Review: The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 1: The Faust Act trade paperback (Image Comics)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

It's a Collected Editions co-review, as I join contributor Doug Glassman ('80s Marvel Rocks!) to discuss The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 1: The Faust Act.

Collected Editions: The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 1: The Faust Act will be an interesting one for us to review together, especially if you liked it, because by and large I did not. This is a perfectly workable premise -- gods reincarnated every ninety years as essentially pop celebrities, but given only two years to live -- but I never felt the story delved below the surface level.

"Pop stars are our new gods" is an interesting concept, but not really new or groundbreaking, and it wasn't until the end that I really thought we got into the implications of all of this (and even that was mainly just teaser for the next volume) -- what does it mean to have instant celebrity but only two years to live? What would compel one to live those two years as a celebrity? In what way would that celebrity be satisfying or unsatisfying? The story didn't dig into any of this, and aside from Lucifer the characters felt thin to me, more metaphorical straw men than characters to care about in their own right.

Doug Glassman: That The Wicked + The Divine starts out feeling shallow is not really a surprise. I've read a few titles from Kieron Gillen and they've all taken three or four issues to really get going. It's less noticeable with his Marvel work since the characters are already well-known, but the characters presented here don't quite invite interest. There's some momentum lost in issue #3 with the sudden introduction of too many death gods all at once. However, I feel like the book can be forgiven for this because of the way Gillen is setting up the events. This feels like the start of an epic -- a combined retelling of all myth through modern eyes.

I also wouldn't be giving Wicked + Divine as much latitude without Jamie McKelvie's artwork. While he occasionally has an issue with "same face," he can get past this with defining hairstyles and make-up. (It is a little distracting that the protagonist looks exactly like Miss America from Young Avengers ... ) For all its faults, issue #3 in particular has some masterful panel layouts, including the use of text on pure black to enhance the spookiness of the land of the dead, which is of course in a Tube tunnel. One last artistic note: I can't believe that Jonathan Hickman didn't design the table of god insignias that serves as a transition between issues. McKelvie does one hell of an impression of him with that design.

CE: Indeed what struck me most about Wicked + Divine was McKelvie's artwork, as you said. I found his depictions of the characters attractive, if sometimes utilitarian -- realistic and simple without many stylistic "tics," but I don't mind an artist who gets out of their own way and also I recognize McKelvie is doing something with the straightforward presentations, pronounced eyes, etc. But, throughout the book, that use of black with white type really makes the story -- about the only thing that suggested to me that the book was "something else" -- and this was especially important because it buffeted what I thought was the book's nadir, the issue #3 that you mentioned, when the book leaves behind protagonist Laura and the other characters we know for about a dozen pages of a fight between Baphomet and the Morrigan.

Gillen and McKelvie also offer a bunch of pages where light breaks through the black pages or otherwise the following page repeats some of the previous page, which reminded me of Mark Waid's Thrillbent or Marvel Infinite Comics, and I imagine Wicked + Divine has a nicely animated feel when read digital.

There's a host of praise from talented people on the back of this book and Wicked + the Divine seems to have a significant following online. I can appreciate a book that builds slow, though I think other writers have combined a slow build still with something feeling like it's happening, given after all that comics are mainly a serial medium. So what am I missing, in that I felt like I'd read the "meet the pantheon" murder mystery already in Fables: Legends in Exile and found it fresher there than the equivalent here ten years later?

DG: I don't think Wicked + Divine was written for long-time fans.

There's really no way to write this without sounding like a complete tool, but Gillen and McKelvie as a creative unit have a specific fanbase of newer readers with an interest in broader representation of minorities, many of whom decided to check in on comics because of the many superhero movies. I suppose that's a very long way of saying "hipsters" ... but I honestly don't want to paint new readers and socially-conscious readers in a bad light. Comics are for everyone and I applaud all the efforts to add some diversity and complexity with books like Saga, Prophet, Young Avengers, Hawkeye, Dial H, and Batgirl. By the same token, this crowd often looks for help in picking older comics to read and may not be versed in comics history where it differs from the films. There's a balance, and I think there's enough room for the more straightforward Fables and the more stylistic Wicked + Divine.

Plus there's the ITBYCB Philosophy I mentioned in the recent solicits write-up. Image is really good at putting out introductory trades at a cheap rate which grab your attention. You can imagine them saying, "After all, It's Ten Bucks You Cheap Bastard. You can't afford a ten dollar trade?" If you wind up liking the book, the next trades are more expensive; if you don't like it, you haven't lost money and they haven't lost money on you.

CE: I think you've hit the nail on the head there. Wicked + the Divine does read to me like someone's first comic. And that's fine -- everyone's got to start somewhere, and surely I should say there's a lot worse things in the world than a mature comic with a female protagonist; sharp, genuine-sounding dialogue; transgender and genderqueer characters; and encyclopedic knowledge of gods and goddesses from a variety of religions. That it comes off to me as derivative might be a reflection of my own jadedness; everything is derivative of something, and certainly the influences in Wicked + the Divine are influences I've previously enjoyed.

Whereas I kind of thought I wouldn't read another volume of this, I'm thinking now that if the second volume, through new god Laura, offers a more personal take on the events, maybe I can see how that would raise the first volume along with it.

Closing thoughts on this one?

DG: I'd say pick up The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 1: The Faust Act just to see what people are talking about. It's a definite "love it or hate it" book. I personally enjoyed it as a fan of comparative mythology -- after all, you rarely get to see Ananke and Badb show up in the pages of Wonder Woman or Thor. And considering the recent deal Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick made with Universal to bring Sex Criminals to television, I'd say it's likely that Gillen is on the short list for the next Image author to make the media jump, and The Wicked + The Divine would possibly make a better television series than comic book.

[Includes original and variant covers and art, "Apocrypha" (announcement, teaser)]

Great to chat with Doug as always. Come back tomorrow for something completely different -- my review of Star Trek Vol. 9: The Q Gambit Forever Evil: ARGUS!
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