For my first two columns, I wrote about young adult comics, partially because young people need fun, feminist stuff to read. But what about us adults? What about sex, drugs, and rock n roll? Well, do I have the comic for you: The Wicked + The Divine. This is the comic I recommend the most, especially to people who are new to comics. When you don’t read comics, they can be intimidating—some storylines have been going on for years and there can be decades of character backstory to sort through.
The Wicked + The Divine (written by Keiron Gillen, drawn by Jamie McCelvey, colored by Matthew Wilson) has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The first issue was published in June 2014 and, 51 issues later, it ended in September 2019. There aren’t characters to go look up in old, past runs, no trivia or easter eggs about superheroes that don’t even appear in the issues. Everything you need to know about the story is in the pages.
Kind of. This comic may send you into a deep dive down Wikipedia because of the premise: every 90 years, twelve members of the Pantheon—gods from various religious traditions—are reincarnated as pop stars, known as “The Recurrence.” The catch? In the words at the front of each trade volume: “They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are all dead.”
Premise of The Wicked + The Divine
The story centers around Laura, a London teen obsessed with the Pantheon, determined to attend as many live shows as possible, whose life gets wrapped up in theirs in dramatic and delicious ways.
But the story is almost secondary to the fun of the gods and their pop star personas: Lucifer (Christian) is a gender-bending David Bowie type in impeccable suits, Sakhmet (Egyptian) is a blood- and sex-thirsty Rhianna allusion, Inanna (Mesopotamian) is a gorgeous purple-clad tribute to Prince, and Amatseru (Shinto) is a gauzy Florence Welch reference.
It’s a semester’s worth of mythology, and the art absolutely does them justice. The characters are vibrant and full of color, and I’ve spent minutes staring at a single page. There are some phenomenal spreads that are full of amazing detail, well worth spending time on.
As Laura gets involved with the Pantheon, it becomes clear that all is not well and Ananke (Greek), their seemingly immortal overseer, is up to no good. Laura must navigate supernatural and personal challenges (tons of drama, y’all) to help save the day from The Great Darkness. To be honest, the plot gets pretty complicated and there are wonderful twists and turns that I don’t want to spoil, so I will really just recommend you read it. Head’s up that it gets pretty violent and gory at times, so if you don’t like looking at images of that kind of stuff, it may not be for you.
Some of my favorite issues of The Wicked + The Divine are the historical flashbacks. They serve the plot, but are also a lot of fun. One flashes back to the 1923 Recurrence—but instead of pop stars, the gods are references to modernist figures in a dark, stormy Agatha Christie type mystery. Lucifer references F. Scott Fitzgerald; The Morrigan (Irish), James Joyce; and The Norns (Norse), figures from the Harlem Renaissance. This issue is a history and literature lesson.
Another issue shows Ananke throughout the centuries at the beginning of each Recurrence. They give you a date and a few panels, and you get to guess at the civilization—one could spend hours on that issue alone.
As a series, The Wicked + The Divine is extremely diverse in many ways, particularly in terms of gender, race, and sexuality. It’s very sex positive and shows that sexual and romantic relationships don’t only have to look one way, and it gives just as much weight to friendships and familial relationships as it does to romantic ones.
It tackles tough, real life problems, from Tara’s (Tara exists in Hindu, Buddhist, and Polynesian traditions, it’s never made clear which she is) struggles with mental health and sexual harassment to The Morrigan’s abusive treatment of her partner Baphomet’s (Pagan). The themes can be heavy, but they’re written beautifully and never feel heavy-handed.
If I could change anything, it would be body diversity—most of the characters are thin and conform with Western beauty standards. There are one or two plus size characters, but not in the main cast. However, everyone is drawn like a real person, which isn’t always the case. YA titles tend to be ahead of adult titles when it comes to body diversity, which is great, because young people need to see bodies of all shapes and sizes. But adults do, too!
In writing this, I’ve convinced myself—I’m going to re-read the whole thing this weekend. I recommend you get started as well.
Marina is a West Coast native living in Washington, DC. She loves writing anything, from sci-fi to creative non-fiction to romance, often drawing inspiration from the frequent travel required by her day job. Her work has appeared in such literary magazines as DistrictLit and Corner Bar Magazine. When she’s not writing, you can find her hosting bar trivia, baking something involving peaches, or bothering her extremely patient dog, Daisy. You can read more of her work at on her website and find pictures of Daisy on Marina’s Twitter.