‘The Wicked+The Divine: Fandemonium’ by Kieron Gillen

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Genres: Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Mythology, The Wicked + the Divine, Image Comics, Mystery, Urban Fantasy

Similar books: Iron Druid, Sandman

Previous books in the series/by the author reviewed: W+D, Vol.1

Rating: Recommended with Reservations

Here’s the TL;DR for my review:

  • Pros
    • Colorful and stylish character designs.
  • Mixed
    • The mythology of this is all over the place. I was willing to give this setting the benefit of the doubt with the first outing, but in the second outing things haven’t improved. It was sort of fun seeing the Japanese goddess Amaterasu interacting with The Morrigan and Baal… but on the other hand, the authors haven’t explained why those three gods out of thousands are the ones interacting with one another. I like my UF to have some degree of logic to them, and I have seen no underlying logic to this yet.
  • Cons
    • I am not invested in any of the characters. I think they’re all full of themselves.
    • The plot still doesn’t make sense. I could forgive the first book. I can’t give it the benefit of the doubt two books in a row.

Spoiler-tastic Review

This isn’t the best. I should be the number 1 fan of this: I adore Urban Fantasy, and reading about ancient religions and mythology is so my jazz. More, the art is just fantastic. It is still the best art I’ve seen in a graphic novel, in terms of resolution and detail and sheer technical skill and design. But this trade paperback as a whole… just didn’t click for me.

I’ll start with what I thought improved between the first book and the second.

My confusion wasn’t nearly as all over the place as it was in the first book. We are not thrown in cold-turkey for this one, so the setting doesn’t seem quite so off-kilter as did the first one.

The setting overall seemed stronger in this one, because we weren’t constantly jumping around from location to location with each and every passing sub-arc in this trade paperback. The convention of ‘Fandemonium’ had the opportunity to breathe for a few moments, and exist as a proper semi-rock concert instead of being replaced with a courtroom scene, then a London Underground scene, then a random suburban house scene, then a Valhalla scene, then…

I can totally see why people like this. What this lacks in storytelling skill, it potentially makes up in sheer oozing style. The art vomits awesomeness out of nearly every panel and frame, and the character designs are just awesome to look at. Wodin looks like he stepped right out of Tron; Lucifer looks as clean and sauve as any rendition I’ve seen yet in any medium; Bathomet is an edgelord who nonetheless has a silly sort of charisma. Thanks to the skill of the creators of this TP, all of the gods have some spark to them and in some of them that spark shines brightly.

In some ways this book improved on the first in the series. But I have to admit that those improvements were not enough to make me any more devoted of a reader.

Constructed criticism time. Spoilers from here on.

I am still not invested in any of the characters… you know, that’s not quite true. I was invested in Luci in the first TP, but she died. And I was invested in Inanna in this book, but it seems like he died too. I’m getting invested in Bathomet now, but at the rate things are going it looks like his days are numbered. And a lot of the gods are so angsty and edgy that you can cut yourself just reading the page. The trouble is that all the characters I care about are either a. dying or b. not the POV.

Laura, the POV, is a boiled cabbage protagonist. She barely seems to exist outside of the context of the Pantheon. She doesn’t go to school, she doesn’t have outside friends, she doesn’t have hobbies. Her entire world is devoted to the Pantheon, and that’s not enough to make her a 3D, well rounded character in my book. I had the same problem with Batman in Batman: Year One- the protagonist is homogeneous. (spoiler) She becomes a god in this book, and it doesn’t make her any more interesting.

I am not invested in the characters, because they are light on motivation. The gods are the main characters of this series, and they don’t seem to have goals. They seem to exist, moping around and feeling sad about the fact that they have less than two years to live.

They are not proactively going out and saving the world with miracles; they are holding shallow rock concerts and partying themselves to death. This isn’t compelling for me, because there are no stakes. What am I to think, “Oh no, if this god dies people won’t be able to party?!” Now if the gods were going out there and saving the world with magic, then there would be stakes for their deaths in two years because that would mean no one would be around to save the world. But as is the stakes are low.

And finally, ALL of the god characters constantly complain about their imminent deaths. The rule is that they live two years before they die… but it’s never explained why this rule is in place. What kills them? Spontaneous combustion? I don’t buy it because we’ve never seen it happen. The gods die, sure, but it’s by killing one another and not by some mystical rule which causes spontaneous combustion once they hit the ‘two years’ mark. I can understand the gods’ depression, but I would like if the different characters showed different ways of coping with their depression. For example I liked Inanna’s ‘live it up’ attitude, which is why I’m sad to see him go.

And the plot still isn’t holding it’s own. Upon reflection, I think the creators of this bit off too much to chew with this one. They should have started with a lower-scale plot which they could resolve in a few issues. A short plot arc would serve to introduce the characters and setting in an easily grok-able way- think about the Hobbits taking the ring to Rivendell at first, and only after that going on the bigger quest to Mordor. Instead the creators went whole-hog on the mysterious cold open, beginning with a massive multi-trade paperback plot arc which still doesn’t have resolution two trade paperbacks and 350 pages in.

I’m going to read more, but I’m de-prioritizing this. The sheer style of this is enough for me to stay interested… but to be honest I’m glad I’m checking this out from the library because I wouldn’t pay for more issues.

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