Title: The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 1: The Faust Act
Publisher/Year: Image, 2014
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Collects: The Wicked + The Divine #1-5
The first trade paperback of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s gods-as-popstars book The Wicked + The Divine opens with a quote from Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, a plea for immortality in the face of imminent death. It is immediately followed by a line from the Dutch dance group Vengaboys’ song “Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!!” Obviously, this is a book that doesn’t take its big ideas too seriously.
That, of course, won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has followed Gillen and McKelvie’s previous work, of which I am (spoiler alert!) a huge fan. Their latest project takes place in a world in which gods appear every 90 years and inhabit the bodies of teenagers, turning them into superstars. The catch is that the gods only live for two years. Our guide through this world is Laura, a London teenager enraptured with the latest group of gods to turn up. When one of them, Lucifer, is accused of a murder she didn’t commit, Laura gets pulled further into the world of the gods as she tries to solve the mystery, creating more questions in the process.
What is special about The Wicked + The Divine is how real this fantastical world seems. Gillen and McKelvie have populated it with a diverse cast of characters who look and sound like they would not be out of place walking the streets of our London, and who have relatable emotions and motivations. The gods, for all their glitz and glamor, are also at heart frightened teenagers, who may not understand the truth of the bargain they had forced upon them, and who react to their fear with varying degrees of bluster, denial, and acceptance. Laura is a normal girl with a burning desire for something extraordinary, a longing many of us can identify with. By the end of the first arc, though, she sees the true cost of being that close to the flame, and it may be more than she is willing to pay.
That’s not to say that The Wicked + The Divine isn’t enormous fun to read, however. It is an incredibly witty book. Lucifer, in particular, has a wonderfully droll sense of humor, and the laughs make the emotional moments all the more poignant.
The long working relationship between Gillen and McKelvie shows as Gillen’s flair with dialogue combines with McKelvie’s mastery of facial expressions and body language to immediately give each character a distinct personality and recognizable voice. Equally important is the addition of Matthew Wilson on colors. His hypersaturated tones pop off the page, dazzling the reader as much as the gods do Laura.