William Rosenthal ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Fresh off its first arc, The Wicked + The Divine has taken on a polarizing life with readers. Certain aspects of the story really connect, while others don’t seem to keep in line with the level of savviness that the title is capable of attaining. In an attempt to accurately explain the good and bad of The Wicked + The Divine’s first volume, this review is going to break the run down piece by piece.
The duo behind the series is writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie, both recently off their run on Marvel’s Young Avengers, which was perhaps the most popular arc of that title. The two have also worked on indie titles as well with their Image title, Phonogram, showing they have a talent in both indie and mainstream titles.
One of the best parts of W+D is its covers. Each of its covers features a character bust with colorist Matt Wilson showing his skill before the book even starts, not to mention that the variants are supplied by some great artist such as Brain Lee O’Malley, Chip Zdarsky and Becky Cloonan.
D+W follows Laura, a young woman from South London who’s unsure of what she wants to do with her life. She rarely goes to her classes, even when she tells her parents she is. The only thing she’s truly passionate about anymore is a group of musicians who have sprouted up in the last year. These artists are believed to be gods, displaying supernatural powers at their shows. Hallucinations, disappearances, and orgasms are just some of the experiences associated with them.
After one of these shows by artist Amaterasu, Laura and the rest of the audience faints. When she awakens, she finds herself among other concert-goers who are still sleeping and being watched over by another performer, Luci. Luci has taken an uncanny liking to Laura and offers to take her to meet Amaterasu. The two enter a room where Amaterasu and fellow musician Sakhemt are being interviewed. The reporter is not convinced that what these kids are saying is true. It’s here the reader learns there is a downside to having these powers: at seventeen, you get to be a god, but only for two years. After that, you die. The musicians like Luci and Amaterasu have traded being normal in turn for powers, godhood, and fantastic hair.
In the middle of the interview, snipers fire into the room. Luci fires back, using her powers to literally blow the gunmen’s minds with a snap of her fingers. Since she’s openly killed two people, she is then taken to court in the next scene. Luci jokes that in order to convict her, the court would have to recognize her as a god, thus, they could do nothing. When the judge does not cooperate, she antagonizes him by threatening to show him her powers in action. But when she snaps her fingers, the judge’s head explodes. This was clearly not her intention, as she’s taken away by guards.
The rest of the arc follows Laura and the reporter, Cassandra, trying to find out more about the cult of gods called the Pantheon and the identity of the person who framed Luci.
The art is always on point. McKelvie is an amazing artist who knows how to make memorably designed characters. On top of that, Gillen really brought an interesting concept to the table with this title. What do gods and musicians have in common? They’re both megalomaniacs, making this connection pretty enjoyable.
W+D does a great job building up a convincing and captivating mythos. A series based around divine beings could easily be bogged down with rules and details, but the series keeps a nice level of telling and showing with the presentation and names of the god characters.
While the god concept was cool in theory, the way it plays out is not so much. It’s clear that Gillen and McKelvie had real-life inspirations when designing these characters, but this affects their characterizations as well. This is a shame as the designs are either blatant or irritatingly simple. Sakhemt is obviously Rihanna in appearance alone, and another god, Baal, is supposed to be Kanye West, so he’s super egotistical. Two gods even look exactly like Daft Punk. This creative team has proven they can handle a music-focused title with Phonogram, which makes it odd that some choices here just do not work. Those clear parallels are distracting and somewhat irritating to those that know or enjoy the artists being parodied.
Also, the way the series is organized, each new issue gives a new look at a couple new gods as Laura tries to find the one who framed Luci. It’s far too guided of an approach to storytelling and doesn’t feel natural to read. Laura is almost just a vessel to bring the reader to the next god, since she rarely ever does anything of consequence in the story, which brings us to our next point.
Laura rarely does much in context of enhancing the story, which is strange to say about a story’s protagonist. It’s typically the other characters around her that move the story. When she needs information or to question someone, it’s Cassandra. If it’s about the Pantheon cult, it’s Luci. Just to get an idea of how little Laura actually does, she has seven panels of audible dialogue between other characters in issue 3.
[Quick Spoiler Warning for those who are interested in picking up the TP]
There isn’t any reason in the first volume as to why Cassandra and Laura couldn’t be the same character. Cassandra’s the one with character development, skeptical at first, but eventually coming to believe these are actual gods. She’s resourceful, intelligent, and a talented researcher. Laura could have taken on these traits and, by way of a revision, the writers could have made Laura a journalist: Laura could have been the burgeoning reporter who’s captivated by the god-like musicians, but unsure if they’re real. The deeper she’d go, the more she’d realize they might be real. It’s clear at the end of issue five that Laura taking Luci’s place means she and Cassandra might be moving towards different paths, but that’s pure speculation.
[End of Spoiler Warning]
For the first volume of The Wicked + The Divine, Emertainment gives it a three out of five, as it clearly has potential, and hopes that the next volume will be stronger than the last.