Mark Allen reviews The Wicked + The Divine 1831…
“MODERN ROMANCE” Critically-acclaimed THE WICKED + THE DIVINE goes back to the nineteenth century, to see what became of the Romantic poets one infamous night on Lake Geneva… Showcasing STEPHANIE HANS (Journey Into Mystery, Angela), this special is NOT included in the forthcoming THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, VOL. 4.
It’s long been established that The Wicked + The Divine plays angst with orchestral gusto, so it makes perfect sense that its creators would use the 19th century Romantics as inspiration for their first one-shot. 1831 reunites series writer Kieron Gillen and guest artist Stephanie Hans for a gothic story of resentment, lust and resurrection in a mansion by foggy Lake Geneva.
Not as dramatic as usual, then.
As acknowledged by the WicDiv team, 1831 doesn’t have any direct narrative bearing on the main series, so new readers should be able to dive right in. That said, having prior knowledge of the modern pantheon comes in handy as most of the characters we meet are previous incarnations of familiar characters. Inanna, Lucifer, Morrigan and Woden and the history of their doomed pantheon is the focus of this issue, and much of the fun comes in spotting the surface differences and intrinsic similarities to their 21st-century counterparts. These gods may be loosely based on Lord Byron, Mary Shelley and their contemporaries, who indulge in each others’ “horror” stories that amount to little more than recounting their own deity-related sorrows, but the flaws and foibles seen in the present pantheon can be seen just as clearly in each of this miserable lot.
Hans’s art is a perfect fit for the story, her hazy backgrounds and almost baroque style heightening the melodrama of the gods and their tragic tales. Gillen’s script keeps the action closed in, leaving the claustrophobic yet luxuriant mansion only for brief flashbacks (to, say, the spirits of the Brontë sisters haunting a house in Yorkshire or a raven-headed god having his heart stolen by an ape). His penchant for experimentation with captions continues here, attempting a novelistic telling of events from Inanna’s pained, pessimistic perspective.
For the most part both work together splendidly, though the dialogue is sometimes repetitious or misleading where deviation or silence would give the art more clarity and power. For the most part, though, 1831 is an evocative, gripping expansion of The Wicked + The Divine‘s dense mythology, and we can look forward to future (past?) one-shots bringing new layers to an already rich world.
The issue’s theme is the cost of creation, both on the creator and created, and the idea that true immortality might be passing on one’s life rather than living forever. Considering the pantheon always has a pitifully short lifespan, this question seems all the more urgent despite its futility; no-one gets out alive, not even gods. The only hope we can have for the cast of the main book is that they come to terms with this a little less violently than their forbears.