Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic book of significance. This week, it’s The Wicked + The Divine #8. Written by Kieron Gillen (Phonogram, Young Avengers) with art by Jamie McKelvie (Phonogram, Young Avengers) and colorist Matthew Wilson (Thor, Young Avengers), this issue brilliantly uses visual elements to replicate the sensory overload of a wild dance party. (Note: This review reveals major plot points.)
The Wicked + The Divine has used a count-off several times to build anticipation to key moments, but these numbers are more important than ever in this week’s issue #8, which transports central character Laura to a mystical dance party organized by reincarnated god Dionysus. By touching Dionysus’ skin, Laura enters an altered, hallucinatory state (“Think ‘South American frog’”) and the entire look of the book changes with her perception.
It starts with the return of those four numbers in a two-page spread composed of 16 panels, a chaotic count-off that immediately establishes Laura’s transcendent experience, and those four numbers will be present on most of the proceeding pages, mimicking the four-on-the-floor rhythm prevalent in dance music. That’s just one of the ways the creative team recreates the dance floor environment in a music-less medium reliant on sequential static images, experimenting with colors and patterns to put the reader in Laura’s dancing shoes.
Laura is trying to figure out the truth behind the recent murders that have shaken her life, and she ventures into Dionysus’ “Underground Dionysus Kiss Story Party XI” for answers but ends up getting a taste of godhood as she mingles with deities on the dance floor. There’s some forward plot movement in Kieron Gillen’s script for this issue, but The Wicked + The Divine #8 is first and foremost a sensory experience, highlighting the thrills that these reincarnated gods bring to the lives of civilians. Artist Jamie McKelvie and colorist Matthew Wilson outdo themselves in this regard, offering highly theatrical artwork that makes outstanding use of the space between panels to accentuate the distinct tone of each page.
Once Laura is elevated into the party, black is almost entirely removed from the book’s color palette, replaced by bright, vivid tones reminiscent of the lights on a dance floor. The characters have an ethereal glow and are followed by bands of light as they groove to the nonexistent beat, two visuals elements that are employed in different ways: The color of the glow changes to mark shifts in character moods and create different color dynamics with the governing shades of each page, and the bands of light create the fluid sense of motion needed to really make the dance party come to life. These two elements combine to create a gorgeous two-page splash of Laura and Dionysus losing themselves in the throng of people, revealing just how much energy and excitement floods the room when Dionysus has people moving at “120 heartbeats a minute.”
The Wicked + The Divine #8 is a fantastic example of how panel borders and the gutter space between panels can be changed to mimic different sensations. These are abstract visual elements that each reader will interpret differently, but there’s little doubt that they are intended to introduce musicality to the art. It’s like the scene in Fantasia where Bach’s “Toccata And Fugue In D Minor” is visualized in colors and shapes, but with no soundtrack.
The art team provides the graphics, and the readers create the music in their heads, which is fitting because there’s actually no music playing at Dionysus’ party. “There’s no music! I repeat! No music!” Cassandra shouts to the crowd. “What are you all fucking dancing to?!” There’s no song playing, but that doesn’t mean these people aren’t hearing something. Each person is dancing to a unique tune that only they can hear, but those individual rhythms all come together on the dance floor to create one communal, silent melody shared by everyone involved.
Gillen and McKelvie have drawn many connections between this book’s deities and real-world celebrity musicians—most heavily in McKelvie’s character designs, influenced by real-world figures like Rihanna, Prince, and Drake—and that introduces a spiritual element to events like concerts and dance parties. The dance floor is the temple in issue #8, and these people are having a religious experience that will stay with them forever. “In two years, I’ll be gone,” Dionysus tells Laura toward the end of the night. “Even if they forget the details, they’ll remember being happy for a night. That’s not a small thing.”
In Gillen’s story, ordinary people become gods for two years of fame and wealth but perish when their time is up, an apt metaphor for the fleeting nature of celebrity. Dionysus’ time on Earth is limited, but he’s going to use it to make sure that his followers have happy memories to comfort them long after their leader has left this mortal coil. This is also an apt metaphor for a comic book creative team working on an immensely popular series. While there are certainly some creators that have been working on long-term projects with no end in sight (Los Bros Hernandez on Love And Rockets, for example), for the most part, creative teams don’t stick around on a book forever. The Wicked + The Divine will be gone one day, but even if readers don’t remember the details of this week’s issue, this comic-book dance party is an experience that won’t be forgotten any time soon.