One of the greatest strengths of The Wicked + The Divine as a series is the tight timeline in which it has wrapped its high concept. The notion of pop culture pantheons of gods reappearing almost every century is brilliantly weird and forcing it into a two year span forces the series to function in a much cleaner fashion.
This also leaves limited opportunities for exposition as flashbacks are almost non-existent and the entire tale is wrapped up within those 730 days. That's what makes the concept of one shots like The Wicked + The Divine 455 A.D. #1 so appealing; it's the execution that makes them work though.
In the second installment of these self-contained stories of former pantheons, artist Andre Araujo joins the series to focus on Lucifer during the final days of the Roman Empire.
The issue opens with the standard depiction of 12 symbols, but only Lucifer's remains uncovered by a skull setting the tone for a comic that's every bit as grim.
Looking at this issue as part of a grander epic, it allows Gillen and his collaborators to do something that is now impossible in the ongoing story: explore what happens when members of the pantheon refuse to die. It's an answer worth having given recent events of The Wicked + The Divine, and the shift to 455 A.D. allows the comics to show rather than tell. Placing this particular narrative during the sacking of Rome by the Vandals also provides a stunning backdrop and grand metaphor for all of its events.
While the events of this #1 would only work on a plot-based level for those already familiar with the series, it's the work of guest artist Araujo that makes it worth examining even for those who have not read any of the previous (or later) issues. Araujo's linework is less smooth than that of regular series artist Jamie McKelvie and it serves this story well. There's a roughness to the city and its surrounding plains, as well as the people that occupy both. The world feels lived in with noticeable wrinkles and creases likely to please fans of artists like Darrow or Quitely. It also makes the inevitable ugliness of the story that much more difficult to look away from.
Araujo constructs one of the best page turns of 2017 in this issue. It is immaculately crafted from an ironic line at the end of panel to the building of tension in the next and finally to a splash that must be experienced. To describe this moment would be to steal the reaction so well executed in this comic and Araujo has earned your dropped jaw and sigh of horror. His attention to detail makes a repulsive image truly absorbing. That attention makes many of the panels and page turns of this one-shot work well, but it is never deployed better than in this moment.
In this way Araujo and his collaborators make The Wicked + The Divine 455 A.D. an engrossing experience for any reader with at least a passing curiosity. It establishes previously unknown stakes for a larger story, but works as an excellent focus on tone on its own. In Wilson's colors there is a constant setting of the sun, whether it's found literally or in the flames of Rome. Those orange hues cast a shade that makes this issue cohesive in spite of the massive mythology on which it rests. That is a job well done.