This past year has, in its grim way, showed us the importance of being a fan.
Following the deaths of David Bowie and Prince, first there was shock and then memorials — summations of how the artists had the power to change lives, how they made people feel brave, or desired, or not alone. During these times, I was moved less by my own relationship to Bowie or Prince and more by reading how other people felt, seeing how a song, a costume, or simply just their existence shifted people’s lives. These artists’ deaths crystallized the relationship between artistry and human connection.
Bowie and Prince’s deaths came to mind as I read through back issues and the new arc of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s comic book The Wicked + The Divine. It’s almost impossible not to: Two of the characters (Luci and Inanna) are modeled after the music legends, and the book is, among other things, a love letter to pop music.
The premise: Ancient gods are reincarnated as superpowered humans, and get to live that way on Earth for two years. So naturally, they all become pop stars, because there’s nothing more adored or more powerful in contemporary Earth culture than a pop star.
The first arc of The Wicked + The Divine is about the seduction of fame, capturing what it’s like when you’ll do anything for that movie star, singer, or artist you love, and how we’d do anything to live as them. The darker second and third arcs flip the lens, finding the faults in the beauty and showing the dehumanization artists are subjected to.
The Wicked + The Divine has been masterful throughout, but the most recent arc, "Rising Action," is like watching your favorite band give a concert at Madison Square Garden. Everything that McKelvie, Gillen, and their team have built — gods like Minerva, Persephone, and Baal; the archaic rules of this world; the villain Ananke, who is also the den mother of the gods; the twisting mystery of these gods’ existence — comes crashing together in a massive civil war.
Laura, the fan on whom the first arc centers, comes back as the goddess Persephone to take revenge on Ananke, the gods’ sly and cunning caretaker. The lines are divided between the gods of hell (Persephone, Morrigan, Baphomet, Dionysus) and those loyal to Ananke, like Baal, Sakhmet, and Woden. The result is the best, most vibrant superhero brawl in recent memory.
Gillen and McKelvie’s talents are on full display. It’s a kaleidoscope of color smashed with wit and humor.
This arc’s final issue, No. 22, is what this year’s lackluster Video Music Awards should have been: deities breaking each other’s bones, acidic insults thrown, blood and bruises discoloring divine skin. It’s breathless, glamorous violence that doesn’t pull any punches. But it also manages to tear down everything we thought we knew about this world and launch it into an unknown place.
The Wicked + The Divine has been one of my favorite comics of the past two years. It’s an effortless, shimmery wonder about pop stars when it wants to be, and a stomach-dropping musing on humanity when it chooses to shed that glamour. And in this arc, Gillen and McKelvie have shown their gods are superheroes who can fight with the best of them.