I never thought a comic book would make me feel sorry for Katy Perry. But The Wicked + The Divine generated some real empathy for someone whose music I can't stand. It's that damn good.
Written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Jamie McKelvie with colours and letters by Matthew Wilson and Clayton Cowles, The Wicked + The Divine has been the perfect Comic of the Moment for the last few years. Because it's all about what it's like to love something a little too much.
The ongoing series focuses on a pantheon of 12 reincarnated gods who manifest in the bodies of young adults to become pop stars. The catch is that they will live only for two years after they become earthbound deities. The first six issues of WicDiv — collected as The Faust Act — introduces readers to super-fan Laura, who tracks every little detail of the Pantheon's various members.
She then becomes infatuated with Lucifer, an androgyne David Bowie analogue, who becomes the must-watch morningstar for readers to latch on to: she's got all the seductiveness inherent in the archetype of those who don't give a damn and become famous anyway.
Gadfly blogger/journalist type Cassandra weaves a thread of scepticism throughout the initial issues. We know we shouldn't trust all the glitz, right? But it's hard not to wonder why so many people care.
The title's first big storyline ends in a big narrative explosion — with Lucifer falling out of favour in a shocking way — leaving Laura to reckon with the the void she feels in the rebel god's absence.
WicDiv is filled with cliches about celebrity obsession and media culture; but that's kind of the point. The transparency of the metaphors in The Wicked + The Divine are what's most appealing about the book. Stardom, anger, devotion, jealousy, apathy and the symbiosis between all those various states of being can be all-consuming. The 'normal' world in WicDiv resembles reality in one painful, crucial way: sometimes it seems like we have to embrace numbness just to muddle through our lives. And when something comes along that burns through the fog, it feels only right to deify it, no matter how blatantly unhealthy that is.
Even after her loss, Laura can't just leave the allure of the Pantheon alone. It's the best, brightest thing to ever happen to her. But as the mystery cosmology of these latter-day gods opens up to her, the ugly shadow of all that bright-lights fame and power becomes even more apparent. Here's maker god Woden, confronting one of his former Valkyries as she spills the tea about his creepy fetishes:
The core conceit of pop stars who are gods lets Gillen and McKelvie heighten familiar dramas to radioactive levels. People reading The Wicked + The Divine will likely know all about groupie sex scandals, rap beefs and cross-genre shit-talking. But to see these familiar dynamics become a building-destroying fistfight or a gut-churning, day-glo public humiliation reminds the reader that there are actual people inside of these crucibles. Get too close to these people and you can die a different, more horrible kind of death.
But, ah, the ecstasy to be had is like nothing else, too. This sequence at a rave held by bacchalian beat master Dionysus shows the bliss:
But like any high, there's a downside, too.
Reaching the ultimate height of existence is never a cure-all. That theme pops up again in WicDiv #13, a spotlight on Tara, a goddess who's clearly meant to stand in for sex-bomb singers like Katy Perry. She's been the most mysterious and isolated of all the Pantheon, mentioned in name only in the preceding issues. But we soon learn why she's a recluse and see how people's perceptions of her have boxed her into solely being an object of desire and derision.
When she hides her celestial nature and tries to sing her own non-god-powered songs, it all goes wrong:
The Wicked + the Divine is about the kind of love that burns too hot. Hot enough to burn but also hot enough to transform. It's about fans and artists, haters and lovers, abusers and hangers-on, the treachery and necessity of caretakers. And every time it's felt like a song, book, movie or game has saved your life? That energy is in here, too, in its most romanticized and discomfitting forms. Joy, pain and fame... None of them last forever. This is a comic that never lets you forget that there's a cost to making and consuming art but also reminds you that you should do it anyway. It's good for you. Until it isn't.