Review – The Wicked + The Divine #3 (Image Comics)

Wicked+Divine03_CoverA - CopyPublisher: Image Comics
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Release Date: 20th August 2014

Shit just got dark.

First off, the vessel that transmits the message: the McKelvie/Wilson duad just gets better and better. It’s easy to seem evangelical about McKelvie’s work on WicDiv, but he’s genuinely operating at the top of his game. While absolutely retaining his own style throughout, everything’s come together in such a way that the art is both beautiful to look at, and subservient to the transmission of the story. The storytelling throughout is on top form – Morrigan appearing from the darkness and transforming into Badb in a glorious double page spread is one example where McKelvie proves that he’s genuinely one of the best visual storytellers in mainstream comics at the moment, but there are other, subtler examples – pages are eroded by darkness only to re-emerge again, and each character is beautifully modelled, retaining consistency through the entire chunky issue.

Matt Wilson’s colours continue to deserve praise – the bits where he gets to really show off feel like a genuinely new style of colouring: acidic colour holds and unrealistic palette choices of greens, yellows and oranges give us the sense of the otherworldliness of the pantheon’s powers, yet he grounds the story elsewhere with his subtle toning that sits comfortably on the line between old-school flats and modern digital colouring. He never goes overboard, saving the special effects for when they matter.

But it’s Gillen who’s really coming into his own here, the self-creating demiurge, pulling the strings of his creative pantheon, pushing their collaboration to new heights because, goddamn it, the story demands it.

Issue 3 of WicDiv sees us entering the underground and meeting the “none-more-goth” Baphomet and Morrigan, who is revealed to be the triple-headed deity of Morrigan, Gentle Annie, and the terrifyingly unhinged Badb. Laura is once again stuck in the middle of forces just out-with her understanding, yet she’s gaining more agency, learning the tricks, and manages to slap some sense into the two warring underworld gods. There’s something innately creepy about these two entities, filled with dark power, yet housed in the body of poseurs… They’d murder their audience without batting a heavily-mascara’d eyelash just to fulfil their roles as celebrity lovers/nemeses.

Laura’s becoming more interesting by the issue and part of that is down to the structure of the book. Not so much a “hero’s journey” as a Raymond Chandler-esque detective story, as Laura tries to work out who’s framed Lucifer for the murder of a judge, this allows us to peer into the lives of the gods we’ve not yet met, while forcing Laura out of her own comfort zone. She’s acting up, walking among these individuals as if she’s a right to be there, and it’s that conceit that is forcing her to grow. “Fake it till you make it,” as the saying goes. Although when she collides with her real life again – arguing with her parents, lying about being at college – we realise that this is an uneasy evolution for her. Let’s face it, all of these gods are kids, forced to house unending, cyclical forces they can barely control. That’s a theme that runs through much of Kieron’s work.

We’re in the middle of a potentially vast world-building operation here, and yet three (seemingly tumescent, since they fill out every page they can) issues in, we’re also getting story, character development and the regular introduction of new players. There are many plates spinning here – thematically and narratively – and Gillen’s balancing them with ease, and a particular vengeance.

Darker than Young Avengers by some distance yet pulsing with a similar sense of thrill, WicDiv is also stretching way beyond Phonogram in its scope. While that earlier work was about music as magic, or really about the archaeology of memory as music, this isn’t. This is about magic, while music and the trappings of celebrity are only the wardrobe worn to dazzle the audience (in both dimensions – those in the book, and those holding it). The road ahead for WicDiv is wide open, yet we can guess some possible destinations, and issue 3 (as well as a candid response to a letter in the back pages) shows us that darkness and mortality are going to be with us throughout. It’s seeded from the start – the skull on issue 1’s opening page, the inherent temporality of these gods – and it’s going to be interesting to see how things change over the course of the two years we follow the avatars before their eventual demise. I’d bet money that at least one of them doesn’t want to go, and it’s probably those least able to dwell in the darkness that will hold on most fast.

Pure, liquid, plastic pop of every hue and saturation, The Wicked and The Divine #3 cements its status as one of the most thrilling books around, and could be the one to unite the myriad tribes who follow Gillen’s work. They can’t deliver it quickly enough, and yet I’m loving the anticipation. And ‘Cthonic Homesick Blues’ is one of the best issue titles ever.

Rating: 5/5 (isn’t really enough)

The writer of this piece was: Garry Mac
You can follow Garry on Twitter
You can also keep up to date with all his latest comic releases through the Unthank Comics website.

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