The Wicked and The Divine: 1923 #1
The first issue of The Wicked and The Divine opened ninety years in the past with the death of the last four of that Pantheon and this one shot, by Kieron Gillen, Aud Koch, and Clayton Cowles, finally explains to us what got us to that point.
If you’re expecting a traditional comic experience, you’ll be in for a surprise. It’s mostly a long prose story about the day the Pantheon of the ‘20s had a gathering at Lucifer’s island. This was a bit of a shock. While Wic+Div (an abbreviation handed down to superfans by Kieron Gillen) has always been a great book, it has rarely played with the nature of comic storytelling. It’s always been panels on a page and that’s that.
And sure, there is some traditional comic storytelling contained within, but the fact that most of it is told through prose speaks both to one of the central mystery of the story and the larger themes of The Wicked and The Divine in general. The juxtaposition of “high” and “low” art is at the core of this tense whodunit, while the use of it to tell the story plays to what the book has always been about, namely how art changes both the audience and the artist.
As far as stories go, it’s a great one. The book opens with the gods arriving at the island, their relationships established for us through the wonderful prose, going to meet Lucifer and finding him dead. From there, the mystery intensifies as more of the gods are killed and finally a conspiracy is unveiled- one where four gods have decided to use their limited time on Earth to really change the world, summoning the zeitgeist of the age in an effort to change it and make the future what they desire.
The prose sections are the meat of the story and it definitely helps. The other WicDiv specials have all been about less characters than this one and have done a good job in illustrating who the characters were. This one deals with the entire Pantheon of the time, one we have only seen for a very limited amount of time, and prose is a better way of illustrating who the characters are-it gives us time in their heads, something which the traditional panel structure and the page count of a comic wouldn’t do. At first, the extended prose sections seem a bit annoying, but as the book goes on, they grow on you and make the story a richer experience. The fact that it’s written in a style reminiscent of 1920s literature puts you in the mood of the time, helping the tone of the story shine through.
The comic sections of the book are also perfect. Illustrated by Aud Koch, at first it seems like they are in black and white, but it’s more of a sepia tone with hints of silver, like the movies of the time (another little nod to the central mystery of why one group of gods have killed another). Koch’s pencils are definitely not like Wic+Div regular penciller Jamie McKelvie; his figure work is good but his faces are a little sketchy in places. He draws Ananke’s bead mask perfectly and captures the tone of the piece quite well. The art is angular and a bit otherworldly, which is fitting in a book where gods summon up the zeitgeist of an age to try and change the world. One of the problems with the book is that after reading the prose sections, you may picture the gods differently (even with the introductory page showing their pictures) and seeing them on the page can be a bit jarring.
The Wicked and The Divine: 1923 #1 is another great example of Gillen and McKelvie’s amazing creation, an engrossing story full of interesting characters that keeps you turning the pages til the end, while also dealing with higher themes of art and how it affects society and individuals. Readers may not be totally on board for the prose sections at first, but they grow on you and show themselves to be indispensable to the story.