THE WICKED + THE DIVINE CHRISTMAS ANNUAL by Kieron Gillen, Kris Anka, Jamie McKelvie, Chyna Clugston Flores, Carla Speed McNeil, Emma Vieceli, et al
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
The perfect present for patient fans and a new look at old favorites.
93 %
On the Good List

If you haven’t been reading THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, there’s probably not a lot you’ll get out of this issue. This book is literally a holiday treat for fans who have been reading the adventures of the Pantheon up to this point. It’s enjoyable, but it’s not the ideal first issue if you’re looking to start the series.

That being said, THE WICKED + THE DIVINE CHRISTMAS ANNUAL makes a great break from the intensity of the main title’s current story arc. No spoilers, but everything has gone to hell for the Pantheon over the last 30+ issues. Writer and co-creator Kieron Gillen (DARTH VADER, PHONOGRAM) himself in the solicits even stated that he wanted this issue to be a fun romp that looks at our heroes (and antiheroes) during simpler times. The annual is some light fluff, but the kind that provides interesting character beats and better understanding of these new gods.

Romance Rekindled

The Wicked +The Divine
Courtesy of Image Comics.

The first story, and arguably one of the best of the bunch, centers on the frequently discussed relationship between Baal and Inanna. One of the most refreshing things about THE WICKED + THE DIVINE is its frank exploration of sexuality. Characters in this book are rarely given specific labels. They are into whoever they are into. There’s an honesty to the characters and their sexual interactions that is tender and sometimes heart-wrenching.

When Baal tells Inanna that he has never been with another man, Inanna’s warmth reassures him while making the audience wince knowing the fate that lies ahead for these two characters. Kris Anka’s art is unsurprisingly sensual and expressive. The story provides more backstory to these characters without hitting us over the head with tragic, dramatic irony.

There’s also been a real-world aspect of tragedy to the character of Inanna, who is clearly modeled after Prince, following the singer’s death. This brief story, full of warmth and love, feels like a perfect tribute to an artist who preached the same values in his art. The beauty of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE is how it pays tribute to music through visuals, and this Christmas special is no exception.

Return of the Thin White Duke

Perhaps the most welcome return in the book is Lucifer. Gillen’s commitment to the “kill your darlings” philosophy of storytelling means we haven’t seen the devilish deity much since the first arc. Here we get to learn more about her affair with Sakhmet and her relationship with Amateratsu.

That previously unexplored dynamic makes for one of the most unexpectedly funny moments of the book. The oddball friendship the two struck up before godhood provides one of the book’s best punchlines. As promised, Gillen, co-creator/artist Jamie McKelvie, and company provide us with stories of happier times for the Pantheon that we can’t wait to return to.

To fit into the Christmas medley style, each story has a different artist. Some certainly are better than others, but I’d hardly fault the artists themselves for that. After seeing McKelvie draw these characters for so long, it feels almost sacrilegious to see anyone else take them on.

Episode 81: The Wicked and The Divine

The Wicked and The Divine and The Puns

That being said, each artist does an admirable job giving their own spin to these characters with distinct looks. Unfortunately, the book’s credits are somewhat confusing about who actually drew each story. It’s a minor nitpick, but for a company that has often advertised itself as a strong proponent of creator’s rights, it’s odd that the credits are ambiguous at all.

Two standouts in the book were Chyna Clugston Flores and Carla Speed McNeil. Both of their stories are driven by comedy and part of that comedy comes from their expressive cartooning. Flores does a great job portraying the escalating frustration in the faces of Baal’s victims of his cruel and unusual pun-ishment.

The Wicked
Courtesy Image Comics

McNeil, on the other hand, has a very different job. Her story gives us a rare look at Lucifer and Ameratsu before their transformations. She manages to make the characters instantly recognizable while removing their godhood. McNeil’s art is also side-splittingly hilarious in Lucifer’s reactions to Ameratsu’s overwhelming enthusiasm.

While McKelvie is irreplaceable on the book, it’s great to see how other artists take on these increasingly iconic characters.

A Tragic Reminder

The Wicked +The Divine
Courtesy of Image Comics

One artist that unsurprisingly delivered a great piece was Emma Vieceli on the Tara story. Tula Lotay had drawn the previous Tara one-off, issue #13, that explored the background of the Pantheon’s most mysterious member. Lotay’s soft, flowing style lent itself beautifully to the mournful story of Tara. Vieceli does an exemplary job of creating a style that’s in line with Lotay’s.

I’m of the opinion that issue #13 is one of the best of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE series. The original issue continues to feel relevant in the way it explores online harassment and bullying from the perspective of the celebrity target. Tara’s greatest crime is simply wanting to be herself in a world that wants her to be their icon.

In this story, we see a Tara that is slightly more hopeful. She believes that the public will love her art whether she is a god or not. This gets to the heart of what makes THE WICKED + THE DIVINE such a masterful series. We thrust a metaphorical godhood on our favorite celebrities but never stop to consider what all this attention might do to them. They are, after all, only human.

Merry Christmas to All

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE is a series that is heavy on twists, reversals, and dense plotting. However, what ultimately keeps fans reading month after month is the characters. If you’ve been following them along this journey, this makes for a nice break before the next reckoning. If you haven’t read it, buy yourself a Christmas gift of the first trade and catch up!

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