By Darius Cowan, Prose Staff
Every 90 years, twelve gods are reincarnated as young people. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they’re all gone. The year is 2014. It’s happened before. It’s happening again. So begins the tale of The Wicked + the Divine.
Writer Kieron Gillen teams up with artist Jamie McKelvie to tell the story of young people who get everything they want, and how that all goes wrong. It’s about art and fame and the tragedy that comes with it all. It’s about youth. It’s about cycles and how they break. It’s about pop stars and patriarchy and abuse. It’s about pretty much everything. Why aren’t you reading it?
Here’s the gist: every 90 years, a woman known as Ananke goes around and finds twelve young people who are gods reincarnated. She recites some poetry and they ascend to godhood. For two years, they give art to the world, they inspire the people, and then they’re gone.
As someone who is fairly interested in comic books as a storytelling medium and extremely interested in ancient mythology, the synopsis hooked me. Reincarnation? Ancient gods? Did I mention pop stars? The idea is a perfect storm. But how do you navigate it?
With careful planning and a fangirl, apparently.
Laura Wilson is both narrator and main character of the series. She gets caught up with the Pantheon when the current incarnation of Lucifer is framed for murder. She is an absolute fanatic of the Pantheon, and this is good for several reasons. First and obviously foremost, she knows a lot about them, which makes for an easy way to tell us about them. In this alternate version of our world, the Pantheon and the Recurrence that is their life cycle is well known and established. Laura’s voice is the bridge between us and this world where pop stars are also gods, and their concerts are nothing less than religious experiences.
Secondly, Laura is relatable. She’s a fan of something, and we, as comic readers, have all been fans of something. Her discussions of fandom, her descriptions of the gods, her experiences—they are all familiar ground to us. You only have to have gone to one concert, to have seen only one of your favorite artists perform live to understand what she’s experiencing.
And third, she’s a young girl finding herself in the world, and she’s almost as clueless as we are. She acts as her own mystery. Even as we find ourselves asking questions about the world and the characters that inhabit it, we are also wondering, just who is Laura Wilson? And the best part is, she isn’t entirely sure of the answer herself.
As for the storyline, Gillen really knows what he’s doing. It’s 4 years into the series run, with the last story arc coming up in January, and up until now, every single beat, vague piece of dialogue, and seemingly-meaningless symbol has paid off in some form or fashion. The story has clearly been thought out and mapped long in advance. Payoffs are satisfying, explanations make sense, and plot holes are practically non-existent. Gone are the days of dramatic power increases suddenly solving problems. The characters can’t fight everything, and it shows. Every issue has you flipping back to earlier ones with new knowledge that changes how everything is read. Early on, it’s made clear that not everything is as it seems, and the story that we (and Laura) are being told isn’t necessarily true.
The Pantheon is very fascinating and brilliantly executed, with every god having their own distinct color pallet and style that easily distinguishes their powers and personalities when things get wild. Inanna appears in clouds of sparkly pink starlight, Baal crashes into panels cloaked in purple lightning, and Amaterasu zips across the pages in rays of red and gold.
It’s all gorgeous. These characters are gods, and pop stars, and also, in a way, super heroes. But what’s also important to the series is that these characters are also, for the most part, children. Laura is only 17 when the series begins, and many of the gods aren’t much older when they ascend. The virgin goddess Minerva is known for incarnating only in young girls, and her 2014 incarnation is no older than 13. The older end of the Pantheon is only about early college age. And while all of the fame and power is cool, many of them are very vocal on their new two year expiration date. Some of them, like Lucifer and the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet, go full hedonist and take what they want, when they want, while others, like Amaterasu, are resigned to their fate, and believe that there’s always a next life as a god.
Still there are others, like Baphomet, who feels that his girlfriend, the Morrigan, has signed him up for a death sentence, or Tara, known throughout the series as “fucking Tara”, who is hated because she never wanted to be a goddess and insists on playing her own music instead of using her powers.
The fame that swallows the children takes clear effects on them, as they are framed, flamed, slandered, and misunderstood throughout the series. Many of them collapse under the weight of their own massive empires; there is a reason one arc of the series is called “Imperial Phase”. And at the heart of it all, the question that plagues the series and the characters alike: why? Why are the gods here? Where did they come from, and what are they for?
With the series closing in on its finale, and more and more about the true origins of the gods being uncovered, the answer may be far more complicated than we thought.