Review: The Wicked + The Divine’s first volume is a killer Faust Act

Why make art? We’re on this planet for such a fleeting instant, so why bother squandering that time making something without any tangible value? This question drives The Faust Act, the first volume of critically acclaimed Image Comics series The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, and Clayton Cowles.

Collecting the first five Wicked + The Divine issues released earlier this year, The Faust Act is the pen and ink equivalent of a pop song about life and death. But more than that, it’s a great jumping on point for anyone looking to catch up on one of the best new comics of 2014.

What is The Wicked + The Divine: Volume 1 – The Faust Act about?

WicDiv_Laura

The Faust Act introduces us to Laura, an ordinary teenage girl drawn into the world of The Pantheon, the most popular pop stars on the planet. The Pantheon are more than just the hottest act in town, though; they also happen to be the reincarnated forms of 12 mythical deities!

They weren’t always gods, though. Each member of The Pantheon was once a nobody like Laura, until ancient spirit guide Ananke transformed them as part of an ongoing cycle of death and rebirth called the Recurrence. From that moment on, their mission was to inspire humanity through transcendent art before dying two years later (bummer).

“You will be loved. You will be hated. You will be brilliant. Within two years, you will be dead.”

Ananke in The Wicked + The Divine: Volume 1 – The Faust Act

It’s a game plan that’s pretty much on track until Luci – the female incarnation Lucifer, and Laura’s new pal – goes rogue, killing two would-be assailants in an overt display of her supernatural powers. Things only get worse from here, after Luci seemingly kills the judge assigned to hear her case, although she maintains she was framed.

With the rest of The Pantheon unwilling or unable to come to her aid, Luci’s only hope for acquittal is Laura, who finds herself on the trail of a killer with the powers of a god…

A creative team cranking out career-best work

WicDiv_Baal, Laura and Cassandra

With its quirky premise and unflinching attitude towards violence, sexuality, and profanity, The Wicked + The Divine – Volume 1: The Faust Act is the kind of passion project that benefits from the unrivalled creative freedom offered by Image.

Inspired to write the book by the death of his father, Gillen is pouring his soul into The Faust Act. His characters are compelling and his dialogue razor-sharp, while the engaging “whodunnit” narrative runs the emotional gamut from devilishly funny to heartbreakingly sad; it’s career-best work.

The artwork by Gillen’s frequent collaborator McKelvie is likewise some of the best the cartoonist has ever delivered. The characters are all amazingly expressive, the action scenes are dynamic yet easy to follow, and McKelvie’s clean lines give the book a streamlined, fresh sensibility that’s complemented by Wilson’s spot-on colours and Clowes’ considered lettering.

WicDiv_Luci and Amaterasu

But without doubt the most import visual element in this first Wicked + The Divine volume costume design. McKelvie is well-known for his fashion sense, and under his pen, every character sports outfits that perfectly match their personalities. Whether it’s Laura’s middle-class South London teen clobber or Luci’s Thin White Duke-inspired suit, all the men and women – particularly the women! –  reflect McKelvie’s eye for both contemporary style and pop music high fashion.

But then, The Wicked + The Divine – Volume 1: The Faust Act is itself a stylish proposition. Gillen and McKelvie have enlisted the talents of Hannah Donovan to oversee the book’s graphic design, and the end result is one of the slickest looking titles on stands today. From the clever iconography of the recap pages to the distinctive logo typeface and layouts of each chapter’s cover, it’s hard to imagine a cooler comic book.

There’s more to The Faust Act than just being cool, though – there are some pretty big themes bubbling under its flashy surface, too.

More than just a flashy pop music fantasy

WicDiv_Luci listens to the Stones

What makes The Wicked + The Divine – Volume 1: The Faust Act more than just a cute pop music-inspired fantasy tale is how brilliantly Gillen explores the power of art to change lives. Throughout this first volume, we see how The Pantheon’s music touches Laura deeply and emotionally, and how meeting the group eventually awakens her own unrealised potential.

“A lot of people do celebrity and superhero; that’s an old trope. But it’s almost always cynical, the idea that just because they did a bit of coke they aren’t as good as Superman. And it’s like, ‘Fuck you! David Bowie saved my life.’ It’s the idea that these people are all deeply flawed but they make huge, important differences to people and there are all kinds of ways to save someone’s life.”

Kieron Gillen, in an interview with Comic Book Resources

That’s ultimately what Gillen’s answer to the “Why make art?” question seems to be: we make art because it can improve lives – heck, it can even save them. Whether it’s a song that got you through a break-up, a movie that made you forget about the job you hate, or a book that reignited your flagging passion for writing, each of us has had at least one moment in our lives when art has helped us come out the other side during a tough time.

That’s the value of art – and what’s more, that’s why books like The Wicked + The Divine – Volume 1: The Faust Act matter.

Final verdict

WicDiv_Luci on trial

The Wicked + The Divine Volume 1: The Faust Act is the kind of comic that makes you excited about the medium’s potential. Balancing timeless themes with bleeding edge artistry and style, creators Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, and Clayton Cowles have created a must-read book that leaves you eager for more.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter or Facebook!

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