Comics You Should Be Reading: The Wicked + The Divine #1

Over the course of the past decade, the partnership of Brit writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie has established itself as one of the strongest creative teams in comics. From their 2006 series Phonogram and its 2008 sequel Phonogram: The Singles Club, modern fantasy about “phonomancers” who derive subtle magical powers from pop music:

to their recently concluded 2013 revival of Marvel’s Young Avengers, one of the most visually stunning and queer-positive superhero comics in recent memory, which broke the team from its previous status quo as legacy characters seeking to follow in the footsteps of Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, and other classic Avengers, and made a point of taking a distinct stylistic approach to every action scene:

...Gillen’s witty, interconnected, and thematically rich scripts, and McKelvie’s simultaneously realistic yet stylized art have consistently challenged and redefined my expectations for comics, no matter which genre they tackle.

Enter their new creator-owned ongoing series from Image Comics, The Wicked + The Divine.

The new series is another approach to modern fantasy, but of a very different sort from Phonogram. The premise: every 90 years, a dozen mythological gods from various pantheons reincarnate on Earth in human bodies. Two years later, they die. What happens in the interim? We’ll find out over the course of the book.\

In interviews, Gillen and McKelvie have spoken of the book as being about gods as pop stars. And what is the premise, if not “live fast, die young” taken to supernatural extremes?

The creators don’t waste time in setting up the hook of the series. In a prologue set in the 1920s, at the end of the previous cycle, we’re introduced to four of the Jazz Age gods, as they shuffle off this mortal coil in dramatic fashion:

Note McKelvie’s outstanding design work in just these four panels, from the lightning cufflinks on the first god’s shirt alluding to his identity as the Shinto storm god Susanoo-no-Mikoto, to the third’s Harlem Renaissance look and the odd shadows his hands cast (Anansi?).

From here, we’re introduced to modern times, where nine out of the twelve gods have incarnated on Earth. In this issue, we only meet three: Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu, now performing as a literal pop star...

...the Egyption warrior goddess Sakhmet, who true to her traditionally leonine appearance, here displays catlike qualities...

...and Lucifer, aka “Luci,” my new favorite character, who is atypically female here, and rather graphically shows us why she might be the most dangerous of the gods.

Luci also gets some of my favorite dialogue in this issue in a courtroom scene where a judge takes her to task for using her powers:

But The Wicked & The Divine isn’t just about the gods; it’s about the humans whose lives they meddle in, reshape, and destroy. From the issue’s POV character Laura, an Amaterasu fan (she narrates the Amaterasu panel above) brought into the circle by Lucifer after a seemingly chance encounter, to a skeptical reporter who doubts the gods’ claims to divinity... the judge above, there’s no doubt that the world these gods leave behind in two years won’t be the same as the one they entered. And I, for one, can’t wait to meet the rest of the pantheon.

On every level, The Wicked + The Divine is a triumph.  Gillen and McKelvie - alongside colorist Matthew Wilson, letterer Clayton Cowles, and designer Hannah Donovan, whose vital contributions to the look and feel of this comic shouldn’t be overlooked - are creating one of the best comics on the stands today. And you owe it to yourself to read it.