Why You Should Read: “The Wicked + The Divine”

by Milan Reno

As opposed to what my office nickname hints at, my raiding proficiency and activities are modest at best, and my Daveness could do with some work. Nonetheless, there’s something fascinating about experiencing life through a masque. For all you know, I’m a Ukrainian-Mexican mutt with an ominous obsession for butts, belching, and butts belching. 

Yet such a possible but not entirely feasible identity becomes diluted, downplayed and downright dwarfed by the merebnotion of RAIDER DAVE. Jokes aside, this theatricality, this otherness, is what led me from an early age into loving much of the stuff I do now. Because the masque isn’t necessarily some falsehood, it is often a heightened performance of who we really are. 

Let this serve as a brief introduction and foreshadowing into things I’ll be talking about in future entries. My columns will spend a majority of their time examining the fun side of literary theory, featuring some of my favorite examples such as JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and the Persona spin-off series. But for now, I’ll start with one of my favourite comic book series of all time, certainly my top pick from Image Comics: The Wicked + The Divine. I got our good pal Jorge absolutely hooked on it and I’d love to spread the vice here with you, dear reader.

35 issues in and 4 special one-shots, this is a series that’s been going fair and smooth and the final issues are actually in sight. But, if for some reason, you haven’t checked it out, this is why you ought to do yourself a favour, and get yourself The Wicked + The Divine. 

Right off the bat, the visual presentation of the covers (whether you look at individual issues or a trade paperback) should hint at an acute leaning toward the stylish. Gone are the subversively dark aesthetics Image Comics became known for during their early years with Spawn, Shadowhawk and, uh, whatever Rob Liefeld was up to, (Packet-Man? Commander Cargo Shorts? The Human Pouch?). In comparison WicDiv’s palette is lively and colourful and deftly manages to avoid coming off as saccharine. Additionally, Jamie McKelvie’s pencils are some of the most precise I’ve ever seen, resulting in nigh-photo realistic designs. Although the character portraits featured on each issues’ cover tend to portray nothing further than stoic, neutral faces, actual renderings of facial expression throughout the series are top notch. Quite a bit more detailed than the occasional Pop Art tendency, but not overly reliant on excess. So, even just for the sake of looking at a pretty thing, you can’t go wrong with WicDiv.

But although humans are shallow creatures of the eye, a pretty-looking thing won’t do to encourage commitment for a monthly publication, certainly not in this economy. Thankfully, this is where WicDiv’s greatest asset comes into play: its writing. To this very day, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman stands tall as the best comic book I’ve ever read (one of the best things I’ve ever read, period), yet swell English fella Kieron Gillen’s pen poses a most formidable competitor in this comic. His style brandishes the wealth of experience he’s amassed as a journalist and comic book writer (mostly on the side of Marvel) and includes massive narrative depth, miles of wit, generous helpings of intertextuality, and an enviable handle on tragic and comedic tones. 

Having read so far, you’re probably saying something along the lines of “yes, yes, we get it, Mr. Raider Dave. This thing ‘looks good’, ‘reads good’, probably does other things ‘good as well'. But what is this thing about’” Well, in broad strokes, let’s first define the British TV series Misfits (which you should also watch) as a mixture of Skins and X-Men. So far, so good? WicDiv is basically Misfits, but instead of wild kids with superpowers, it’s about wild kids turning into Gods, and thus having godly powers, which they use to become the ultimate pop stars. I now hear you say, “That’s all well and good, Dave Mr. Raider, but where’s the conflict? Where’s the tension that will snatch my ease when I attempt and fail to sleep at night, and also when I attempt and fail while at the uh... 'superbowl'?”

Indeed. It can’t be all hunky-dory. If the “with great power comes great responsibility” adage fails here, the logical follow up “with great power comes a great price” fills in nicely. The characters in this comic do obtain these amazing powers and fancy divine makeovers, but their lifespan is reduced to only two years after they become Gods. The ultimate Faustian Bargain for sure, but that’s not all. There’s a dark menace looming on the shores, a reason for which Gods manifest every ninety years, a big baddie to be defeated. By now, I’m flirting dangerously with spoiler territory, and I’m nothing if not foolishly daring, so I’ll stop there with the main conflicts. The other half, equally hefty, falls to character development and interactions; the inevitable drama of adolescent characters amplified by godly powers. Simply put, it far makes up for the shallowness that is oft synonymous with the Young Adult genre, and puts forward well-fleshed, problematized young characters that will steal your breath away and/or let you down with their jackassery.

There’s also a fair bit of sex and death, if that’s what tickles your fancy. And some of the most intelligent, chilling plot-twists I’ve ever encountered. Less said about them the better, eh? 

Moving back to my point way above, about the notion of otherness and masquerade. I’d like to address both Kieron’s writing and Jamie’s artwork as one and the same regarding the gods, not as conveyors of fancy powers, but as extensions of the cast’s humanity. Personally, I’m an agnostic fella with a Judaism-educated worldview, and I strongly lean towards the idea of gods being an enhanced reprisal of humanity’s traits, graces, and vices. This comic takes the bond between humanity and divinity and absolutely soars with it in a way that masterfully engages the reader’s imagination and easily encourages self-reflection. 

I can honestly think of very few comic books that feature such a dynamic. By comparison, the X-Men making me wonder what kind of mutant I’d be isn't nearly as impactful and satisfying as when WicDiv makes me wonder which god I would be. And therein lies part of the charm. It’s accessible, as much as it can be within the realm of our imagination, without which… well, where would we all be? So honestly, this is a comic you’d be a fool to miss out on. It basically checks all the correct boxes and aces the extra credit, such as addressing social issues and universal pains and struggles that we deal with across our lives, regardless of our age and context. For to experience life through the masque of a God is no different from experiencing it as fragile mortals. It is however infinitely more entertaining.

So, yeah. Buy it. 

This has been Raiding Dave Esq. with another lovely recommendation of stuff for good-looking people with good taste on everything. Stay tuned for a couple more.