The Young Avengers team of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie return to their indie roots and get god-like in The Wicked and The Divine from Image Comics, but is this pure comics heaven or a one way ticket to hell?
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Price: £2.99/$3.99 from the Image Comics Digital Store
In the world of comics, there are certain combinations of writers and artist that bring the absolute best out of each other – Brubaker/Philips, Bendis/Oeming, Vaughan/Staples – now add to that list Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. For mainstream fans they’re the team behind the excellent Young Avengers, but for more discerning readers they’re also the creators of 90s Indie Britpop series Phonogram.
For those whose only experience with Gillen/McKelvie has been their New Avengers run, then you are in for a treat as The Wicked and The Divine see them back to their intellectual high-concept best as TWTD is a return to the kind of edgy and articulate story-telling that made their work stand out from the crowd 10 years ago.
In the notes at the end of the book Gillen describes TWTD as the evil twin to Phonogram, where both twins are evil and thematically, both are very familiar. We see many of the recognisable tropes from Gillen’s work rear their heads in this first issue from strong female characters to verbose nerdy men via an obsession with music and a supernatural under tone. However TWTD is much more conventional than Phonogram with an actual story and even a cliffhanger ending, so have those years working on Young Avengers tamed the rebllious voice?
As with a lot of Gillen’s work the themes are as important as the story and in TWTD he explores everything from the nature of fame and celebrity to the relevance and roles of gods in a secular society. The story in this first issue revolves around a young girl who goes to see god/pop star Atavashu and who, after the climactic concert, is taken backstage by the mysterious Luci and introduced to the secretive world of gods who are worshipped like pop stars. Having been introduced to this clandestine world in the opening pages via a mysterious ritual involving a round table and some skulls, backstage we see the flipside of this world as an aggressive interviewer is attempting to debunk these characters, questioning whether they are gods or just delusional people. All this leads into an action set piece in the middle which sees the devilish Luci wield her powers to the detriment of some snipers before building towards a stunning court room scene which sees Luci outmanouevred by an unknown entity into proving her powers are real.
Gillen’s script is full of the kind of verbose, bordering on pretentious, dialogue he has made his own and takes the notion of gods and men interacting into an exciting Gaiman-esque direction. Despite his characters being very deliberately god-like, they feel more super heroic than mystical (which may in part be down to McKelvie’s clean line work or the legacy of too much Young Avengers) and reminded us of stories like Kingdom Come or Powers that focus on the way people deal with these godlike characters whether that is through worship or revulsion.
The characters feel very real and grounded, which helps stop the story from disappearing into flights of fancy. This is still a book about gods though and there is still plenty of time for some spectacle, especially in the first scene where we see Atavashu in action which is truly electric. McKelvie’s character design is immaculate with each god given their own unique design that both compliments and contrasts each other, while every page has the carefully styled and graphical feel we know and love. The unsung hero of this team up though is colorist Matthew Wilson, whose technicolour palette gives the book a neon, almost garish tone, which works perfectly with the subject matter and makes McKelvie’s work leap out of every page, especially when compared to the lo-fi look of Phonogram.
For fans of smart, articulate comics, this first issue is everything you could ask for and more. The Wicked and The Divine rightly sits alongside books like Sex Criminals and Saga as one of the most exciting and original titles around.