Review: 'The Wicked & The Divine: 1923' Focuses on an Outstanding Metaphor

The Wicked & The Divine: 1923 #1 functions more as novella than comic. The pantheon of the 20th Century is designed almost every bit as thoroughly as their modern counterparts, and in some ways their story serves as a Rosetta Stone for the modern story. This one-shot is 52-pages long, but delivers almost half of the tale (24 pages) in prose. It expands the time frame and content far beyond what could be contained in a pure comic, and delivers a real sense of understanding about a set of 12 characters every bit as diverse and complex as those readers have become familiar with. The end result is a compact tale that accomplishes an incredible amount with character and theme, telling its own story and playing against the ongoing comic, in very little space.

1923 hangs between world wars, and Gillen uses this historical lens to focus the tale. There is talk of both the horrors of the past and nightmares to come. As a pantheon, the gods take a Janus-like approach to history, reflecting a moment that is defined by both how it was created and what it will create. The significance of World War II is impossible to ignore, and connecting it to the gods of 1923 lends importance to their existence and encourages a strong reconsideration of the modern gods. If Gillen sees these 12 men and women as both the sources and cures of global catastrophe, then how does that change our understanding of the story in the 21st Century?

Even more apparent than the early connections to World War II are the art movements embodied by each of the gods. Their ultimate impact on forces of fascism and democracy in the next couple of decades are nebulous; their impacts on film, painting, literature, and other media is obvious. Titles lend some obvious clues as to each god’s identity, while elements of appearance and behavior help to fill in the rest. They are multi-talented, but each can be connected to a single artist who reshaped entertainment and art. This is the greatest strength and most fascinating aspect of The Wicked & The Divine: 1923.

Wicked Divine 1923 Review - Great Dictator
(Photo: Image Comics)

Chaplin, Picasso, and Hemingway are just a few of the minds through which the comic approaches a century that would redefine the world like none before it. Connecting them to specific gods, alternative forms of art, and their own new personalities acts as a form of art criticism. Gillen is challenging what an art movement or approach to new media reveals about politics and artists. He is grappling with history through the focus of art, and the clarity of an entire century makes it far easier to offer a central thesis. While much of The Wicked & The Divine remains ambiguous regarding the virtue and impact of gods, 1923 has an audience who already knows the outcomes of its dramatic conclusion.

Guest artist Aud Koch is given the unenviable task of telling much of the story in storybook-style snippets. Until the climax is reached, the one-shot emphasizes prose with only the most dramatic reveals found within artwork. Yet Koch recognizes the careful balance between remaining a storyteller and delivering the biggest moments with appropriate aplomb. In two- to three-page segments, he builds towards splashes with carefully dense panels. Only at the end of the comic is he able to cut loose. Allusions to new art remain in a climax that packs plenty of impact. Sepia toned landscapes and big reactions make it thrilling and every bit as smart as the chapters to come before.

This is all accentuated by the beautiful design of the comic. Art deco designs are used to present the prose chapters and the new pantheon sigils are every bit as iconic as every set to precede or proceed them. 1923 is striking in appearance, both when centering the written word or Koch’s thrilling finale.

Wicked Divine 1923 Review - Pantheon
(Photo: Image Comics)

The Wicked & The Divine: 1923 #1 is a comic that functions as its own tragic fairytale and a glimpse of things to come. The combination of art and history in dialogue with one another reframes the series in a significant matter. For all of their pettiness and trivial pursuits, these gods also represent great and terrible things from past and future. They call for us to understand the Treaty of Versailles and Blitzkrieg alongside The Great Dictator and Guernica. It is a comic about the world and how the ephemeral engages with the real, and vice versa. 1923 is a reminder of why The Wicked & The Divine speaks to so many readers, and just how much it has to say.

The Wicked + The Divine: 1923 #1

Published by Image Comics

On February 07, 2018

Written by Kieron Gillen

Art by Aud Koch