The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 1– The Faust Act
Kieron Gillen, writer; Jamie McKelvie & Matthew Wilson, artists
A story about twelve gods who incarnate as humans every ninety years, only to die two years later. They’re young, pretty, and adored: so naturally in our time they’re all pop stars. Something about the tone reminds me a lot of Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, but there at least some measure of ambiguity about the reality of it was always present, while here it’s clear from the start that the godlike powers actually exist.
So the question is, how do young gods behave, and what do they do with the power? They behave like arrogant beings who have the world at their feet, and think they deserve it. They use their powers sparingly, just enough to bedazzle their fans. The rule is: gods can disagree among each other, but humans are not to be harmed. When Luci (short for Lucifer) seems to step over that line by murdering some gunmen, then a judge while on trial, that compact appears to be broken. The resolution is the core event of this arc, the first five issues of the series.
We first encounter the gods through superfan Laura and a skeptical journalist named Cassandra (likely a reference to the woman given the power of prophecy, but cursed to never be believed). Cassandra is initially completely skeptical about the god-powers, writing them off as posing and special effects. By the end she’s seen enough to be convinced, and Laura seems to be actually experiencing them…
Somehow Gillen and McKelvie keep these essentially unlikeable characters interesting, and the mortals who are close to them help to keep things on a human level. I’m very interested in seeing where the series goes from here. The collection includes a lot of supplemental material: all of the alternate covers, the two-page teaser story, and more.
Dead Boy Detectives Vol. 1 – Schoolboy Terrors
Toby Litt, writer – story; Mark Buckingham, penciller – layouts – story; Gary Erskine & Andrew Pepoy, inkers; Russ Braun & Victor Santos, finishers
Neil Gaiman and Matt Wagner created the Dead Boy Detectives during the “Season of Mists” storyline in Sandman#25. They were two murdered boys at a British boarding school which Death left behind due to Lucifer’s abdication from Hell. Things were complicated, but she did promise to return for them, so that fact lurks behind many of their stories, including this most recent series. They looked like incidental figures when they first appeared, but they’ve had a surprisingly long publishing history since then.
This collection opens with the series of short episodes called “Run Ragged” that preceded the series in the Vertigo anthologies Time Warp 1, The Witching Hour 1, and Ghosts 1. The boys run afoul of another ghostly school (and its scary schoolmaster) while seeking a ghost cat on behalf of its ghost owners. But the title arc takes us right back to Saint Hilarion’s, the boarding school where the boys died.
This gives the story plenty of opportunity to revisit their origins. Not a bad thing when the original story dates from 1991! They’ve returned to help a living girl named Crystal Palace (her parents are conceptual artists). She returns the favor by uncovering new things about their childhoods–as well as giving them the chance to confront the ghost bullies that they’ve tried to avoid for all these years. It turns out the school has been a front for demonic possession all along, an interesting addition to the Sandman lore. Things come to a head in the fourth and final part, which brings the whole history of the boys to a climax and a definitive conclusion.
Despite a creator list that looks like a list of the members of a law firm, the comic actually looks and feels quite consistent. Buckingham’s hand is clearly evident in the art. Readers will be reminded of his work on Fables. But he has a long history with the Sandman world as well, having worked on several Sandman issues, as well as both Death miniseries.
Animal Man Vol. 4 – Splinter Species
Jeff Lemire, writer; Steve Pugh & Travel Foreman, artists
The Rotworld event is finally over. It leaves Buddy Baker alone: his son Cliff has died, and his wife and daughter have abandoned him. The Annual 2 story that opens this collection is an elegy to Cliff. It shows father and son in happier times, and Buddy revisits a being who can give him one of Cliff’s dreams to remember him by. Nice to see original series artist Travel Foreman back for this story.
The second story revisits Buddy’s movie role in “The Return of Red Thunder,” again illustrated by John Paul Leon, who does not get a cover credit for some reason. This is “Tights, part two” which continues from an issue earlier in the series.
The title arc picks up with Buddy in the news for that Best Actor nomination, along with the death of his son. He finds himself hounded by journalists, his every action questioned as a possible publicity stunt. He tracks some missing animals to a bizarre cult called “splinterfolk” who are trying to physically transform themselves into animals. Meanwhile Maxine has accepted her role as queen of the Red, and travelled there to attempt to bring Cliff back (behind her mother Ellen’s back). Just when it looks like there may be some resolution, a new attack on the Red begins. Brother Blood feels he was passed over as rightful avatar of the Red, and has come to make things right.
Disappointing not getting much resolution in this collection. But I was surprised to find that Brother Blood was a legitimate threat. He certainly looks like a crazy wannabe at first. Knowing that the series concludes with issue #29 in the next collection feels a little like cheating. No matter how complicated things look now, I know the end is coming soon!