Kieron Gillen

Tim + Alex Get TWATD #4.2: Triple Trouble (feat. Michael Eckett)

This time round, a third handsome face appears, as we are joined for night one only by special guest star Michael Eckett. Aptly enough, Michael is here to writing about Urðr, she who is three-in-one, kicking off a fans-and-creators special here at Tim + Alex Get TWATD. Spoilers up to the very last drop of The Wicked + The Divine #11 below. Read that, then come back and read this. Please come back. Please, it gets so lonely in here…                    Three Cheers for Sweet RemorseTime to sound entitled. There are elements of performing that can be profoundly awful. Moments that go beyond making you want to throw in the towel and become a data analyst; ones which fill you with the dread that either you or the world is broken and you’re not even sure how to distinguish. It’s not the moments you’re prepared for, like trying to do a show whilst a stag party loudly plans what buffet they’re going to, or performing to a room of four people, whilst a snow storm goes on outside, only to be interrupted by a fire alarm. (Always stay in character, even if that character is the personification of an abstract concept. Or a tree.) The times that really break you are the ones can be the times when people cheer. Issue #10 sees Cassandra, now one of the Norns, finally taking the stage with a willing audience ready to hear her message, that truth which she sees and has been dying to deliver. The moment is chilling and stark as their performance shatters the riot and their words cut through the silhouettes. Then there’s a beat. And then the crowd cheers. And we’re left with a broken person who cares too much. In the past I’ve written plays with my suicidal thoughts and depression as metaphor, and people have laughed and clapped. I wasn’t sure how to react. I’ve made shows philosophising about life and death with monologues of existential angst and ennui because I’ve been lost, confused and scared and the only way I knew how to process it all or get help was reach out and hope someone else felt the same way. And they fucking cheer. Writing can mean spending months contemplating how to craft the nebulous feelings into something simultaneously true and entertaining. It’s hard to go out and speak personally and vulnerably, hoping to connect to people because you have something important to say (whether that’s because it’s important to you or Important because you’re going to save the world). The pain that follows the cheers is a selfish one. It’s hard to be too angry with a crowd who have been conditioned to show praise in a certain way, or who are polite and interested enough to ask what you’re doing next. (Turns out you can’t say “I just did a thing. You saw it. I poured myself into it and it nearly killed me, isn’t that good enough for you?”) But you have adrenaline pumping through you and at the same time you’re berating yourself for not being good enough to get the message across. Caring hurts, trying is hard and your successes can feel as bad as your failures. You feel like a prick for wanting more from people.   But sometimes you have something to say and you truly believe in it, and all you can do is hope that someone will hear it. The moment where Laura consoles Cassandra/Urðr works really well; there’s some excellent composition and framing and the message is sweet and true. Some people get it, sometimes a critic will treat your comedies seriously and will nail your themes and reference points, and sometimes your piece will inspire someone to write an essay because of how it made them feel. I guess I write so that people can understand me better or to show that I could understand them; for a while it was all I had and there was an urgency to it. A performance isn’t necessarily entertainment – and even when it’s didactic, it’s mostly an attempt to connect.                    The Crowd + The CongregationWhen I read Issue #10 and the moment that Michael describes, I was also struck with a desire to write about it, although from a very different angle. Everything Michael says is true. I’ve been on his side of the equation, although not in kind of public way that someone writing, directing and performing in a play has. I’ve known the feeling of laying yourself bare only to have people not ‘get’ it, or to be blandly appreciative in a way that makes it impossible for you to tell if they actually engaged with the emotions and ideas you were putting forward. It’s frustrating and saddening in a way that can make you question everything you’ve been doing. But I want to talk about the other side of the interaction – the audience. So far in The Wicked + The Divine, we’ve seen a variety of audiences, but they have all tended to act as a mass. From the initial waves of ecstatic adoration at the Amaterasu concert to the goth riot at The Morrigan’s underground gig. At Dionysus’ rave, we find a crowd literally made one, united by the spirit of the god and surrender to the beat. Even more recently, we’ve had the Glastonbury-style gathering at Ragnarock that so disappointed Urðr and the writhing mass of bodies that comprised Inanna’s residency. In each instance, the crowd is a single entity, with only Laura’s insights there to give us an occasional individual perspective. It’s both a telling element, and a truism. Anyone who’s been swept up in the euphoria of a great night on the dancefloor, chanted along with thousands of others or been carried on the waves of a mosh pit will concur – sometimes you cease being a person and become part of an audience. In […]

Tim + Alex Get TWATD #4.1: Anananananke! Spinning Around! Wickedpedia!

90 days have passed. The first year of The Wicked + The Divine is very much over. But Tim + Alex Get TWATD is still going strong, and both authors still have their heads attached. This volume: Fate & Death. Circles & Cycles. Questions & Answers (or …& More Questions, to be honest).Spoilers for every inch of The Wicked + The Divine #1-11 below. Avoid if you haven’t read. Everything is going to be okay. (I promise)                    Burn Out or Fate AwayIssue #11 changes, or at least challenges, so many of our fundamental assumptions about The Wicked + The Divine that it’s hard to know where to start. But let’s start with Ananke, who has been fundamentally reframed from the series’ Basil Exposition to its Big Bad. Killing the current protagonist just after she achieves what she’s been chasing the whole time, and then murdering her parents for good measure, is not the sort of thing you can justify or seek redemption for, certainly not in the eyes of the readership. So if Ananke is the villain of the piece, what exactly do we know about her? The truth is, very little. We know she’s been alive for a long time (at least as far back as the 1920s) and doesn’t appear to age beyond her already elderly appearance. We know she’s powerful enough to kill other gods and turn their abilities aside with little effort. And we know she can cause the gods to manifest, in numbers beyond the established twelve. Beyond that, the origin that she details in issue #9 could well be a carefully constructed lie, as could much of the other information that she gives. We can fairly safely assume she arranged the attack on Luci in issue #1 and killed the judge, starting the sequence of events that led to her ‘justified’ execution of Luci. But the question of why has barely been touched upon. Perhaps the answer lies in Ananke’s role as an agent of fate. The Wicked + The Divine is a book about death, its awfulness and its inevitability. The gods are fated to die within two years. The rest of us are fated to die, full stop. Ananke tells Baphomet that a death god is capable of extending their life by killing others – and what greater representation of death is there than the idea of fate, the inexorable advance of time and the tightly woven network of nature, nurture and predestination? Another interpretation comes from Ananke’s mention that Graves’ The White Goddess is based upon her. In Graves’ essay, the eponymous goddess is the font of all poetry, religion and culture, until she is supplanted by the male Judeo-Christian god. If the gods of the Pantheon are artists, inspiring humans to new ideas, new inventions and new ways of thinking, perhaps Ananke is culture itself, monolithic and eternal, consuming art and artists to fuel herself. I’m sure there are answers coming at some point in the future, but for now it’s clear that the Ananke we have known so far, and the answers she has given us, are no more substantial than the lace masks she wears, covering up her true self and keeping her intentions cloaked in shadow.                    Like A Record, BabySaying that circles are a visual motif in The Wicked + The Divine is a bit like pointing out that there are a lot of skulls in the comic, or that the creative team seem to have some affinity for exploding heads. If you’ve got eyes, you’ve probably noticed it already. But seriously, there are a fuckload of circles in The Wicked + The Divine. Let’s do a quick recap, in rough chronological order: the twelve-god cycle of the title page, itself made up of smaller circles; the table the 1920s gods sit around; the eclipses in Amaterasu’s eyes; eyes, in general; the occasional break-out panel; the holes Luci burns in her cell; the halo effect when the aforementioned heads explode; Dionysus’ smiley face badge; speech bubbles, if you want to be like that; the layout of the Valhalla throne room; the magic circle of people in Ananke’s flashback; the speaker-stack monoliths at Ragnarock ’14; the stage and skylight at the church where Inanna performs; Baphomet’s cross-inverting Sith Lord hand gesture; the rings in Persephone’s ears and nose. The ‘every ninety years’ conceit. “Once again we return”. The whole bloody plot so far, if you’ve been paying any attention. To be incredibly simplistic about it, ‘Laura meets a god who becomes her guide to the world of the other gods, who she meets one by one, including a god only just manifested, before finally her guide dies at the hands of another god’ could describe either of the first two volumes of The Wicked + The Divine. As the comic goes on imagery, dialogue and plot-beats get recycled wholesale, to the extent that almost nothing we see in the last issue is entirely new. The appearance of Ananke in Laura’s back garden might be unexpected, but it echoes Luci’s origin in issue #2. This is actually the third time we revisit the visual, thanks to a scene in Laura’s garden at the start of the previous issue. Once again, Baphomet lurks over a performance, realises he can’t do what he was planning to, and summons the devil onto his shoulder. The dialogue with his anti-conscience is almost exactly identical to the previous issue (“Him or you/You or them?” “No choice at all.”) adding to the sense that it’s a rote catechism, that killing doesn’t come easy to Baph. Laura’s tumbling transformation into Persephone is another visual we’ve seen twice before (issues #2 and #9, number-fact fans!). Ananke repeats the familiar words – “You will be loved. You will be hated.” – and, with the same hug for the newly-reborn god, “I’ve missed you.” It’s a well-practised ritual, for both Ananke and the comic itself, and […]

Tim + Alex Get TWATD #3.2: Disco Fudge, Prince of Hearts, SJWarfare

…Belatedly, we return. Only one month after the first half of this edition (and without addressing anything that’s in issue #9 – rest easy, spoiler-heads), Tim and I are back with three essays on The Wicked + The Divine.   We’ll be back in 90 days. Well, probably more like 60 now. Who ever said recurrences had to be nice and regular? Oh. Throwing Shapes in the Church of DanceEven before it was name-checked in Gillen’s writer’s notes on the issue, I’d been planning on writing about issue #8 and how it compared to the sixth episode of the first season of the UK sitcom Spaced. While there have been numerous films, TV shows, books and comics that have captured the magic of music in general, it’s the rare piece of pop culture that manages to get the joys of clubbing right, and so tracking the lines between two that do seems like a natural fit. While they are born from two distinct scenes, the ’90s acid rave/ecstasy boom and the modern day wave of EDM/Molly, the experience has barely changed since the late ’90s – and issue #8 even nods towards the former with Dionysus’ “acciiiieeed” smiley face badge. When Spaced first aired, the rave scene was in its dying days, having truly peaked in the early ’90s, but it had bent the world of clubbing into a shape that’s still recognisable today. “Terribly sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt, I just wondered if you two ‘friends’ would like to come join the collective?” Both now and then, one of the common things that clubbing meant, especially portrayals of clubbing in the media, was drugs (hell, I fell into this very trap above and you probably just nodded along). Trainspotting’s success in 1996 led to a wave of films centred around druggy, rave-filled weekends like Twin Town, Human Traffic and Go, most of which lacked the insight or pathos that Trainspotting was shot through with, while nowadays the likes of Skins, Glue, Misfits and a wealth of MTV shows will happily pump its teen cast full of substances and throw them onto the dancefloor to self-destruct and Learn Life Lessons. “Don’t pull your post-feminist art school bollocks with me, sunflower, if that’s your real friggin’ name, alright? I work for a living, what do you do?” “I write, actually.” “Oh really? In other words you’re on the dole.” Both Spaced and The Wicked + The Divine manage to elevate themselves by side-stepping the issue of drugs, instead focusing on the experience which, speaking as someone who doesn’t really dabble with these things, is perfectly potent without giving your brain chemistry a poke. They centre on the dancefloor as a unifying force, something that brings people together even when earlier in the day they’ve been at each other’s throats. “I’ve Got To Dance! LET’S WEAVE!” In both, we witness the transition from arrival to participation. In The Wicked + The Divine, it’s the appearance of the eight-panel grid and Laura’s shuddering entry as the beat starts to overlay and a take control, and that sudden moment of clarity at the end. In Spaced, we have two markers. Mike, the least familiar with clubbing, slowly gains more and more accessories as he becomes comfortable, to the point where he is able to lead the dancefloor. Meanwhile, when the characters embrace the music and, more importantly, leave their previous drama and worries behind, a caption flashes up with their new identity. They are rechristened on the dancefloor, transformed into a version of themselves freed from baggage and focused on joy and dance. “That’s a well-fitted body-warmer, Mike.” Both pieces also feature someone to guide the main characters into the new experience. In Spaced, it’s Tyres, a drug-fiend bike messenger so in tune with music that he finds beats in ticking clocks, boiling kettles and traffic lights, and who attempts to disappear at the end of the night into a bank of smoke with a “My work here is done.” In The Wicked + The Divine, we have our newest god, Dionysus, the Dancefloor that Walks like a Man, who binds the attendees together in an experience so pure that they don’t actually need music. And while Tyres may have a short attention span and occasionally get stuck at pedestrian crossings, Dionysus no longer sleeps; has a constant club’s worth of people inside his head; and, like the other gods, will be dead in less than two years. “Last night? Last night was an A1, tip-top clubbing jam fair; it was a sandwich of fun on ecstasy bread, all wrapped up in a big bag like disco fudge; it doesn’t get much better than that. I just wish sometimes I could control these FUCKING MOODSWINGS.”                   Sound + Vision I hadn’t fallen for any of The Wicked + The Divine‘s gods the way the story’s fans do – until the introduction of Inanna. Dressed like he’s stepped off the cover of a Prince album, the literal purple rain falling around him, just a touch of androgyny in the way he’s drawn, those big purple eyes full of a sympathy and humanity we haven’t seen in any of the gods yet – it was love at first page turn. His relationship with Laura is pretty much the fantasy of being BFFs with Prince, the kind of thing you imagine when you’re a teenager and way too deep into your pop idol of choice. (What do you think he’s like? Oh, I bet she’s always… Smash Hits says their favourite food is…) But skipping straight ahead to that all-access fantasy means we don’t get to see why Laura’s actually a fan. We know that she’s literally been there (“When Inanna did that whole week in Camden, I was in the front row crying every night”) and got the t-shirt (which, Team WicDiv, please make into a purchasable product ASAP so I can throw money at you). But with other […]

Tim + Alex Get TWATD #3.1: Eyes, Mascara, A/V

It’s 2015! The world is still awful! Tim and I are still writing three essays apiece on The Wicked + The Divine every 90 days. Here’s the first set, with the usual mix of puns, chin-stroking, and pushing the blog format to its limits. Nothing has changed. Everything is awesome.                   The Eyes Have It In Phonogram, Gillen and McKelvie’s first series together, the eyes of each Phonomancer transform when they work their magic, in a way that reflects their personality or what they’re summoning. When Penny manipulates others in issue #1 of The Singles Club, for example, her eyes are a sparkling black star-field; when she dances for herself, they light up purest white. In Gillen’s alternate history WWII comic Uber, the super-powered panzermensch shoot glowing orbs of disembowelling energy from their eyes (which, interestingly, are also their exhaust-port-on-the-Death-Star weak spot). Once again, this motif returns in The Wicked + The Divine. From our very first glimpse of the Pantheon, at Amaterasu’s gig in #1, the focus is on her solar-eclipse eyes, framed in a widescreen panel. It’s something we see again at the end of the arc, when the Pantheon briefly flip from modern pop stars into ancient warring gods. Luci’s sharp blue eyes flip to infernal red as she burns everything around her. When Baal lays the smackdown upon her, lightning leaks from his eyes in a way that is particularly reminiscent of Uber. Like one of those ridiculous Super-Saiyan hairdos, these effects only switch on when the gods are being godly – when they are performing or fighting or, possibly, just being iconic. Each chat’s particular eye effect is showcased on their cover, which presents them in a style halfway between a modern promo poster and a Renaissance religious painting. The eyes are the centre point of each cover’s design, placed in the negative space of the title, with a big old ‘+’ placed dead between the eyes. Most of the character designs similarly point to the eyes – Amaterasu’s colourful sunrise eye make-up, ​Tara’s block of blue facepaint – or, like Baphomet’s mirrored aviators and Minera’s Lennon shades, obscure them. (A quick pause here to note that Woden is the only member of the Pantheon whose eyes are fully hidden, and he’s also the only one without his own powers.) Like the Phonomancers, the designs of each god’s eyes and the surrounding area tell us a little about their personality – the Morrigan’s eyes remain a dilated pale green in each of her aspects, but her eye make-up switches from the neutral dash of Macha to the sharp angry wedges of Badb to the chaotic asymmetry of Annie. Or they refer back to their mythic origins – Amaterasu’s eyes reminding us that she is a sun goddess, or the flat dashes of Baal’s pupils recalling those of a goat, one of his common avatars. Or they tell us about the nature of their powers – the star tattooed over Inanna’s left eye, and the big white-on-black pupils of his eyes, reflect his constellation-divining abilities. Or, actually, they tend to do all three at once. Look at the star of the most recent issue, Dionysus. His pupils are a dilated until they fill his entire eyes, like someone who has licked a psychoactive toad (at least, based on what The Simpsons has taught me). All the dancers on his ‘floor have the same effect, showing how they’re linked together in a single grooving hive mind. When the comic slips into hallucinatory colours, all of the black ink seems to been absorbed into Dionysus’ eyes. It makes sense – he’s taking on everyone’s burdens so they can have one night’s happiness – and it sets up the kicker at the end of the issue, where the curtain pulls back and we see his nightmarishly bloodshot eyes. It’s a quick, powerful way of expressing how much of a burden being a god is. But most of all these eye effects just look incredibly cool. That may be the only explanation you need, but that wouldn’t be very us, so instead I’m going to ask: Isn’t it a bit strange that characters whose divinity is tied to music have that manifest through their eyes rather than, say, their mouths? More on that later.                   A Guest Post from the Tim of Another Universe                   Sound + Vision “Music creates a world from sounds,” said Jamie McKelvie in a recent Wondering Sound interview. “Comics create a world from everything but sound, from the absence of sound. We’ve spent our careers trying to do something incredibly difficult and perhaps impossible, trying to translate music into comics.” That’s undeniably true but, given its cast of deified pop stars, The Wicked + The Divinehas so far not shown much interest in directly capturing the feel of music on the comics page. There’s a reason for this: being at a Pantheon gig doesn’t seem to be the same as listening to music. During the Amaterasu performance which opens the book, Laura tells us “I don’t understand a word she’s saying. Nobody does.” By comparison, when we see The Morrigan doing karaoke in #7, the emphasis is very much on the sound: “like meat being peeled from bone”, as Laura puts it. Badb screams the lyrics of a My Chemical Romance song straight at us in bold, scratchy letters. Issue #8 is where this potentially all falls down. The entire comic moves to an explicit four-on-the-floor beat, and is the most accurate representation of an alive dancefloor I’ve encountered in any media since The Singles Club. But what the issue’s experimental presentation really takes from rave is the trappings – fluorescent colours, strobing lights, smiley faces, psychoactive drugs. The imagery, not the sound, which is underlined when non-believer Cass shouts at the packed dancefloor: “There’s no music! I repeat! No music! What are you […]

Tim + Alex Get TWATD #2.2: Vogue, Letters, Baal

Slightly belatedly, we return, stretching the ‘every ninety(ish) days’ part of the T+AGTWATD format to its absolute limit. As usual, here are three essays from myself and Tim, this time focused on the ‘Faust Act’ as a whole. Grand DesignsLooking back over the first arc of The Wicked + The Divine, it’s hard to deny that the story beats are unevenly distributed. There are a glut of events in the first and final issues and – at least if you view this as the story of Luci and Laura – not much of real consequence in between. And yet, each new issue has genuinely felt like an event. A lot of that, I think, lies in the slow teasing of the gods. The book’s set-up tells us that there are twelve of them, but we don’t meet them all immediately. When the story starts, the world doesn’t even know about a quarter of them, and five issues in we still haven’t pinned down who Tara is. (Fucking Tara.) Given Kieron Gillen’s tendency towards full disclosure, he and the rest of Team WicDiv have been impressively quiet about the thinking behind the characters. That leaves it to the comic to deliver the compact package of ideas that is each god. They’re not just characters but archetypes, references, lines drawn across the twin histories of mythology and pop. They’re vessels for cultural criticism, representatives of a diversity that’s more unusual in comics than it should be. All of this is doled out a couple of panels at a time – and the only god we’ve spent a truly significant amount of time talking to so far has had her head blown off. So, what makes this tease seductive, rather than frustrating? I don’t mean to sound shallow, but I suspect it’s all down to looks. Jamie McKelvie was already one of the great designers in comics. His Captain Marvel redesign is a huge part of that character’s recent success. In Young Avengers, each new costume change was a cause of great joy and much Tumblr fanart. In preparation for The Wicked + The Divine, however, it seems he ingested centuries of mythological imagery, catwalk fashion and popstar aesthetics. (Just look at the official WicDiv Style Blog.) Amaterasu’s psychedelic explosion of eye make-up. The sleek androgynous cut of Lucifer’s suits, versus the broad block colours of Baal’s. The Morrigan, three complementary designs that condense the gothy glory of Sandman‘s Endless into a single character. The Jazz Age glamour of the ’20s Recurrence’s gods. Ananke’s wardrobe of elaborate veils. All of those ideas I mentioned earlier, McKelvie manages to pack into the first glimpse of each god, remixing the broad influences into something we’ve never quite seen before. Which makes turning the page to something like this totally thrilling: “Oh shit,” indeed. This double page spread, from issue #4, is possibly the series’ greatest moment thus far. This is a spread to linger on, the way I used to with Where’s Wally? and, after that, with the cameo-packed battle scenes in Marvel crossover comics: Oh. Tim was totally right about Woden. Ooh. Loving Ammy’s new look. Hm. What’s Minerva riffing on? Arguably, it’s completely separate to the story. The page is packed with descriptive information, but not much actually happens. That’s pretty much the definition of world building, a term I normally deploy like someone handling a used nappy. So why do I like it so much here? Maybe because the world of The Wicked + The Divine is unusually distinctive. This isn’t world building in the ‘give the seasons silly names, and make our orcs a different colour’ sense, and each new piece of design does actually shine more light on the ideas that the story itself is communicating. Maybe because it fits neatly with the subject matter so well. Most of us have loved at least one popstar so much that we covet each new glimpse of album art, each magazine cover shoot, each mid-show costume change. Maybe there’s something mimetic about those covers, where McKelvie simply renders his designs as sharply as possible and lets Matt Wilson’s colours, pushed reliably into overdrive, communicate the rest. Or maybe I am just that shallow, and it’s just because everything is so damn pretty. I’d be okay with that, frankly.                   Illuminated Gospels If we use the common analogy comparing a comic’s creative team to a film crew, then a comic’s letterer would be something along the lines of sound design – one of those categories that Oscar coverage tends to talk over, and people tend to ignore when considering how the final product is assembled. Like sound design, bad lettering can cripple a comic, but good lettering is often invisible, because its whole purpose is to service the more ‘showy’ elements. With that in mind, let’s have a smattering of applause for Clayton Cowles, letterer for The Wicked + The Divine, and shine a light on his craft, and how it plays into the comic’s atmosphere. The biggest lettering style element is the most easily skimmed over – the distinction between the all-caps word bubbles, in traditional comic style, and Laura’s narration, which is closer to handwriting. It doesn’t go to the lengths of Hazel, the infant narrator of Saga, whose asides are hand-written directly onto the art by artist Fiona Staples, but the lower-case lettering and rounded bubbles give it a vulnerability and naivety that the same words in all-caps would lack. It has the feeling of a diary or a confession, conveying personality and intimacy. Some of the lettering effects have been more overt – Woden’s square-bubbled, neon green on black lettering, lit by a gentle glow at the centre, is autotune visualised, a voice stripped of any personality and irregularity, perfect in its anonymity. When Laura runs into Highbury & Islington Underground in the hopes of finding the Morrigan, her yelled plea first becomes a large, disjointed word that cannot be contained by […]

Tim + Alex Get TWATD #1.2: Sex, Icons, God is a DJ

Every ninety(ish) days, two handsome young writers return to this blog. They read the last three issues of The Wicked + The Divine, and they write three essays each. In two years, they’ll probably still be doing this.Welcome back to Tim + Alex Get TWATD.                    The Monarchs of Fuck For a series whose core theme is the inevitability of death (as we discussed last time), The Wicked + The Divine spends a lot of time concerned with art’s other great motivator: sex. The gods, as befits their largely pre-Christian origins, seem like they can’t get enough of it. While Inanna and Sakhmet (with her lifeless, drained entourage) are highlighted by Cassandra as the most prolific of the gods in this sense, we also have Woden’s “army of ethnic mono-cultured valkyrie fuck buddies”; Baphomet and The Morrigan’s Sid-and-Nancy-esque relationship; and Luci, who seems to have tangled with most of the pantheon, and flirts relentlessly with Laura. Even Amaterasu, relative paragon of purity and wholesomeness, causes fans to orgasm with joy at her concerts. And then we have Laura, our window on the world, Virgil to our Dante. Laura is presented as neither virginally pure (she knows her way around an orgasm, it seems) nor particularly sexually experienced (she’s blindsided by Luci’s flirting). She is, in other words, your typical teen, surrounded by images of sex but not truly engaged with it yet. The gods are both her peers (in terms of age) and her idols, and are hyper-sexual in the way the world is when you are just 17. However, while the gods may talk the talk, we’re yet to see them walk the walk. The book isn’t exactly rated T for Teen (exploding heads, c-bombs, etc), but has so far shied away from any direct depictions of sex, graphic or otherwise. The sexuality of the gods is both everywhere and nowhere, inescapable yet entirely abstract. We can infer the kind of kinky hijinx Luci’s been up to or The Morrigan and Baphomet’s room-trashing passion, but so far it’s all been kept behind closed doors. Sidenote: it’s worth pointing out that while Laura has been in close proximity to five different gods (or seven, depending on how you view The Morrigan) so far, her only moment of flesh-on-flesh contact with one is giving her hand to Lucifer when they first meet (and if that doesn’t strike you as ominous, you’re not paying enough attention). The sexual nature of the gods is, at least in these first three issues, for our own interest, rather than theirs. It may be graphically detailed, but it’s there to fuel our speculation and our fantasy. The only hint of an actual stable relationship (Baal’s boyfriend) is noted as being “off-brand”. Just like real pop stars, the sexuality of the gods is there to tease, just another product for our consumption.                    Icona Pop The last work from ‘Team Phonogram’ (Gillen/McKelvie/Wilson) was 2013’s Young Avengers, a superhero comic for Marvel which attempted a whole bunch of things and succeeded at most of them. But my single favourite thing about the series was undoubtedly the promise of a double-page spread every issue. Fight scenes were rendered as diagrams or montages or some new eye-popping idea, every month, guaranteed. Comics as a Michel Gondry pop video. So I was disappointed to hear they wouldn’t be bringing the same approach to The Wicked + The Divine. Three issues in, though, it’s pretty clear that these visual experiments haven’t been abandoned . I could point to the introduction of The Morrigan, probably the nearest direct relative to YA‘s visual setpieces. Two circular panels, at opposite corners of a double-page spread, are linked by a black flurry of crow shapes, thick enough to become an abstract shape. All other panels are knocked off their axis or even pushed off the page as reality is bent. But I reckon The Wicked + The Divine‘s real visual achievement lies in a repeating set of much simpler elements. Look at those covers. The portraits overlaid with text are reminiscent of the trend for movie posters that looked like the Social Network’s, but here the concept is pared back as far as it will go. The covers are supremely confident – of how compelling a McKelvie-drawn face can be, and of the mystery of the pop-gods’ identities. That confidence is not unfounded. The covers are comfortably iconic enough that The Wicked + The Divine‘s interiors start playing with them from the very first page, echoing the face of Luci or Laura (depending on which version you picked up) with a big ol’ skull in the exact same proportions – a trick issue #3 repeated with The Morrigan’s head. Look at the use of black. For four pages, as Laura takes a journey into London’s underground, issue #2 almost turns into an illustrated prose story, each page featuring a single quarter-size piece of art and a smattering of words carefully on a sheer black canvas. In issue #3, they push it even further, beginning with black panel borders which eventually overwhelm the whole page. There’s one entirely image-free page with just ten words on it, and I’ve stared at it probably longer than any other. Like sensory deprivation, these sections highlight what’s great about each element of the creative team in isolation – the rhythm of Gillen’s narration emphasised by the room it’s given, Clayton Cowles’ ever-so-slightly-organic letterforms bringing Laura’s chatty diarist voice to life, McKelvie’s compositions toying with negative space to create a believable sense of place, Matt Wilson lighting these sets moodily to lead us down from the pinkish surface to the deep blues of the underworld – before bringing the band triumphantly back together for the end of the issue. Look at those diagrammatic scene breaks. Iconic in the simplest sense of the word, the symbols on these pages act like a wordless ‘Previously on…’. They tell us that there are 10 gods who have […]

Tim + Alex Get TWATD #1.1: Death, Parents, Needle Dicks

This is the high concept behind The Wicked + The Divine, the latest Image comic from Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson. Every ninety(ish) days, two handsome young writers return to this blog. They read the last three issues of The Wicked + The Divine, and they write three essays each. Welcome to Tim + Alex Get TWATD. Each set of essays will be broken into two posts, to save our wrists and your eyes. We might be doing close readings of particular scenes or panels, picking out a theme or character that’s caught our attention, or just speculating wildly. Spoilers will be everywhere, so if you haven’t read the comics yet, avert your eyes or, better yet, grab them and come back later. In two years, they’ll probably still be doing this. The idiots. “But not yet.” You know, given that its very first page is dominated by a skull, and the majority of its cast’s lives have a guaranteed expiration date of two years’ time, The Wicked + The Divine has actually shown a remarkably light touch when it comes to mortality. In the opening pages of #1, which take us back to 1923 and the era’s own set of deities, we get a preview of the gods’ inevitable fate. Eight have already been reduced to the aforementioned skulls, and a couple of pages later, we see the explosive murder-suicide of the remaining four. But their demises don’t weigh too heavily on us – they’re not characters we’ve had time to get invested in, despite their wonderful Jazz Age designs – nor, it seems, on their 21st Century counterparts. Over in 2014, Amaterasu (aka 17-year-old Hazel Greenaway) is asked about her imminent demise by the comic’s resident cynic, Cassandra. There is a regretful pause, a moment of wonderfully-drawn sadness in Ammy’s big brown eyes, before she pretty much shrugs it off:There are a few possible reasons for all this: They’re teenagers. Do you remember being 17? The threat of dying before 20 feels more like a promise. Amaterasu’s reaction is pretty much this. They’re also kind of immortal. After all, that elegant set up makes two promises: You will die. But, in some sense, you’ll be back, long after everyone else here is gone. It’s just like pop music – I can just about conceive that Prince Rogers Nelson will one day die. But Prince, the artist previously known as an unpronounceable symbol? He’s not going anywhere. They’re too busy making the most of being not-dead. Creation is these gods’ main business, both in the artistic being-popstars sense and the procreational one. Based on Luci’s accounting in issue #3, pretty much the whole pantheon has touched pelvises. (More on that from Tim in our next set of essays.) Simple dramatic license. If The Wicked + The Divine was wall-to-wall moping about the gaping abyss (and not the kind Badb is taking about), it’d be about as much fun as hanging out in a funeral home. Besides, with a promised run of 30-40 issues, the comic has plenty of time to reach that point yet. In fact, the one time so far that the comic has really pushed the issue – with a pure black page, lit only by the refrain “We’re all going to die” – it came from the gods’ music. (The two-page sequence being, as far as I can tell, a particularly abstract way of depicting the trance-like state of a perfect gig.) It’s a performance, and it’s the message Baphomet and the Morrigan choose to send to the outside world. So it’s probably telling that the sequence ends with three more words, lighting the darkness and breaking the rhythm: “But not yet.”                Won’t Somebody Think of the Grown-Ups? The Wicked + The Divine is a series with its eye fixed firmly on the young. Laura, our entry point into the story, is 17. The gods and goddesses are, at most, in their early 20s. Apart from the elderly and possibly immortal Ananke, the only major character that could rent a car in the US is Cassandra, who is old enough to have a Masters degree, but young enough to still be annoyed about her student loans. That said, one group of adults is very conspicuous in their absence – the parents. Laura’s parents are both seen and heard, and her interactions with them root her as a ‘normal’ figure caught up in the supernatural events of the Recurrence. In issue #2 we are presented with a portrait of their normality, as the family sits around the television watching Baal’s interview. Laura’s father gently prods at his daughter’s affection for the gods, her mother prevents it escalating beyond good-natured familial banter. In issue #3, we see the consequences of Laura being caught (quite literally) at the Morrigan’s gig, and the ensuing row, again a picture of normal teenage life.In contrast, we have the parents of the gods. Amaterasu is 17, Lucifer maybe a couple of years older. Minerva is only 12. It’s common knowledge that the gods live for a maximum of two years after they are awoken. Where are their mortal parents, lamenting their childrens’ inevitable early deaths? Or, given that we’re also dealing with pop stars and the modern cults of celebrity, where are the parents desperately trying to edge their way into their child’s spotlight, barely acknowledging their foretold doom? Granted, we’ve only had three issues, and the plot has been moving at a fair tick, but we’ve already had our attention drawn to the empty seats at the family table. Lucifer’s parents (or rather the parents of the girl who became Lucifer) are twice referenced. First in Cassandra’s interview, where she conjures a picture of Luci discovering Bowie in her parents’ “embarrassingly retro record collection”, and then again when Luci regales Laura with the tale of her transformation into a god, while her parents “were out at some awful Britpop covers band”. If her parents are at the court hearing in […]

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #1: “People We Want”

Image’s The Wicked + The Divine #1 landed this Wednesday, bursting with the promise of being my new favourite comic. It’s too early to say that yet and, besides, reviewing single issues of a comic is a bit of a vulgar business. So let’s get our essay on.(Spoilers follow, both visual and textual.) Let’s kick off this two-part blog with a big old declaration of bias: Jamie McKelvie & Kieron Gillen together make up just about the only fandom that I’d identify as part of. Their first comic together, 2006’s Phonogram, introduced me to a whole host of ideas – formalism, poptimism, Kenickie – which make up a not-inconsiderable chunk of who I am today, and not just why but the way I’m writing this blog. Their work is the exception to the rule that I don’t buy comics monthly, and certainly not as print issues – I’m writing this having read a digital copy of issue one, knowing there’s a pre-ordered copy waiting for me in my local comic shop. Their Thought Bubble DJ sets drag me halfway up the country on an annual pilgrimage of drinking, dancing, and ill-advised behaviour. I’m pretty sure Drunk Alex has tried to make out with at least one of them. I am a complete fanboy and frankly, my opinion on any new comic they put out is not to be trusted. So why the hell am I telling you this? Because it’s one half of what The Wicked + The Divine is about. It’s a story about the relationship between creator and consumer, centering around an excellent high concept: once each century, twelve gods reincarnate on earth. In human bodies. As pop stars. The story is already in motion when we join it. The gods have been manifest for a while – or at least, based on the three blanks in the chapter’s introductory Jonathan Hickman-esque diagram, nine of them are. The public are aware of their apparent divinity and are reacting in various ways, ranging from utter devotion to the application of semi-automatic weaponry. This is a narrative-driven comic – exposition and explosions, a couple of mysteries, a cliffhanger to close – in a way Phonogram never was. My first impression was that the issue flies past too quickly, despite the doubled page count, but it actually manages to seamlessly introduce the concept and establish an incredibly broad cast across two distinct time periods without ever having to stop the story to make time for introductions. So let’s do some introductions: So far, it appears that The Wicked + The Divine belongs to Laura, our viewpoint character. For now, she’s pretty much just a Fan, with the suggestion that she’s trying to escape something in her own personality through her relationship with music. Amaterasu is the first of the gods we see, mixing Florence & The Machine and Kate Bush with an added splash of Bolan glam, some openly mystical iconography and eyes that (in a classic McKelvie/Gillen motif) turn into tiny eclipses when she’s in full performance-god mode. Luci(fer) is the first god we actually meet. She’s an androgynous Bowie-esque retro revivalist, referencing the Rolling Stones, Beatles and Philip Larkin, decked out with a white suit and a La Roux quiff. Luci probably gets the most development of any character in the issue. She’s introduced as something of a standard-issue Warren Ellis Female – sharp tongued, fearsome and permanently smoking – but towards the end of the issue that trope gets exploded, fairly literally, and again we get a glimpse of the young woman she is underneath. If Luci and Ameratsu were real pop stars, though, I suspect they wouldn’t be part of my pantheon. The god I could imagine tributes to on an alternate-universe version of this blog is also the one we see least of: Sekhmet, Egyptian cat goddess by way of Rihanna. It’s the most striking and direct visual resemblance to an actual celebrity in the comic. More specifically, though, Sekhmet embodies a particular side of Rihanna: the pelvic thrust of S&M, the stamina-and-virility-challenging super-dominatrix of Rude Boy. She’s all that good stuff stripped back to pure animal form, draped over two groupies (one of each sex, obv), uninhibited in the most literal sense, chasing red dots across the furniture like an actual cat.Then there’s Cassandra, a journalist and non-believer who probably deserves her own essay. For now, let’s just say acts as the voice of scepticism.  (Something you might have noticed – that was a lot of ‘she’s. Of the (by my count) ten potentially recurring characters, just two are boys. If that doesn’t sound too important to you, well, you’re probably not a regular comics reader.) Cassandra tries to ground Amaterasu by reminding her she’s just “a seventeen-year-old from Exeter”. It’s simultaneously a paean to the transformative power of pop and a suggestion that maybe she’s just playing the same game as Laura. Less Amaterasu, basically, and more amateur. She points to Sekhmet, saying it’s not “a dignified way for a woman to behave”. You’ve probably heard someone say a similar thing about Rihanna or one of the other pop stars in Sekhmet’s DNA, and it raises a question of control and choice. Would whoever Sekhmet was before have chosen to become a cat sex god? How much of Rihanna’s sexualised presentation is self-determined? For a comic which I said goes by far too quickly, it manages to pack in a remarkable amount of questions about the creation and consumption of pop creation, both the specifics and the universal. Here’s one more question: how much am I extrapolating? Look, I told you I wasn’t to be trusted. The Wicked + The Divine feels like a comic that was made for me, from concept to execution to the fact that, based on the caption box and the look of the houses, Laura lives a ten-minute walk from where I’m currently sat. There’s a scene early in the issue where Laura attends an Amaterasu gig. The star-god scans the audience, and […]

BEST COMIC OF 2011

Okay, we’ve got roughly a week of 2011 left, and a little less than that until finally get to my #1 Favourite Friday Film, so let’s try and quickly recap all the culture that mattered, starting with my favourite comic series of the year… Journey into Mystery(Written by Kieron GillenArt by Dougie Braithwaite, Richard Elson, and Whilce Portacio) “Ink is how words are chained to paper. Words are ideas, cast down from the Platonic firmament to this Earthly Hell. But even so, no matter how far they’ve fallen, words and what we can make of them are eternal,” says the Devil, as he feeds some poor innocent into a meat grinder to make ink. “You will live forever. You’re becoming part of a story far bigger than you could possibly imagine.” As statements of intent go, it’s hardly the most subtle. Yet coming from the mouth of Mephisto, resuscitated by writer Kieron Gillen as a wonderfully theatrical, mutton-chopped vessel of hot bubbling charisma, it is entirely charming. And he’s not even the main character. Not in the top ten, probably. The main character of Journey Into Mystery (probably) is Loki Laufeyson, God of Mischief, half-brother of Thor, as recently played by the handsome Tom Hiddleston… Oh, and in the Marvel Universe he’s currently a child in his young teen, but don’t worry about that too much. The point is, the comic bends pleasingly to his character. It’s the extension of Gillen’s work on Thor, but where his brother is a hulking great hero of the most ancient type (that is, the type that hit people with hammers), Loki is a much more interesting proposition. This is a tale which, as Loki himself puts it, “involves a little reading and even proper punctuation”. Comics are so singularly ruled by superhero stories. Naturally, the focus is on action scenes – which, oddly, is something I’ve never thought think the medium handles particularly well. With time in the hands of the reader (for those of you haven’t read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, a clumsy recap: each panel represents a single moment, and by moving your eyes between panels, you push time along, at your own pace) there’s no room for the fluidity of movement of, say, a Bruce Lee film. Only two moments truly exist: the one before a punch lands, and the one after. Action scenes work on such a primal response that the effort of stitching these together yourself into a single action – so often the magic of comics – often strips away the effect. So it’s nice to see Journey Into Mystery is a superhero book dedicated to solving its problems – the same, world-threatening problems – with violence of a more wordy sort. The first arc, spanning a suitably epic 10 issues, ended with Loki besting The Serpent, Fear Itself’s Big Bad, by merely changing the story.  introducing a detail to the Serpent’s legend that gave his character a weakness. He did this, of course, using a magic pen. As I say, it’s never been particularly subtle about its themes: the end of the first issue (#622, this being comics) dove into that black hole at the bottom of a question mark. The most fearsome monsters in the story are summoned by speaking their name. The Devil, to recap, turned some unfortunate bloke into ink. It’s a book about magic which reminds you that spells are just a series of words. Compared to Gaiman’s Sandman, say, which it occasionally feels similar to (its love of meandering mini-plots), and often feels like a reaction to (see Nightmare, a clear parody of Sandman’s protagonist Dream), the focus is less on the power of stories and more specifically on the power of words. Perhaps unsurprising, given that Gillen spend the last decade working as a journalist. But it’s an interesting choice, in a medium that sits at the crossroads between text and image, and it could mean the former overwhelms the latter – after all, there are rather a lot of caption boxes. But the art is always given the space to tell the story. It’s not the reason to buy the comic – given my preference for clean cartooning, Braithwaite, Elson and Portacio all lean a little too much on the side of scratchy pencils for my tastes – but Braithwaite and Elson in particular are a perfect fit. Still, you come to Journey into Mystery for the words. And on that front, it’s bloody good value – those gloriously florid captions and sharp, slightly-too-witty-to-be-thought-up-on-the-spot speech balloons fill the pages. At its best, this is a comic which feels like the finest pub conversation, insightful  and incisive, with a friend who has drunk two or three of their chosen tipple. And only rarely does it have that ill-advised next drink, and allow things to spill over into dreadful, boring fisticuffs. This isn’t about that Thor chappie, after all – it’s a story about Loki. And when he’s such good company, Journey into Mystery is enough to make you wonder why he wasn’t the star all along.

Looking the (April) Fool: 30 Days Of Music

Stolen from Kieron Gillen* who stole it from Sarah Jaffe who stole it from love & zombies. I’ve never got involved in one of these blogger memes before, felt like the time. (New month, battling dissertation insanity, fighting a bad habit of long-long-long-form writing.) A daily song on a set theme, with accompanying writing. As follows: day 01 – your favorite songday 02 – your least favorite songday 03 – a song that makes you happyday 04 – a song that makes you sadday 05 – a song that reminds you of someoneday 06 – a song that reminds of you of somewhereday 07 – a song that reminds you of a certain eventday 08 – a song that you know all the words today 09 – a song that you can dance today 10 – a song that makes you fall asleepday 11 – a song from your favorite bandday 12 – a song from a band you hateday 13 – a song that is a guilty pleasureday 14 – a song that no one would expect you to loveday 15 – a song that describes youday 16 – a song that you used to love but now hateday 17 – a song that you hear often on the radioday 18 – a song that you wish you heard on the radioday 19 – a song from your favorite albumday 20 – a song that you listen to when you’re angryday 21 – a song that you listen to when you’re happyday 22 – a song that you listen to when you’re sadday 23 – a song that you want to play at your weddingday 24 – a song that you want to play at your funeralday 25 – a song that makes you laughday 26 – a song that you can play on an instrumentday 27 – a song that you wish you could playday 28 – a song that makes you feel guiltyday 29 – a song from your childhoodday 30 – your favorite song at this time last year In a sparkling bit of originality, I shall be doing them… backwards!Day One struck me as the big one, so I thought I’d build up to it. I look forward to the challenge of posting something (however small) every day, and to seeing what I choose. Some of them, I have no clue. If you would like to join in, please, go nuts. *As we say round these parts: Standard.