It’s traditional shorthand to refer to The Wicked + The Divine’s creative team as ‘Team Phonogram’ in reference to their first Image series, but (and much as I’d like them to become known as 'Team Young Avengers') this is presumably the point where they transition to 'Team WicDiv' for the foreseeable future. It certainly should be, because this feels like the most perfect next iteration of their collective creativity. Which in retrospect I’m going to claim as a totally deliberate metaphor for the theme of this series.
“Just because you’re immortal doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.” Every ninety years, twelve gods are reborn inside existing human (I’m assuming) hosts. They shine for two years, inspiring, mystifying and enraging, and then they’re gone. ‘Gone away’ from the gods’ perspective; dead as far as the bodies they pass through are concerned.
This first issue opens with a brief glimpse of the early 1920s gods at the very end of their run, and immediately raises questions I hope we one day see answered: What happened to the eight already dead before page one? Who is the woman who seems to attend them?
Flipping immediately to the present day we find ourselves an undefined time into the current incarnation cycle; several of the gods have become known and are attracting followers (and in this context, so far at least, that equates to fans). The specific example shown is Amaterasu, whose performance is speaking in tongues; “I don’t understand a word she’s saying. Nobody does. All we know is that it means everything.”
The speaker is Laura, point of view character and unexpected addition to the gods’ retinue as a series of unexpected events occur around her. There’s a strong suggestion that Laura isn’t all that she seems, but for the moment the focus is firmly on the nature and role of the gods as they are challenged intellectually, physically and even legally - not bad for 22 pages.
One thing that is immediately apparent from this first issue is that this is a series which is going to ask interesting questions - about the nature of worship, the nature of faith, the nature of art, and of the relationships between them all. It's also clearly going to be about having a finite window of time in which to make your mark before you're gone and potentially forgotten, which raises an entirely different set of questions and challenges. Just ask many of the 'stars' that the gods parallel.
In his letter page introduction, Kieron Gillen (probably inevitably) references Phonogram, drawing parallels and defining distinctions - notably that Phonogram was about consumers of art, their interactions with it and its effect on them. The Wicked + The Divine is about the creators. It’s a fair assessment, but there’s another inversion at work here too: Phonogram deliberately evokes a sense of nostalgia for the Britpop era, a definable and past period of time. The Wicked + The Divine is unarguably about right now - unless something changes it’s about a twenty four month window that will close, and will end the period it reveals. The sense of immediacy is tangible.
Gillen also promises sight of earlier cycles, and touches on the ways in which the gods’ presence changes the world around them, which I’m glad will be expanded on over time - the story of gods on earth should be compelling, but the story of how the earth responds to them and deals with them is just as important. Also, it's easy to see how 'gods as pop culture idols' can translate into the present, with a media that's geared largely around celebrity anyway, but how does that translate to the Renaissance, for example, which Gillen promises we'll be seeing? How do the gods make their mark without global communications? And what does a twelfth century pop culture idol look like, anyway? Based on this issue and what the team has said about the series, I’m very confident that this has all been considered; the delivery should be well worth seeing.
Usually in reviewing a comic a reviewer says quite a bit about the writer, a bit about the artist(s), throws in a mention of the colourist if they’re feeling generous and that’s about it; each component treated separately and according to a well-established scale of perceived importance. It’s easy to fall into the routine; we all do it. In this case though that’s even more pointless than it usually is in this collaborative medium - the story of this issue is told by means of story, art, colours and letters working together. It’s always true, but in this case it’s particularly so. Take away or change any single contribution and there's a definite sense that what you'd have wouldn't be The Wicked + The Divine #1 as it's meant to be. Even the design of the comic itself adds value and feels intrinsic.
One challenge the The Wicked + The Divine does throw up is that it’s hard to describe in a snappy soundbite. You could say that it feels like a Vertigo comic of a particular era. You could say it’s Phonogram’s older sibling. You could say a lot of things to try and encapsulate it, but the trouble is that anything you try will almost certainly miss something of the elaborate construct you're looking at.
So I guess my best bet is to say that if you like things that are hard to describe in snappy soundbites, The Wicked + The Divine is definitely for you. If you prefer snappy soundbite summary comics, The Wicked + The Divine is also for you. Probably more so - you might learn something:-)
The Wicked + The Divine is written by Kieron Gillen, art by Jamie McKelvie, colours by Matthew Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles. Out now from Image.