You will be loved, you will be hated
Not only is this the tagline for the incredibly popular comic series, written by Kieron Gillen and beautifully illustrated by Jamie McKelvie, but it could also sum up the series in and of itself. You will love it, but you’ll hate moments of it too. Without going into spoilerific details, let’s just say the alternative title for this could have been Shock + Awe: The Musical.
Speaking of music, there is an element of an earlier collaboration between these two, the Phonogram series, which filters into this enticing set of comics. Music is magical once more, and the performances of the ‘New Gods’ are no exception. They sing, and whilst nobody can quite describe it, you feel like you have experienced divinity. The premise is that every ninety years, twelve gods are reborn in the bodies of young people, and they are everything you’d expect a god to be, complete with adoring worshippers and seemingly unlimited powers. The catch to this godhood? You’re dead in two years. No escaping it; power comes with a very hefty price. This time around the kids get to be popstars!
What WicDiv (the fan nickname and adopted author name for the series) does fantastically is examine the cult of celebrity and lay it out with godlike adoration as a foregone conclusion. It is no coincidence that Baal looks like Kayne West, Lucifer is carrying the inkling of The Thin White Duke, and Sakhmet bears such a striking resemblance to Rhianna that it gets lampshaded in the narrative. You can’t help but applaud McKelvie’s artistic skill in creating characters that not only hold their own identity, but wear the face of another at the same time. It’s an act of artistic brilliance that only the Kevin Wada “fashion magazine” issue (Number 23) threatens to beat. Gillen’s writing does well to back this up, with his social criticism shining through. You’re reading about gods and monsters, but the monsters are not necessarily of the divine variety (though those are there too).
The choice of gods to examine these aspects of humanity is exacting and refreshing. The closest thing to a conventional god is Lucifer, the rest are pulled from the annals of religions long forgotten or simply ignored by Western conventions. Even with an interest in worldwide mythology you may still struggle to identify the likes of Tara and Inanna. However do not assume that this is merely to add a sense of superiority to a comic about music and magic, they are chosen with care and reason. Minvera the Goddess of Wisdom seeing this hedonistic world through the cutting eyes of a child is just one example.
The whole production of this comic series has been clever, even down to noticing that my collected editions get darker with each passing release as the story takes a turn for the dark and gritty, and I think that is the appeal. There’s an intellectual edge that carries over from the Phonogram days and provides a nice counterpoint to the costumed superhero antics of Marvel and DC. Every panel feels purposeful, even if we may not quite know what that purpose is yet. It makes for a need to consume each new addition and to will the story forward so that we might have our questions answered.
Five collected editions in and I’m addicted to this cult of the Gods. Long may they live. But not too long though, maybe two years is just about enough.