Spencer: There’s a reason they call pop stars “idols.” I’ve been to concerts that were essentially religious experiences to many in the crowd; whether it’s their larger than life style or the way they can connect with their listeners, pop stars (as well as many other musicians and celebrities) have, unintentionally or not, set themselves up as a new pantheon of modern-day deities. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie have hit plot beats similar to this before with Phonogram — where music is magic — but in The Wicked + The Divine 1, they literally turn gods into pop stars, complete with concerts-as-masses and a snazzy 1-2-3-4 whenever they display their gifts. It seems to be a pretty apt look into modern-day spirituality.
91 years after they were last seen, a new pantheon of gods has again appeared on Earth. A young woman named Laura sneaks into Amaterasu’s concert and is the last one in the crowd to pass out…and wakes up face-to-face with Lucifer herself. Luci seems to take a liking to Laura and invites her to meet Amaterasu, who is having a press conference with a skeptical, non-believing reporter named Cassandra. The conference is cut short by gun-toting assassins who open fire on Amaterasu’s room; Luci makes their heads explode and allows herself to be arrested, if only so she can set a legal precedent that she is, in fact, actually a god. Instead, she makes the judge’s head explode, though she swears she didn’t do it.
Laura believes Luci, and I do too; not because Luci’s incapable of it, mind you, but because she obviously wants things from the judge that she can’t get it he’s dead. Thus far Gillen is playing his Lucifer closer to a trickster figure than a creature of pure evil, but that might actually be a more “accurate” assessment, as traditional narratives frame Lucifer as a creature of deception who will lull you into believing him then turn that trust against you; either way, it does raise questions as to what these gods are actually here to do and what they want of us.
My question here is, is this Amaterasu’s personal point-of-view, or is this how all these gods view their duties? It’s a far cry from an expectation of worship or from the Greek/Roman pantheons that view people as their playthings, and it’s certainly a change for the better; Cassandra thinks that these gods are just kids posturing, looking for attention, but if Amaterasu is correct, then they’re concerned about everybody but themselves.
It’s certainly the image Amaterasu presents at her gig, where she makes her fans feel infinity and leaves them in orgasmic rapture, but it seems more than likely that the other gods won’t be so benevolent. The bright lights, snappy banter, and very public presence of she and her brethren is a far cry from the issue’s opening scene, where the gods of 1923 say their final goodbyes at a dark ceremony behind closed doors; it looks very much like a ritual suicide.
Overall, there’s many more questions than answers in this book, but that isn’t a weakness yet; this is still only the first issue, and my questions just make me want to dig further into The Wicked + The Divine’s world to find the answers. Are these gods actually reincarnated deities, and is there more to their story than they’re letting on? How has their existence affected society around them? Why do they have to die after two years — and what would happen if one of them tried to escape this fate? Who is trying to fame Luci, if indeed that’s what’s happening?
Using Laura as the viewpoint character helps make the slow unraveling of these plot points feel natural; Laura may know more of her world than we do, but her knowledge of the gods’ true intentions is just as limited as ours, and given that she’s a fan, her view is obviously biased. While I’m feeling naturally skeptical about these characters (I’m way too Christian not to be), maybe we’re supposed to feel like Laura does, to trust these gods implicitly.
Or maybe we’re just supposed to think that Laura is young and inexperienced; while we haven’t seen any of the other gods’ “gigs”, it’s telling that Amaterasu’s is filled entirely with young people. Maybe the young are just more open to a possibility like this, or maybe they’re just more receptive to these gods’ pop/rock-star image. After all, what is it we seek out of music at that age? Camaraderie, understanding, a sense of belonging, a sense that there’s something else out there worth living for? Amaterasu’s giving them all that and more; she’s their role model, their idol, she’s the person Laura is trying to become to escape the person she is, and if that isn’t a form of worship, then I don’t know what is.
What we get out of this probably depends on how we already view the age we live in; is the idolization of celebrities a current trend, or something that’s always been around? Are kids turning to music and pop culture for salvation because of the increasing unreliability of most organized religion, or are they simply looking for something new and different? If we’re going to look at it through the world of The Wicked + The Divine, then is this a form the gods have chosen to appeal to the most “worshippers” possible, or does their appearance and attitude naturally adjust to the time they’re living in?
Man, I keep coming back to my many questions about the world Gillen and McKelvie have created, but that’s just a sign of how intriguing a world it is; if it wasn’t so fascinating, I wouldn’t care nearly as much about the answers. Patrick, are you intrigued by this issue? What’s your take on the pop star aesthetic of this pantheon? And hey, it would be criminal not to talk about the contributions of Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson — how are you feeling about the art?
Spencer, I demand that you use your godly powers to restore my head immediately, or we shan’t have an opportunity to discuss MeKelvie’s wonderful artwork at all! Actually let’s use that head-splosion here as our entry-point: this is the third time it happens in the issue, and each of these moments are incredibly stylish. For lack of a more articulate term, every time one of gods performs this ability, it’s insanely cool looking. True to McKelvie’s talents, every scene is elegantly staged, but there’s very little in this issue that breaks out from conventional page layouts – especially as we’re leading up to Luci’s heroic double-kllk, which is like six pages of talking heads in a hotel room. When Luci actually does draw down on her attackers, MeKelvie makes innovative use of the page, widening the gutters in the margins and between the panels, briefly creating to simultaneously occurring (and practically identical) action beats.
On the next page, those two exploding heads are still depicted as in their own separate panels. There’s no concrete effect this has on the storytelling: it’s not like we’re to infer that the events happen in the order they’re presented. It’s not “ready, ready, aim, aim, fire, fire” just “ready, aim, fire.” But goddamn is it cool. This is the sort of thing I tune in to McKelvie’s work for, as he’s proven quite adept at challenging the medium, and using the form for some remarkable storytelling. It also helps that Luci’s dispatching with some religious wackos (there’s a cross around one of their necks) who opened fire on a room full of innocent people. This magical head-pop is set up as a superpower, even in the hands of the devil.
That makes’s the twist at the end of the issue so much worse. What’s less heroic than murdering a judge on the stand? I love that McKelvie makes us linger on the aftermath of that moment for a long, uncomfortably grotesque panel.
See, it was all fun and games before — even the violent stuff was just too rad for us to really object to it. Part of what Gillen and McKelvie are attempting to accomplish in this first issue is to make the readers as enamored with Amaterasu and Luci (and Sakhamet, who mostly sits around looking good in this issue) as the people that worship them in the narrative. That’s a tall order, but not something that’s far outside their wheelhouse — if Young Avengers proved nothing else, it’s that Gillen and McKelvie can combine their wit, humor and sense of style to make even the most obscure team of heroes into Tumblr-ready celebrities.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?