Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Colorist: Matthew Wilson
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
Over in the backmatter of The Wicked and the Divine, Kieron Gillen describes his new series with Jamie McKelvie as the “evil twin” to their masterful “music-as-magic” series Phonogram. The phrase is partially meant as a quick response to the inevitable “Why isn’t this a new Phonogram book?” question that rose up the instant the title was announced, but it’s also a statement about the way Gillen has always approached pop culture fanaticism, namely as a religion with its own icons, gods and holy texts. The Wicked and the Divine isn’t a twin work just because it shares Phonogram’s creative team, it’s a mirror image where religion is mimicking pop culture instead of the other way around.
Essentially a story about cycles, rebirth and conversion (all three of which are necessary components of pop music), The Wicked and the Divine is perhaps Gillen and McKelvie’s most ambitious work yet, spanning multiple centuries and cultures. Its cast is made up of an assortment of people who claim to be various religious figures, from a Thin White Duke-aping Lucifer to an Aladdin Sane-inspired Amaterasu to a pattern breaking punked up Rihanna-esque Sakhmet. These figures are easily accepted and worshipped by the young amongst us, who watch them perform and respond with literally orgasmic enthusiasm, but they have their naysayers, including a jaded internet journo conveniently named Cassandra. The first issue is chiefly set in the present, but the cold open and Cassandra’s dialogue makes it clear that these religious revivals happen once a century, though the issue also hints that something isn’t on plan with this current cycle, since the gods seem to be down a number and other, more fatal accidents happen by the end.
That previously mentioned backmatter also refers to The Wicked and the Divine as the product of an exceedingly dark time in Gillen’s life, and narratively it shows, even if McKelvie’s art is amongst his most beautiful to date. Gillen has McKelvie depict menacing glares, smug courtroom takedowns and heads exploded in brutal fashion all with the same shimmering devotion, a subtle comment on the way nearly all religions present beautiful iconography and stories about frequently horrible acts. Gillen and McKelvie are such an exciting team because their strengths complement each other so well, covering up each other’s rough edges and enabling them to tell stories that are so uniquely their own. But the personal darkness Gillen speaks of as inspiring the work also makes McKelvie even more important than ever in this partnership, as his stunning ability to bring character’s expressions to vivid life prohibits some of Gillen’s snarkier dialogue from coming across as hateful rather than clever.
Even in its darkest moments, The Wicked and the Divine is imbued with a brightness, both in terms of the awe inspiring religious figures and the literal brightness of Matthew Wilson’s color palette. Phonogram notably had a pop sheen in all its forms, but The Wicked and the Divine is on a whole other level, as everything from crackling electricity and spontaneous combustions punctuate the otherwise startlingly clean scenery. Gillen jokes that he and McKelvie had once considered doing an “Ultimate” Phonogram and states that this is as close as that will ever get to happening, but there’s some seriousness to that claim, too. Already the series is a lot more action packed and murderous (though there hasn’t been any dismemberment or sex tapes, yet), and the plotting is far faster paced than any instalment of Phonogram.
It’s also worth noting that indie comics in general have been fascinated with apocalyptic rather than post-apocalyptic stories as of late, and The Wicked and the Divine fits easily alongside East of West as a particularly heady approach to that theme. Emotional exorcism through art, cheeky reconfiguration of Phonogram, or apocalyptic god revival tale, whatever you describe it as, The Wicked and the Divine is already set to be another phenomenal series from one of comics’ best creative teams.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with Dylan Garsee on twitter: @Nick_Hanover