The Wicked + The Divine Volume 1
The latest collaboration between writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie has the pair returning to their roots with another comic series that combines music and mysticism. The Wicked + The Divine concerns itself with a murder mystery surrounding twelve gods who reincarnate every 90 years but only for a short time, after which they die and the cycle starts over again. Since these gods reincarnate in our present they’ve taken the form of pop stars with massive followings, causing the lines between acolyte and fan, sermon and concert to blur. Thankfully, any broad commentary on the nature of the cult of celebrity beyond this is relatively nuanced and fairly tongue in cheek. Fans of Gillen and McKelvie will immediately compare the series to PHONOGRAM, the pair’s first ongoing series, due to the similar premise of music as magic. Unlike PHONOGRAM, the esoteric music references aren’t as large of a focus, making this series far more accessible. Gillen displays his ability to capture the ethos of young adulthood, if that wasn’t already apparent in his run on Young Avengers, while McKelvie’s clean and expressive character designs bring our focus to the unique personalities the series revolves around, managing to humanize these ageless deities. The interpretations of the various Gods are creative in itself, an example being a Bowie-esque female incarnation of Lucifer who’s heavily reminiscent of Loki in Young Avengers. In that regard, you can’t help yourself from liking the character, despite being the devil herself, which characterizes a lot of the book. The Wicked + The Divine is sleek, snarky and you can’t help yourself from loving it.
Gavin Aung Than
In a little under two years, Gavin Aung Than’s comic Zen Pencils has become a commercial success with a simple enough premise: short comics based on quotes by a wide variety of celebrities, historic figures, writers and philosophers that are meant to inspire. His success culminated with this collection of his series that was originally published online. A recurring theme in Zen Pencils is to follow one’s dreams and all that good shit, and it’s commendable that Than managed to take his own advice and have his goals realized with this release, but his work doesn’t hold up in print. Despite the naive optimism Zen Pencils exudes at a first glance, there’s a cynical efficiency to his work. Most of the comics are brightly colored with minimalistic cartooning that’s perfectly packaged to be shared on various social media platforms to make a person feel good for five minutes and then be forgotten about immediately after, since at its best it has little more artistic merit than a motivational poster found in an office building. At its worst, the quotes seem shoehorned and don’t actually fit the context provided (a more egregious example of this being the appropriation of lines from “Invictus” and turning it into an adolescent revenge fantasy.) Zen Pencils also falls when the artist creates a literal depiction what’s being said by the original speaker, making what was intended as homage come off as intellectual laziness. I cannot recommend this collection to anyone unless you’re the kind of person who’s moved on an emotional level by posters of cats with “Hang in there!” written in bold font on the bottom, which you keep framed in your basement to meditate on daily.