I was going to start with a whole thing about the Bible and the Ten Commandments and how God was all, “Don’t worship other gods and false idols, or else!” so I hope in summing that up that I can now move on to why this is essential to understanding The Wicked + The Divine. Written by Kieron Gillen with art by Jamie McKelvie and colors by Matt Wilson, The Wicked + The Divine is a fantasy action book about music, youth, and worship. According to the solicits, every ninety years twelve gods are reincarnated and possess the bodies of regular people. For two years they bum around doing whatever it is they do and when their time is up they go out with a bang. Literally.
Beginning at the end of 1923, the gods meet up one last time at a round table presided over by an elderly masked woman. Of the twelve seats only four are occupied with skulls on the table in place of the god who would be seated there. With their time up, the four agree that this isn’t goodbye and, with a snap of their fingers, decimate the building in a fiery explosion while the old woman looks on from outside. Ninety years later, Laura, a teenager from London, sneaks into a concert performed by Amaterasu. Decked out in a wig and eye makeup that show her love and devotion for the woman on stage, Laura is overwhelmed by what appears to be Amaterasu’s divine presence and passes out. When she wakes up, she’s greeted by Luci, another god (ten points if you guess which one), who brings her up to Amaterasu’s loft where the young woman is being interviewed by a belligerent journalist. She doesn’t buy the godly possession schtick, but before Luci can break up the proceedings a bunch of gun-toting fanatics intervene, forcing her to show how real her “miracles” are.
Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are no strangers to using music as metaphor in their stories. The rebellious and vibrant sounds of 50s and 60s pop groups maintained the undercurrent of their run on Young Avengers and Phonogram used music as a means of channeling magic. For the team of Gillen and McKelvie music is a transformative element. It moves us in ways other mediums can’t because there’s a visceral quality to music, whether listening to it at home or live at a concert, that touches us as human beings. We can’t explain it because it’s beyond explanation. We only know it’s there and once we’ve gotten a taste of it we want that feeling all the time. It’s a drug and the musicians that provide those blissful waves of sound are our dealers. Or, within the context of The Wicked + The Divine, they’re our gods. They can move us to tears, make us fall in love, and invigorate our blood with a single note or a lyric that speaks to the very core of our being.
Associating music with divinity isn’t a new concept. In fact, it’s practically the basis of most cultures. The music scene from the 1950s to the present, however, has taken this cultural belief to extreme levels with concert halls and stadiums filled to the brink with screaming, crying, and joyful fans worshipping at the altar of their musical gods. We bow before them because, like Wayne and Garth so humbly proclaim, “We’re not worthy!” And though we’ve become a culture where technology makes our music listening more insular, concerts facilitate a shared yet individual experience. Amaterasu’s performance is a religious experience for Laura. She loves her, she dresses like her, and when the woman sings, she believes she’s singing only to her. It’s a moment of divine connection, but around her others are just as affected. That Laura is the one chosen by Luci to get a private meeting with Amaterasu adds to the mystery of why she becomes entrenched in the world of these gods on earth.
There’s also a hefty bit of commentary on youth culture. As the journalist, Cassandra, points out Amaterasu, the Japanese goddess of the universe, has supposedly possessed a white girl named Hazel who’s only seventeen, coincidentally the same age as Laura. Cassandra finds this problematic, to say the least. Not only does she find it culturally insensitive, but she goes on to accuse Luci of appropriating her androgynous look based on a cursory understanding of David Bowie and questions the example set by Sekhmet – apparently channeling Rihanna – who thinks it’s appropriate for a young woman to slink around like a cat all the time. She’s essentially accusing them of artistic fraud, which falls in line with the level of scrutiny celebrities, especially young celebrities, fall under for the messages they send, intentionally or not. And if the two-year time stamp is to be taken seriously, then Hazel’s life is over before she turns twenty. Youth, like fame, is finite, in Gillen’s world. It burns out quickly, but the message can be infinite so the gods who inhabit these people make the most with the time they have. Some, like Amaterasu, believe they help people. Luci sees their position as ultimately useless. Others we’ve yet to see may have more violent tendencies.
But let’s talk about the art for a bit, shall we, because this book is gorgeous! It exudes cool as McKelvie takes full advantage of pop music and the varying styles and influences over the last fifty years. There’s always been an 80s pop art style to McKelvie’s work that makes his art easily identifiable and engaging. It’s accessible as the wide-eyed awe in Laura’s eyes or Luci’s cheeky grin suck you into the story and the world. And I love the designs of these characters. All of them. The clothes these women wear, their makeup, and even their hair informs the characters, giving the readers an instant insight into the characters. Combined with Matt Wilson’s colors and the concert experience comes alive whether we’re watching Amaterasu’s radiant performance or Luci’s back-lit showdown with gunmen on the city rooftops. Even the violence is an explosion of color that you’d half expect to show up on a collector’s wall. It’s a bright and vibrant world even if the people in it have darker, ulterior motivations.
Rating – 10/10
Final Thoughts: Proof that I’m easily won over. Luci makes a Beatles reference and automatically becomes my favorite character.