Who is Kieron Gillen, you ask? I did, too, when I started reading The Wicked + The Divine. Turns out, though, that I had two of his books from Netgalley, both just because they looked interesting. (I'm kind of a Netgalley addict. It can be a real problem for me.) Anyway, they're very different and really good, and I think together they make a pretty good primer on KIeron Gillen, Comics Writer.
The Wicked + The Divine, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie Mckelvie, is a recent publication; the comic is on something like its seventh or eighth issue, and the first collection is just coming out. There's something very up my alley about this one.
This is a book about pop stars, fame, and the cult of celebrity--literally. Once every century or so, twelve gods take human form. They actually take it--each one inhabits a living person, usually a young adult, and those people live for a short period as the god (two years, I think?) and then die. It's a high price and a crazy ride, and it comes with adoring fans, two sets of memories (human and god), and adoring fans.
The main character is Laura, a girl who is a kind of groupie, and she takes up with Lucifer (who embodies a crisply classy woman). But things get complicated when assassins pop up, Lucifer is accused of murder, and the gods are turning on each other. Their relationships are complicated, their personalities intense, and their motives vague. Laura's trying to track down who's setting Lucifer up, and getting in deeper and deeper with these rock star immortals.
So I like Laura a lot--I mean, she's kind of an annoying teenager, but she's supposed to be, and you can see her trying to be more grown up, but not quite able. And Lucifer is amazing--all the gods, really, are incredibly charismatic, even on the page. In the story, they have a powerful, indefinable draw for people, but even as simple characters, each one just projects such personal competence, such perfect themself-ness (what is the word I want?) that they are intriguing. Amaratsu is good, and loving, and friendly. Lucifer is funny, and cynical, and razor sharp. Baal is about power; the Morrigan is about madness.
Okay, here's the flaw--there are way too many of them. Very few of the names are familiar, and several are long and contain many of the same letters. I'm supposed to be following conversations about the personal politics of characters I haven't seen or met, can't even quite pronounce, and don't know anything about. I'm confused, is what I'm saying. I'm able to keep going anyway, and the bigger plot points make sense even if you don't follow it, but it's kind of frustrating that I can't quite follow it. I'm holding out a lot of hope that more volumes will give me more room to learn the characters.
Three, by Kieron Gillen, Ryan Kelly, and Jordie Bellaire, has some of the same issues, especially the shallow one of everyone's names being complicated and hard to remember (place names, too). That's because it takes place in Sparta. There's an added layer here that The Wicked + The Divine didn't have, though, which is that all these Spartans look exactly alike--same hair, similar faces, same EXACT armor. So yeah, it's not entirely my slow-wittedness that keeps em from telling them apart.
There's also a lot of history to learn here, and since this is kind of a side story that takes place during 300, it's a very different view of Sparta. So much of the story revolves around history, though, that there's a certain amount of info-dumping that goes on, and I think the story that's here would have benefited a bit from being spread out more, so it could focus more on the people involved, instead of making them game pieces that illustrate their time and place.
Helots are lower than slaves--if you ever wondered how you can have a society that's ALL WARRIORS ALL THE TIME, it's because there are helots doing everything else. They're considered inhuman; periodically strong helots are slaughtered just to keep them from rebellion. Anyway, there is a massacre, and three helots end up on the run, while a troop of 300 Spartans is sent to chase them down and administer justice.
The story of the three runaways is great, and I wish I'd had a little more time with them. Things felt a bit rushed, and what could have been subtle was painted in broader strokes. The stories of the Spartans who follow them are probably more interesting, but this is where I got confused--there are two kings of Sparta, apparently? And they answer to some other body? There's some political stuff that means an important guy ends up going after them; he's clearly got a complicated life thing going on, and I followed none of it, and I'm disappointed because I think it would have been worth it.
So, yes, this was a very good story that would have been better for a deeper, more robust telling, and for a chance to build the world more gradually. Or maybe it would have been better for my having seen the movie 300. That could be it.
I'm definitely going to read volume 2 of The Wicked + The Divine, though.