Tim & Alex Get TWATD

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 #2.1: Luci, Bat for Lashes, Superheroes

Once again, we return.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. This time round, we’re focusing on issues #4 and #5 – and as you might expect, there’s a big focus on Laura and Luci’s relationship. Spoilers abound. Elegy for the Devil In many ways, Luci was the apotheosis of Gillen/McKelvie characters – a morally ambiguous, razor-witted woman with mythical powers, fantastic fashion sense and an asymmetrical haircut. In her swaggering DNA, we can find the traces of Emily Aster, Loki, Astrid, Silent Girl, America Chavez and more. Of course she had to die. Even in the world of The Wicked + The Divine, gods are defined by their stories. After all, while the deities manifest for only two short years, their influence stretches far beyond that. Their role is to inspire, to trigger something lasting from their brief time on Earth, and that means leaving behind tales that will drive people to obsession and fanaticism. They are defined by their stories – the ones they live, and the ones they leave. Woden must hang upon his tree. Minerva must enter the world fully formed. Lucifer must fall. So what caused Luci to fall? One could point to a number of emotions, both those that track with classical depictions and those very much unique to the book’s setting and interpretation, but in the end, I think it comes down to fear. Laura’s final visit to Luci’s cell, just before her escape, strips away all the illusions the character had held. She will be left to rot in jail for her sins until she dies, cut off from those who worship her, unable to wield any influence, alone and forsaken. Her fellow gods do not care if she is guilty or not, if she is a good person or bad, all that matters is that the (super)natural order is maintained. There is no justice. She will die, and leave little trace upon the world. It’s the throughline of the series, the Big Message Laser focused upon one character. Read that page as she comes to term with the news. Is that a tear she wipes away? We’ll never know. Look at the slow push McKelvie draws, boxing Luci in more and more. “You’re told you’re going to die…and some part of you just defiantly doesn’t believe it.” “It was never going to be okay.” In the end, it isn’t fear of death that triggers Luci’s escape, and subsequent demise, it’s fear of a death without meaning. It’s dying without a chance to make an impact on the world, to write her name in fire and blood and headlines. The Wicked + The Divine isn’t just about death. It’s about what we do with the knowledge that death is coming. Lucifer has to fall, but she has to go to war with heaven first. And of course, in those final moments, we see the young woman she originally was shine through, the one who doesn’t want to die before she’s 20. That small “Don’t”, a prayer and a plea against the inevitable. But then Lucifer is finally crowned with her halo, first one of fire, then one of blood, and her life comes to an end. But her story? That will last a lot longer.                    More Than A Superstar Bat for Lashes’ Laura is a song about loss which also finds the time to toy with ideas of glamour and fame. If you’ve been listening to it as much as I have over the past few months, you may just about be able to spot some connections with The Wicked + The Divine. There’s a good reason for that. In the Writer’s Notes for issue #1 of The Wicked + The Divine, Kieron Gillen says that Laura is one of the key songs – if not the key song – that inspired the series. It’s where our cheery (currently not so much) fangirl protagonist got her name. It’s the song Gillen posted on This Is My Jam the day issue #5 dropped. “You’re the train that crashed my heart/You’re the glitter in the dark.” The lyrics contain a pretty good summation of where we are at the end of #5 – I don’t think it’s much of a stretch so say that, in the film adaptation, it’d be the song that plays as that last scene fades to black – but it features a dark promise for the future, too:  “Laura, you’re more than a superstar/You’ll be famous for longer than them.” The end of issue #5 suggest that maybe Laura could take her place among the pop-pantheon. But the previous issues have also gone out of their way to establish that’s she different from the gods. Their fate – infinite fame, very finite lifespans – was foisted upon them. Laura seems to be actively planning for it – no friends, no A-Levels, just a dream that makes everything else not worth living through. Maybe Laura will fill one of the two remaining openings in that wheel of symbols, but I’d bet that if she achieves her dream – and it’ll be interesting to see how much she still wants it all now she’s has her first bitter taste of fame – it won’t be as a god, omnipotent and disposable, but something else. Something more, according to the prophecy of Laura. In order to rise above your influences and become something truly great in your own right, you have to kill your idols, as the saying goes. The downside of that, of course, being that your idols end up rather dead. “You say that they’ve all left you behind/Your heart broken, the poverty died.” We’ll see how that one pans out.                    Every Superhero Needs His Theme Music It was the suit that did it. Jamie McKelvie has an […]

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 […]