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The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson, Image Comics – Rated M for mature readers
I should preface this article by saying this: I love The Wicked + The Divine (or WicDiv for short). I know it seems like that’s an obvious thing to say, but it’s important to know, because I really, really love this series. To the point where, when I told people I was going to be writing a column on comic books, everybody asked me “So you can write about that WicDiv thing you love, right?” Does this make me a little too close to this? The answer is yes, probably. But WicDiv has so much going for it, it’s hard to know where to begin. The art is beyond incredible, the concept ridiculously intriguing and the storytelling is some of the best I’ve ever seen. If given a chance, there is something in The Wicked + The Divine for everyone to enjoy.
Here is the concept, as described by the comic itself; “Every ninety years twelve gods return as young people. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead.” It’s a modern fantasy where the gods are not superheroes or rulers, but pop icons whose music and miracles inspire the world to new creative heights. But beneath the star personas are the former human beings who have one day woken up to find an unavoidable end date put on their lives. The story is told from the perspective of Laura, an ordinary British teenager who wants nothing more than to be a god herself. By pure chance, she finds herself entangled in a web of mystery and intrigue with one of the Pantheon’s most troublesome members, Lucifer.
The concept is fantastical, but the result is a fascinatingly frank and un-patronising examination of celebrity and youth culture in modern society. Its writers, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, are British-born and most well known for their independent series Phonogram and the Young Avengers for Marvel, and elements of their work on these series – a love of the British music industry, and an incredibly good understanding of the lives of young people – are visible in this series. It’s rare to find any work of fiction that can look at, reflect and critique youth culture without looking down on it or dismissing it, but this series miraculously achieves it. The characters are diverse, relatable, and complex. The writing can go from funny and irreverent, to emotional and shocking. The twists and turns keep you constantly on your toes while reading it.
But the series would not be what it is without the art. McKelvie’s art style is simple and clean, which makes it extremely satisfying to read. The character designs are inspired, with many of the gods modelled off some of the greatest pop icons of recent history – David Bowie and Prince both being among them. But I also have to include Matt Wilson, the series’ colourist. Colourists are some of the most criminally underappreciated artists working in comics. Think of how iconic the colours schemes of famous superheroes are, like the Hulk’s purple and green or Superman’s red and blue. Wilson also worked with Gillen and McKelvie on Phonogram and Young Avengers, their other most successful works. Just saying. The bold, iconic colours he uses are reminiscent of the pop art of the 50s and 60s, giving the story a stylish, retro feel, but also highlighting the otherwise grounded and realistic society that the story is set in. Despite the concept, this is not a world of superheroes or gods, making this a refreshingly new take on a common formula.