In the back of the issue, in the center of a circle filled with the symbols of different gods, Kieron Gillen warns readers “Don’t call it a comeback.” With this ominous warning (and fun allusion to pop music), the highly acclaimed creative team of Gillen, artist Jamie McKelvie, and colorist Matthew Wilson have returned to their Image Comics hit about reincarnated gods as pop stars The Wicked + The Divine with issue eighteen.
To catch up the new readers (which those of you reading this probably are), The Wicked + The Divine follows the story of “The Pantheon,” a group of gods who reincarnate every ninety years. After being alive in the bodies of humans for two years, they die and await the next reincarnation. In 2013, the gods have returned and are parading around as pop stars, influencing people through the concerts they give to thousands of screaming fans. Only now there has been a rise of in-fighting between the Pantheon, adding to the looming risk of death hanging over everyone.
Picking up after the “experimental” phase of the series (which brought in different artists to explore the backstories of the different gods), this new issue begins the story arc entitled “Rising Action.” The main character of the first two story arcs, the self-professed fangirl Laura, has reincarnated as the fabled thirteenth god Persephone, upending the established order of only having twelve gods in “The Pantheon.” Seeking to protect her tenuous grasp of control on the young gods, Ananke (the “guide” of the Pantheon) leads an attack against Laura/Persephone as she gives a performance and welcomes herself into the limelight of stardom.
While all of this may seem a bit overwhelming to handle, this is actually the best issue for new readers to jump on to the series. The structure of the story, while a bit confusing and self-referential to handle at first, is fast-paced and heavy on the action. New readers can jump on board and have a fun and engaging read ahead of them, as opposed to getting lost in a myriad of pages featuring talking heads.
The issue may be heavily focused on action, but the ever-important character beats are still present in these pages. Seeing the hot-headed Baphomet beat up Baal for what he did to his “girlfriend” The Morrigan is satisfying to readers of the series, but also imparts the idea that Baphomet cares for The Morrigan. In a lesser book, this might be an overlooked element, but Gillen takes the time to insert these beats to balance out the explosive and dazzling action.
Speaking of said action, it’s a sight to behold to have the art team of McKelvie and Wilson back on the book. While the series had remained a high point in style, having these two back has elevated the book back into the stratosphere. McKelvie’s ability to render the style of the gods has always been what makes this a great read, and here he continues his work. From the Daft Punk-inspired Woden to the punk rock style of Baphomet, each god feels unique to their character. Most books rely heavily on the writer to build character through dialogue – The Wicked + The Divine has McKelvie to enhance the work Gillen does on this front.
Coupled with McKelvie is colorist Matthew Wilson, who makes the panels on the page pop with kinetic action. In an issue that is heavy action, a colorist definitely helps to enhance the motion of the characters. Wilson has worked with both Gillen and McKelvie before, and this series is the culmination of their time together. From the electric blue halls of Valhalla to the seeping blacks and greys growing from Persephone’s performance, Wilson helps the pages come alive as the reader consumes this issue.
While I highly recommend reading this series from the beginning, issue eighteen stands strong as a jumping on point for new readers looking to try out this book for the first time. “Don’t call it a comeback,” because this is a great place to begin on The Wicked + The Divine.
The Wicked + The Divine #18 is available now. Volumes 1-3, featuring the storylines “The Faust Act,” “Fandemonium,” and “Commercial Suicide” are now available in comic book stores and at most major book sellers.