A few months ago, I praised the The Wicked and the Divine’s 1831 special. While that issue wasn’t directly linked to the main storyline, it still provided great context for the world writer Kieron Gillen had created. This week’s issue #23 brings us back to the present day. However, it is anything but your typical installment of a comic. Instead, it looks like an issue of a fashion magazine.
Anyone who’s ever read Vanity Fair or Interview will recognize the style. The issue is filled with various “interviews” with the reincarnated gods of the Pantheon, each accompanied by glamour shots of the gods wearing couture. While any normal (read: sane) writer would probably just make up the interviews themselves, Gillen has never been one to take the obvious route. Instead, he brought in real journalists like The Guardian‘s Leigh Alexander or GQ‘s Dorian Lynskey, pretended to be each character in a mock interview and then let each journalists write profiles as if they’d spoken to real people. While you’d probably think nobody could write the characters as well as the man who created them, this issue actually offers some of the book’s most in-depth character work to date.
Perhaps the best is Alexander’s “interview” with The Morrigan. Though the Commercial Suicide arc gave us the character’s backstory, she’s still a bit of an enigma. Alexander, however, manages to wrestle the three-part goddess’s essence to the ground, reminding us that before she was divine, she was (and still is, really) just a girl. “People always say this about powerful women,” she writes, “but I expected her to be bigger, impervious somehow.” It’s a succinct and profound a summation of the character as we’re ever likely to get. Soon enough, though, the conversation turns inevitably toward The Morrigan’s relationship with fellow god, Baphomet and it’s in moments like that when it’s unclear whether the given journalist is taking artistic license or being driven by the invisible hand of Gillen’s grand design. That’s especially true of the section on Baal. Lynskey delivers a lot of information about where the gods are and what they’re up to in his few pages and there’s a last minute reveal that raises as many questions as it may answer.
However, while the “interviews” are undeniably excellent, it’s the issue’s look that really sells the concept. Though the writer changes with each character, all of the art in the comic is done by Kevin Wada. Some will likely know his work from the stunning covers he’s done for everything from She-Hulk to WicDiv itself, but as Gillen points out here, this is his first full issue. The book’s regular artist, Jamie McKelvie may consistently draw some of the most attractive figures in comics, but Wada’s style pushes that aesthetic beauty into high gear. Rather than the standard pencils and inks, Wada works with paper and watercolors, enhancing the images digitally afterward. There’s a posed, almost high-art quality to his images and it sells the concept of this issue as fashion magazine burlesque. With his intricate coloring and incredible sense of how a well-designed garment can tell you just as much about a person as their words, each character portrait feels just as important as the accompanying “interviews.”
What makes The Wicked and the Divine one of the best and most exciting comics on the market is that it constantly pushes the idea of what the medium can do. However, that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. This issue looks nothing like a traditional comic and Gillen’s typically coy storytelling can be frustrating. Me? I’m buying two copies. One I’ll strip for parts like a stolen car so I can hang Wada’s gorgeous art around my apartment. The other will be kept in pristine condition until I can get the creative team to sign it at the next NYCC and then will likely be buried with me when I die decades hence. All joking aside, The Wicked and the Divine #23 is one of the most remarkable issues of a comic you can read this or any week. So buy it. Bask in its glory. Cower in the face of its brilliance.