The Wicked + The Divine is the brand new music/pop/art comic from creative duo Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen. Knowing that this is not normal territory for our readers, I feel that some heavy exposition is due in order to really vibe the significance: Kieron Gillen (Writer) and Jamie McKelvie (Illustrator) are probably best known for Phonogram, a gorgeous two volume series about music as magic. Whenever a song gets you through hard times, or bonds you to strangers, or helps you create something, that’s a magic spell. In Phonogram it’s more literal. If a song helps you remember old times, in this world, it literally takes you backwards in time to let you reminisce and see the memory happen.
It’s great stuff and I’m explaining it in dumb ways — but this isn’t about Phonogram. This is about The Wicked + The Divine, which is more music & magic musings, combined with mortality and death, and set to talk about artists instead of fans. In The Wicked + The Divine, Gods walk the earth every 90 years — Baal, Lucifer, Amaterasu, twelve in all — but only for 2 years. Then they die. In those 2 years, they’re wildly famous, popular, beautiful and beloved. The Wicked + The Divine is pop stars as gods, and gods as pop stars.
That means a lot more than it does on paper, and the first issue was released last week through Image Comics, the hip proprietor of all the most innovative, idea-driven comics like The Walking Dead and Saga.
The Gods are cast as classic pop archetypes — the ones we see constantly recurring in our pop culture, another tie-in to the reincarnation theme. Ametarasu, a Shinto god, is strikingly similar to the fiery, high passion godesses we know like Florence Welch or Stevie Nicks. Lucifer, meanwhile, is purely David Bowie at his most badass. Kieron Gillen writes them with just enough familiarity but not enough to draw a 1:1 conclusion, and it lets you consider your own personal pantheon of artists and where they fall into these archetypes.
Jamie McKelvie, for his part, is one of the best artists in comics. No one even comes to close to drawing and conceiving of hip fashion and style the way he does. So many artists in mainstream companies are content to draw dudes in T-shirts and girls in blouses, but McKelvie triumphs in design as well as in storytelling. His control of the panel-to-panel camera is seamless and makes it not just easy, but a joy, for new-to-comics readers.
So, pop stars command throngs of followers, live fast, die young, masses are concerts — now just add super powers. Very few have been explored in the debut issue, but it hasn’t been anything as hokey as laser beams flying from hands. Lucifer snaps her fingers and the heads of would-be assassins explode in gorgeous, Warhol-esque color and texture. But the action or violence isn’t the issue; it’s the ideas and the exploration of what pop stars are, and our relationship to them. Consider how often divinity crosses paths with pop ego — Kanye West’s “Power,” “No Church in the Wild,” Lorde’s “Royals,” Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” — they even have an official Spotify playlist just so you can get the mood right.
In the book’s coda, Gillen describes the series as turning the worst 2 years of his life into a pop song. That, again, is the magic of art — its ability to take any overwhelming emotion and convert it into a tangible object that will duplicate the emotion for others; a magic spell. And this pop song is one of the greats. It worms into your head, stays there for days and makes you put it on repeat.
Issue #1 is mostly establishing the world with a cliffhanger ending, but it’s so chock full of ideas that it feels far more substantial. If you’re a music fanatic or pop culture deconstructionist, you’ll be chewing on these 22-pages long after the book has finished. It’s clever, and if their track record is any indication, it’s only going to get better.
Justin Pansacola is a writer living in Los Angeles. At the University of California, Riverside he received his degree in Creative Writing, not English, although he has resigned to the fact that no one cares about the difference. You can follow him on Twitter @wordcore. On some nights he looks up at the moon and wonders if you’re looking at the same moon, too.