The Wicked + The Divine is a comic I’ve been actively following since even before my time with Comic Bastards, seeing the solicitations with those already iconic portrait covers from series artist Jamie McKlevie on other titles leading up to its premiere last summer. And now, now I finally got to take over from Nina to gush and criticize in my oh so typical manner. Thanks Nina! While I haven’t come to like it as much as McKlevie and Kieron Gilen’s work on The Young Avengers (I have yet to get to Phonogram, but I will in this lifetime people!), it’s a comic I look forward to reading each month curious about where Gilen and McKlevie take this story about young sexy gods. Continuing in her search for answers about Luci’s, the reincarnated Lucifer’s, death at the end of the first arc, Laura joins up with Inanna, a fabulous god that looks like Prince in his prime only hotter on a hunt for information at a party hosted by Dionysus, god of theater and wine. There they hope to acquire information from the gods in attendance about what they perceive might be their most vulnerable state while also getting an opportunity to rage in a manner only possible around a god who’s all about revelry.
There’s a lot of positives to this comic that I want to get into, but before that I just wanted to remark on my ongoing issue with this comic, which is just a fundamental concern with style over substance. Even after reading the entire issue twice over, I still don’t feel like either the story or my understanding of any of the characters had changed in any significant ways, but perhaps that’s intentional or maybe I’m just looking at it the wrong way. For instance, perhaps my focus on how Laura’s mystery-solving goes inevitably leaves me disappointed because of how slowly paced out that narrative thread is. Maybe I should instead concern myself with Laura’s gradual disillusionment with the grand lives allotted to these gods, the reveal about Dionysus at the end providing one of the most effective emotional moments in the book so far. Maybe then by engaging with the book with what it is actually trying to do and enjoying that as opposed to bemoaning the way in which it does not meet my preferred pacing I could increase my overall regard for this book. Of course, I say all this knowing that next issue I’m gonna want more than a morsel of plot regardless of how wowza the comic looks or reads.
Gilen and McKlevie seem intent to push the medium with this issue, experimenting with interesting ways of conveying a party atmosphere under the influence of Dionysus. When Laura touches Dionysus to gain admittance to the party, the pages begin to separate themselves into eight panels at two panels per row. Each row features one panel showing activity from the party and the opposing panel has a number, going from one to four, changing sides with each row. I had trouble making sense of this number system, and showed a few people to get their thoughts on it, finally deciding that it’s meant to capture the beat of the music Laura begins to hear within herself after touching Dionysus. I really liked how it both kept pace of the reading while also disorienting me a bit as time between the activity panels seemed to pass at different rates. If I’m interpreting the technique’s purpose accurately though, there were perhaps ways for it to function even more elegantly by making the activity panels take up a similar amount of time to read. As is, I really enjoyed it, gaining an increased sense of the strangeness of the party as each panel went by and faces appeared and left.
I’ll just finish things off for now by giving kudos to Gilen and McKlevie for making Dionysus such an interesting and appealing character. For the most part, the gods are pretty despicable in their arrogance or self-absorption so it was a relief to find that Dionysus is such an endearing character. Rather than make him an aggressive partier, Dionysus is calm and inviting to Laura without ever pressuring her, the complete antithesis of what perhaps typically comes to mind when one thinks about a god that’s all about celebration.
Even though we don’t see him throughout, I feel like in just this introduction we gain a great sense about Dionysus’ motivations as well as the weights placed on him in his new role. That’s why his last scene with Laura this issue turns out to be such a gut punch, I came to like him so much and wanted things to be as simple as they appeared at the start of the issue but of course they’re not. It never is in an honest story. And that’s probably what’s most endearing about Gilen and McKlevie’s work with this comic, that even with such an outlandish premise they still manage to make it all sound true. Now if they could only tell me who killed Luci, then I’d be golden.