Gods as pop stars. In less talented hands this could be a tragically naff concept, but Kieron Gillen makes it work perfectly. The risk is that it's simply too obvious; celebrity is the modern divinity, the movie stars, singers and frontmen the god-kings of 20th and 21st century society. To make this work in a way that seem fresh, cutting and surprising is no mean feat. Gillen is most known for his lauded series Phonogram, which is now going straight on my reading list, but I know him through Young Avengers, on which he works with artist Jamie McKelvie, who joins him again here. Gillen has a knack for witty yet believable dialogue and realistically portrayed teenage characters, something which is notoriously difficult to manage. Most writers end up with nonsense or idiocy, even the ones who are the age of the characters they're portraying. The only slight oddity is that the characters here, in spite of inhabiting London, all have a certain Americanism to their dialogue, unless that's just how kids talk now and I'm even more out of touch than I thought.
Every ninety years, twelve gods return to Earth, for two years. Or rather, twelve young people are chosen, becoming the physical embodiments of the Pantheon. They are granted incredible powers, far too dangerous to use on any mortal, and are adored, hated and feared in equal measure. In two years, they die. By the end of this volume, we have learned the identities of ten or eleven of the Pantheon, (depending on whether Ananke counts as one of them or something else entirely), cherry-picked from various faiths and mythologies and each reflecting some facet of our culture. Our window into this world is Laura, a London teenager, obsessed with the gods that dominate celebrity culture. She becomes part of the gods' circle through Luci, the most engaging, original and attractive Devil I've ever seen. Luci, with her immaculate appearance and sexually predatory persona protecting someone who is still fundamentally a young woman, is the most fascinating version of Lucifer since the eponymous protagonist of Vertigo's series.
Indeed, there's a definite feel of the works of Gaiman and Carey, in the melding of contemporary culture with ancient myth. The Wicked + The Divine feels altogether sharper and more powerfully modern than Lucifer ever did, and has more of a claim to being today's Sandman that Gaiman's prequel series has. This is mythology as it always truly was; dirty, violent, beautiful and terrifying. So here's another title for the pull list.
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