreads, extending to the edges of the pages. Visuals are simplified, becoming more geometric and symmetrical and leaving large portions of the scene with nothing to do but showcase the sense of anticipation and reverence that is building within the narrative. While the ample negative space gives Laura’s observations time to breathe, it also forces the reader to share in her trepidation and excitement as we all hold our breath to see what happens next, just as she does. The empty portions of the page allow space for the reader’s own imagination and memory to connect them more personally to the story. This portion of the issue creates a slow, intentional build that culminates in a reveal that resonates loudly on the stage set on the previous pages.
Thematically, “The Wicked + The Divine” is one of the most densely packed titles on shelves today. However, the youthful tone of the book allows the complex ideas to float just below the sleek, inviting surface, never slowing the effortless rhythm of the narrative. Always accessible, but never simple, this series invites readers to consider topics ranging from the modern relationship with technology to the production and appreciation of culture and the impact both have on our concept of ‘self.‘
Technology is not only a thematic touchstone within this issue, but a medium. There is a seamless integration of Laura’s internal monologue and her consumption of media. As she uses a smartphone to do research on the web, her thoughts take the place of information on the screen. There is something quite poignant about this creative choice, it seems to imply that our thoughts have become inextricably and irrevocably linked to the external stimuli that we encounter.
The series also marries the age old desire to create for an audience with a thoroughly modern sensibility. With characters literally selling their souls for a chance to bask in the spotlight, and defining themselves by their cultural experiences, “The Wicked + The Divine” forces us to reevaluate the way in which we interact with popular culture. Laura’s sense of self is based largely on her experiences as a fan of The Pantheon; while the actual members of The Pantheon are willing to accept a two-year lifespan in exchange for the opportunity, forfeiting their futures, these rock star gods and their followers have surrendered to the fleeting nature of their moment in the sun gladly.
This book is beautiful. Somehow, Gillen and McKelvie have managed to condense this larger than life story into a relatable, personal narrative. Full of emotion and nuance, this series supports the hefty weight of its subject matter with realistic interactions and sincerity throughout. Perhaps what makes “The Wicked + The Divine” so successful is its deft portrayal of human nature. While the battle of good and evil may be ramping up in the background, the characters are first and foremost motivated by desire: the desire to create, to connect, to matter, to be loved; the most human wants of all, guide the story and those within it. It is that humanity that reminds us of the wicked divinity we seek in the mirror that we call art.
Final Verdict: 9.4 – I dare you not to like it.