The first page of The Faust Act opens with a powerful quote from Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus about the fragility of life juxtaposed with the lyrics to a Vengaboys song. And if that doesn’t sum up the perfect mix of high concept and pop culture that is this first volume of The Wicked + The Divine then nothing does. The concept of the series as a whole is that every ninety years twelve gods return to Earth as teenagers who are adored as the most influential and beloved popstar celebrities of their generation. But in two years they’ll all be dead, to await the next Recurrence. My initial thoughts before reading the series is that its a rumination of the fleeting and trivial nature of celebrity, and a culture that chews them up and spits them out like last year’s fashion. And that’s part of it I think, but it’s also about the joy, angst and care-free hedonism of youth. I wrote in a jokingly disparaging way about Camus in a review the other day, but I actually love Camus haha, and think his insistence on filling an otherwise indifferent existence with your own meaning runs right the way through this book.
In the opening issue the story is told from the perspective of Laura, a teenager and super fan of all the gods, from Amaterasu to Baal, Sakhmet to The Morrigan and beyond. Laura becomes caught up in a divine feud when Christian gunmen attack Lucifer at a concert and Luci goes a bit overboard in her reaction. When the judge presiding over Luci’s trial is killed in the courtroom, it appears Luci has been framed for the murder and Laura, who more than anything wants to be part of the celebrity world of these awe-inspiring people, sets out to prove Luci’s innocence. Only trouble is, she can’t be 100% certain Lucifer wasn’t the culprit after all… It’s a good story, if not a gripping one. I actually read this for the first time a little while ago and then again today before writing this review and I found the story much better second time round actually; I think the first read-through I was concentrating too much on getting to grips with the concept and adoring the visual art, which is stunningly awesome by the way. It’s actually a bit of a murder mystery, American Gods meets Knives Out meets a musical mash-up of Typo O Negative and an early 2000s school disco with lots of freely-circulating illicit substances and self-assured teen egotism. Goth fantasy and bubblegum pop. It’s a lot of fun.
As a work of art it’s very impressive as well. I don’t just mean the visual art, which is beautiful, I also mean it’s been created specifically as a graphic novel and constructed with that in mind. Some of the ways its put together are techniques a lot of good comics writers and artists do; things like making final panels on the bottom right hand corner of the page be little mini mid-scene cliff hangers that make you want to turn the page immediately, pulling you through the pages on a hook. Other techniques are more complex variations on that theme, the way a scene involving falling embers is split horizontally into two panels, so your eyes almost feel dragged down with the scene, creating a sense of downward motion to a static visual. Another scene shows Laura passing out, and is depicted as a series of ever-shortening panels with less and less colour and visual clarity, and it gives a great sense of her swiftly and progressively falling into unconsciousness. There’s a lot of visual stuff like this it does really well, which is admittedly difficult to talk about as it’s a specifically visual medium. Suffice it to say, it’s a book that makes the most of its medium and isn’t simply a story written with accompanying pictures, and there’s beauty in the art of constructing something perfectly suited to its purpose. The opening scene of this book in particular is probably one of the most beautifully-crafted graphic novel sequences I’ve ever read and even if you don’t go on to enjoy the rest of the story, which probably is of a certain taste and won’t suit everyone, you can still definitely appreciate the artistic quality of how well-crafted the opening sequence is as a work of graphic fiction.
I really enjoyed this book, it does a lot of things very well, including the depiction of the self-destructive and self-gratifying hedonism of what it’s like to be a teenager. I mean, maybe not everyone will relate, but I certainly did, and a pantheon of young people imbued with the power of gods is a great concept watch that unfold through. You can tell it’s a bit of an introductory issue, introducing us to the concept, a bunch of the gods, how they’re variously adored and reviled, as well as introducing us to Laura as a character. But there’s a definite story arc to it with a definite conclusion that does what I think all good conclusions to unfinished series do – brings this to a satisfying close while unleashing a thousand other questions and possibilities to be explored in later issues. I have Volume Two sitting on my shelf already and think I may even read it tonight!
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