I mentioned Neil Gaiman, and Sandman, as being sort-of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ of comic books. While Gaiman himself remains a geek icon, he has mostly moved on from comic books since then, and is now writing magical realism novels like Coraline, The Graveyard Book, and most relevant to our interests at present, gentle reader, American Gods.
American Gods is about the versions of all the various deities from all over the world that have found themselves brought to this country by their believers who then proceed to forget about them. It’s fascinating and touching story about what a god is, how cultures interact, and what happens to a culture that nobody cares about anymore, and also the weird lonely places throughout America. It’s the kind of thing Ray Bradbury would have written. It’s one of my favorite books (at least among those published in my lifetime). Oh, and a TV series is in the works as we speak, which is great!
It’s also not what we’re talking about today—you see, someone else went with the ‘new versions of gods in modern times’ idea, and made a comic out of it (this is what I meant about Neil Gaiman being the J.R.R. Tolkien of comics). It’s called The Wicked and the Divine.
The Wicked and the Divine is what you’d call a premise-driven story. It’s also what you’d call bizarrely amazing, but I digress.
Here’s the basic premise: every ninety years, twelve gods are reborn in human form, only to all be dead within two years. If it were any more overt and explicit with the supernormal premise, the ghost of Rod Serling would appear to narrate it to you.
And then we get to watch it happen.
As with a lot of high-concept premise-driven stories, the plot is fairly simple and familiar. The Wicked and the Divine essentially becomes a murder mystery inside of three issues, and that’s fine, because the plot isn’t the point. The point is asking the following question: “What would modern pop culture do with real people who were literal gods?”
Have a Con, of course!
The gods are basically celebrities. It’s deliberately left unclear what they are doing when they ‘perform,’ but it’s clearly something that’s close enough to music that it has tickets, bouncers, and online fan organizations. The Gods Themselves (oh hai Isaac Asimov) have names from various world pantheons but appearances based on actual musicians:
Amaterasu, from Shinto mythology, seems to be Florence (the one who has the Machine.)
Ba’al seems to be Kanye West except less insane.
Lucifer was a female David-Thin-White-Duke-Bowie (which is another thing this comic borrows from Neil Gaiman).
Woden seems to be half Daft Punk.
And Inanna, from Mesopotamian mythology, is so literally Prince that the rain around him in his first appearance glows purple.
The big mystery is Ananke, the personification of Necessity from classical Greece. She’s a little old lady who wears a mask, and seems to be the guide and mentor of the gods. It’s her job to ‘find’ the gods and ‘wake them up,’ because before all this started all of them just assumed they were normal people. But there’s more to Ananke than she’s telling, because spoilers.
Mostly we see the gods through the eyes of Laura, a young fan who has a crush on pretty much every one of them. She goes to all their concerts, she follows them online, she goes to conventions about them, and before she knows how she finds herself befriending them. That’s what makes the comic work—the outdoor concerts, the online stalking, the merchandise, the lining up down the hall in the convention center to get a “blessing…”
It fits the concept of a god into our present culture in a place that makes the most intuitive sense (I’ve been to enough awkward Thanksgiving dinners and seen enough arguments in Facebook comments to know that’s something we could use).
On top of it all, the comic is just plain fun: if you liked Kieron Gillan and Jamie McKelvie’s work on Young Avengers—which I did—then The Wicked and the Divine is very much up your alley. The art is vibrant and high-contrast, like a comic book should be, and the writing is witty and self-aware. Plus the premise lets you have a lot of fun coming up with other deity/pop star combinations. Here are some of my favorite hypothetical combinations:
Imogen Heap as Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of Fire. There’s a neat lava formation that’s nicknamed Pele’s Hair to which Imogen Heap’s appearance would very much lend itself.
80’s Bruce Springsteen as Horus, one of like seventy ancient Egyptian sun gods. Horus would fit because he was popular with the lower classes; his myths often featured him struggling as the underdog to reclaim the throne from his evil uncle. This motif would fit Bruce’s activism and the tone of his music. Plus—there’s a shared eagle motif, and that headband could easily be reworked into that cobra/vulture headdress that Pharaohs always wore.
Finally, Manwe and Mandos, from the Silmarillion, as Danny Sexbang and Ninja Brian from Ninja Sex Party, just because it amuses me.
The Wicked and the Divine is an ongoing series, and they’ve released three volumes of TPB. Check it out at your local comic shop. Or mine, even.
Can’t Think Of Anyone To Fit Freddie Mercury,
-The Guy Who Wrote This.