As we get closer to the 2015 Eisner Awards, I thought it was time to reflect on some of the incredible nominees this year, in particular the titles up for Best New Series. This category is an especially important one, because it often reflects the tone of comics as whole for that year – the shifts in focus and overall readership that are always changing and expanding. We’ve seen some positive changes within the industry over the last few years, from the way more new comics have started to reflect the content vocally desired by readers, to the way creators and publishers have responded to them. People are reading comics more than ever now, boasting the biggest readership boom in a long time. There’s also a significant thirst for new comics that really push the barriers, that don’t shy away from taking risks and being heard. Comics that are inclusive and accessible.
There is no comic in my mind that encompasses this better than The Wicked + The Divine.
The Wicked + The Divine is a new Image Comics series by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, the dream team also responsible for Phonogram and the most recent run of Young Avengers… neither of which prove nearly as stick-a-knife-in-your-heart-and-twist as this one. This is a story about being too young.
It’s also a story about living, dying, loving, obsession, pop culture, with a heavy dosage of mythology and people who get reincarnated into a pantheon of twelve gods every century, become living icons that embody the greatest artists of the time, and then inevitably die two years later. We follow the main character Laura and her journey as a diehard fan. All she wants is to be one of them and, through a sequence of unlikely events, finds herself in the middle of a murder conspiracy to prove Lucifer’s innocence. It is a story about death as much as it is about life, the whole cycle reflected in these young people who have no choice. They are destined to keep repeating the same patterns while playing the demanding role of idols to be worshiped, and keeping the reader constantly coming back for more. Just like their fans clamoring for even a brief touch of fame.
After all, everything seems more beautiful for the doomed.
Laura is immediately easy to sympathize with, because we’ve all been there. We’ve all wanted to be somebody else, to feel like we matter, to have a real hand in creating the things that we love. We’ve all found ourselves worshiping something, believing in someone or something so powerfully that we end up leaving a piece of ourselves with them. As Gillen describes in the back matter of issue #5, this story is like an inverted Phonogram. While Phonogram is about being a consumer of art and an individual’s relationship to it, The Wicked + The Divine is about the leap from being a fan to becoming a creator of art itself, and the limitations that come with being one of the gods.
Baal encompasses this idea perfectly when he says, “We don’t get to change anything. We get to change you, and then you choose what to do with it.” They make the music, but it’s the fans who decide what they want to do with it. One thing I love about Gillen’s writing is that his love for music is such a strong influence in so much of his work. His Young Avengers and Wic + Div Spotify playlists are frequently playing on my personal laptop at home, adding another much-needed level of emotional connection to the books. I hear the beginning notes to the Ronette’s “Be My Baby” in everything now.
Every deity interpretation is brilliant and creative, closely resembling some of the greatest artists of the twenty-first century that we know and love (or hate) this time around. From Lucifer’s likeness to David Bowie and Baal’s to Kanye, it has the potential to make the reader feel like they’re reflected in the story, too. Devoted fans just like Laura. If you’ve ever loved someone’s music so much, you followed them everywhere, to every show and every new album drop, this story is for you.
One of the greatest things I’ve seen come out of this series is also the enthusiastic, in-depth discussions regarding the mythology, not to mention all the incredible cosplay that’s come with it. This has also proven to be an effective gateway comic, able to reach readers with a wide variety of interests. As a retailer, I know many customers who started with this comic, ultimately igniting an interest in the medium that’s spurred them onward toward other titles. In more recent news, The Wicked + The Divine has also been picked up for a TV spot. I, for one, am very invested in seeing who gets cast. (Antonia Thomas for Laura and Thomas Dekker for Baphomet or bust!)
Gillen and McKelvie are an unstoppable force, their ability to reach readers at a genuinely emotional level is something to both appreciate and fear. They have a natural chemistry for creating, and it shows in their working relationship. Gillen’s writing is heartfelt and bold; his determination to take major risks with his characters for the sake of storytelling is admirable, even when devastating. McKelvie’s flattering costume designs and talent for facial expressions, along with Matthew Wilson’s breathtaking, electrifying colours create a symphony of eye-catching scenes and beautifully-illustrated panels that provide an extra layer of sheer magic to the story being told. Clayton Cowles’ lettering fits each character’s voice and personality perfectly. In addition, all of the cover art is so gorgeous that it’s almost like Pokémon – you’ve gotta catch ’em all!
The diversity and representation in this book alone is something to make special note of, with female characters front and center, characters of colour, sexual orientations other than hetero, and trans* individuals. Most importantly? None of them are used as props. This comic is wonderfully represented, and doesn’t shy away from being different in any facet. This comic deserves to be a nominee for Best New Series, as well as McKelvie and Wilson’s separate nominations for Best Cover Artist and Wilson for Best Colouring.The appropriately-named first volume of the series is The Faust Act, in reference to the legend of Faust, who sells his soul to the Devil in return for knowledge and power. This is a theme illustrated at many points throughout the series, but it’s especially poignant in the first arc with Laura’s journey down the rabbit hole. Everyone wants to become one of the lucky few blessed with the power of the gods, her included. They clamor for it, even though the end is inevitable.
This plays on the fascination of fans who are as eager to watch their idols rise as they are to see them fall, secretly wishing to become what they covet themselves. It’s said throughout the series that before they were incarnated, the gods were fans, too. Inanna pointedly questions why anyone would want this life, effectively shattering the illusion that the doomed are as accepting of their fate as their loyal fans. In The Wicked + The Divine and accompanying Writer’s Notes, Gillen relays a somber message that, no matter what, there is never enough time. But maybe it’s more about what you do in the time you have that matters. The second volume, Fandemonium, comes out in July. For those who aren’t keeping up with the single issues, just be ready with a box of tissues and crying Tumblr .gifs to get you through it. We’re all in this together.