Title: The Wicked and the Divine Volume 3: Commercial Suicide
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artists: Kate Brown (Issue 12); Tula Lotay (Issue 13); Jamie McKelvie (Issue 14); Stephanie Hans (Issue 15); Leila del Duca (Issue 16); Brandon Graham (Issue 17)
Colorists: Matthew Wilson (Issue 14); Mat Lopes (Issue 16); Dee Cunniffe (flatter)
Letterer: Clayton Cowles (Issue 17 by Brandon Graham)
Spoiler Warning! This review talks about the plot of the graphic novel being reviewed. Read at your own risk!
The first time I read a Kieron Gillen/Jamie McKelvie/Matt Wilson collaboration was their 2013 run on Young Avengers. Though I found it enjoyable enough, I never expected the three would, with letterer Clayton Cowles, create such a compelling series in The Wicked and the Divine. Every time a new trade comes out, I pounce on it hungrily, with a primal need to know what happens next. The back of each collection hails it as a “modern fantasy where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods,” a testament to the power of creation and celebrity but also its cost. Every 90 years, 12 gods are awakened within the bodies of contemporary youths, and then die after two years of stardom. This third collection, Commercial Suicide, advances the plot, gives much-needed character depth to some of the minor characters, and provides a stage for artists other than McKelvie and Wilson to provide their own interpretations of the world of WicDiv through collaboration with Gillen. Even better, it accomplishes all of these things with the skill and aplomb readers have come to expect from WicDiv.
On the face of it, issue 12 focuses on more immediate fallout of Inanna’s death in the previous volume, Fandemonium, but on a metaphorical level, it’s about characters who have been left behind in the wake of Fandemonium. Beth, amateur video journalist, was fired by recurring character Cassandra and missed the chance to become part of Urdr, the Norse triple-goddess Cassandra has become. Now, insecurity and jealousy drive her to manipulate Baal, grieving from Inanna’s death and desperately hunting for his killer, Baphomet. Baal nearly kills the Morrigan, who feels alone after Baphomet, her lover, went on the lam. Kate Brown uses cartoon-like exaggeration of expression and simplification of detail, but it makes Baal’s fight against Morrigan no less savage and intense. Pastel shades make everything pop, especially Baal’s lightning, which is surrounded by classic color dots that blend Kirby krackle with a supposedly outmoded color technique. This issue demonstrates a side of Baal rarely seen; in an exclusive interview with Beth, he lets down his Kanye-like posturing and tough exterior to talk genuinely about his emotions, looking uncomfortable all the while, which is great synergy. Some of the cartooning even seeps into Cowles’ lettering in this issue, particularly when characters yell, demonstrating, like the rest of this volume, Cowles’ range.
In Issue 13, for example, the god Tara’s narrative captions have a handwritten quality, the boxes looking like torn pieces of paper. The art, penciled then colored over Dee Cunniffe’s flats by Tula Lotay, uses lines like rough pencils or chalk. Every line flows and curves, even if it’s just an ever-so-slightly rounded corner. The colors are soft earth tones, complementing Tara’s brown skin. I found the story heart-wrenching. Tara hates being a god, so she wears a mask to be herself, to perform the songs she wrote before becoming Tara, which the fans hate. They only like her when she’s being Tara the god. Before her awakening, she was subject to sexual harassment, and by the end of this issue, she draws such ire online that she asks Ananke, the gods’ overseer, to kill her. Reading the two-page spread of harassing tweets she received made me sick, which is the point; it’s a reflection of reality. Online harassment can, and has, driven people to suicide, and to see it tackled so unflinchingly in a comic is brave, important storytelling.
Issue 14 is an innovative “remix issue” focusing, appropriately, on Woden, the god whose aesthetic is borrowed from Daft Punk and Tron. It uses McKelvie and Wilson’s art from previous issues, splicing and rearranging panels to create a new story. Glitch-like artifacts and strange colors suggest an imperfect, computer-like memory for Woden. Occasional ghost-images of the reused panels show through, which is interesting in the context of a cyborg’s memories. This project could have easily turned out poorly, but it’s fascinating, and to top it off, we learn a little more about Woden. Previously he’s come off as just a jerk, but this issue demonstrates he’s a calculating, manipulative schemer, Ananke’s lapdog. As Cassandra puts it, “You’re not stupid, are you? Just evil.” Woden responds, “Correct. And if you know you’re wrong, it’s even worse.”
Stephanie Hans’ art in Issue 15 uses painterly, sunny watercolors, which fits for its focus on Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess. It can be like soft rays or supernova-intense with equal effectiveness. It also navigates Cassandra/Urdr’s accusations of cultural appropriation, as Amaterasu, a white woman, has been awakened as a Shinto goddess and has only the most tenuous grasp of what Shinto is and means. On the other side of the coin, however, it shows Amaterasu realizes she represents something important, and implies she goes to pray at the Meiji Shrine every day. Amaterasu has been rarely seen, so seeing this side of her helps the world, and shows she’s trying even if she isn’t doing the best job.
Leila del Duca and Mat Lopes’ Issue 16 is about Morrigan and Baphomet as young goth lovers before they became gods. Del Duca’s tendency to draw thin, angular figures makes her a great fit, and Lopes uses a palette that makes the environments look overcast. Gillen’s writing makes a convincing argument that Morrigan and Baphomet do feel deeply for each other, dysfunctional as their relationship may be. Finally, Brandon Graham is a great fit for Issue 17, given the focus his King City put on cats and the character focus of Sakhmet, who is like a cat. She looks and feels cat-like under Graham’s pen, her body stretching and compressing in feline ways. She lies on the floor, pounces, self-grooms just like a cat. Gillen writes her like a cat, too: indifferent and pleasure-seeking, but also extremely dangerous. She’s docile when kept subdued by alcohol and sex, but when her Valkyrie watcher loses track of her, Woden and the reader arrive to find she has eaten her father. Her past of homelessness and an abusive family is only hinted at, but it pains a sobering picture that before, Sakhmet would have given anything to not feel, and now that she’s a cat goddess and an idol of millions, she doesn’t have to feel anything but what she wants to feel.
The Wicked and the Divine never fails to impress. When I picked up the first issue in 2014, I knew it was going to be something big, and each subsequent issue has proven that again and again. Gillen recently wrote that he expects WicDiv will be his and McKelvie’s “big statement” on comics in the end, and if this is the case, they could hardly ask for a better one. With so many great creators involved, it’s well on its way to becoming a masterpiece.