THE WICKED + THE DIVINE: Who Tells Your Story

By Mara Danoff

Change doesn’t happen overnight. Even if it’s a necessary change, like including more diverse individuals in a medium, people are slow to adopt. In a way, it’s a miracle that THE WICKED + THE DIVINE has the kinds of characters it does. Characters that are black, gay, trans, and from all over different parts of England. Not only that but these characters represent different kinds of gods from all over the world. It’s hard not to see the missed opportunity in including more indigenous gods and even creators within the story.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE
Courtesy of Image Comics

The creators interestingly reframe cultural appropriation; yet for me, it doesn’t go far enough. I also can’t shake the feeling that while all of these characters are diverse and great in their own right, the comic itself is still created by two white men. It felt this could have been a great chance to have artists and writers from diverse backgrounds working on this project. Instead, it’s these two men interpreting other people’s mythology to reframe it in a twisted modern-day England.

READ: Craving indigenous comics? Check out MOONSHOT: THE INDIGENOUS COMICS COLLECTION!

Who Gets a Seat At The Table

For those of you unaware, THE WICKED + THE DIVINE is a series of comics told by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. It follows a group of teens who are the reincarnations of various gods from legend as they struggle with their own divinity and what that means for their time on earth. In this world, gods only live two years, sometimes less. Yet a fascinating thing about the series appears as the gods themselves. They come from all over the world: Mesopotamian, Near Eastern, and Japan just to name a few places. The gods come from almost everywhere, except where indigenous cultures would reside.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE
Courtesy of Image Comics

Despite all of these places getting representation in this graphic novel, no indigenous gods seem present. One might argue that fictionalizing indigenous deities might undermine the strides made towards recognizing their culture as a living, breathing entity, which makes sense. At the same time, not including indigenous gods excludes the ability to include indigenous writers and artists who might have brought nuance to the portrayal of the deities. Given how interesting each and every character in THE WICKED + THE DIVINE read, I wish they chose to add just some indigenous culture in the mix.

READ: Nuanced Native American representation exists in EAST OF WEST!

Indigenous Culture in Comics

Including native gods in something as renowned as THE WICKED + THE DIVINE would allow for so many people to learn about indigenous culture in a medium they love. Including a native god would also give indigenous artists and writers an opportunity to collaborate with the authors of the comic, showing the world their writing and imagery is just as valid as anyone else’s. By choosing to exclude these gods, indigenous culture gets pushed aside once again.

Indigenous writers and artists need more opportunities in mainstream comics if only to show readers that their perspective deserves attention. THE WICKED + THE DIVINE still remains a fantastic work in and of itself, yet the lost potential of including indigenous gods hangs over it like a storm cloud. An opportunity to show the world indigenous creators matter has come and gone once more. Hopefully, if the authors ever expanded on the mythos of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, they will choose to add some indigenous gods to their pantheon. Until then, we’ll just have to keep supporting indigenous creators whenever we can.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE: The Path of Representation

By Nadia Shammas

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE tells the story of the Reoccurrence, a phenomenon in which gods from different cultures are reincarnated into our world only to die in two years. The story makes substantial headway in its incredibly diverse cast, and most importantly, their stories don’t revolve solely around their race, sex, or gender. One of the biggest pitfalls in representation is the problem of tokenism. There’s nothing more patronizing than placing a character of a certain background just to check them off the diversity list. THE WICKED + THE DIVINE does an excellent job making full fledged characters with distinct personalities whose backgrounds are part of their identity, but not the entire thing. In this sense, the creators are leagues ahead of other mediums in terms of diverse representation. We cannot simply judge based on how many diverse characters there are, but also the quality of their treatment.

READ: THE WICKED + THE DIVINE OVERSIZED #2 has almost everything! Are the Gods Any Good?

The Wicked + The Divine #1
Image courtesy of Image Comics

Who is Indigenous?

When discussing indigenous representation in this comic, we must be careful not to view this through an entirely American lens. The fact is, all of these gods are from indigenous cultures. The pantheon features gods from Mesopotamia, Sumer, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, the Norse mythology, Ancient Irish lore, and so on. All of these represent the indigenous people of various regions globally. More interestingly, these regions are also regions which England has had contact with in one way or another. The Morrigan, for example, is a Celtic triple goddess of death. Ancient Irish tribes, such as the Celts, were part of the indigenous people of that area.

England also colonized many of these areas, or the indigenous cultures of those areas were instrumental in forming the modern civilization in the first place. Sumer, Mesopotamia, and Ancient Egypt gave us concepts and city planning systems that changed the course of human history forever. Including these cultures makes a direct statement about the diversity of English society, and about the interconnections of culture transactions through history. More so, the characters representing these gods are so diverse in themselves; for example, an Asian trans-woman is the Norse god of fate. By making the people who become these gods diverse, the book makes a powerful statement about how universal belief actually is.

The Wicked + The Divine #11
Image courtesy of Image Comics

Native American Representation: Respect is Everything

The creators are already playing with a difficult issue. Being two white men, the use of these cultures for this story is in and of itself a form of appropriation. However, this pitfall is made less deep by the fact that they are using gods from “dead” religions. While these ancient religions certainly shaped the regions where they come from, very few actively practice these religions. This is different from Native American religions. Including Native American gods in this pantheon would make it seem as though it’s as ancient and “mystical” as the rest. Native Americans’ religious practices are still as living and breathing as the major religions. This problem reared its head when JK Rowling used Native American culture in her expansions in the Potter universe.

This doesn’t mean that Native Americans don’t deserve a seat at this table. However, we have to recognize that the creators of this comic don’t have the same relationship with Native American culture as we, the American readers, do. This comic responds to the indigenous cultures it recognizes in its surroundings. Furthermore, a big problem with trying to force a Native American identity just for representation is the idea that there is a singular Native American identity. Different tribes hold different beliefs. Attempting to generalize a Native identity only adds to the problem of erasure. If THE WICKED + THE DIVINE introduced Native Americans into its narrative, it would be amazing. However, we can’t expect something to be included just for the sake of it.

READ: Dani Moonstar is nobody’s token native American! Click here to check out why!

Conclusion

The book already represents multiple cultures from around the world. It handles diversity in its cast with incredible care and mindfulness that is sorely missing from many books. Ultimately, THE WICKED + THE DIVINE is a huge step forward for representation in comics. We can both appreciate the book and continue to support indigenous creators here in the United States. Also, these story arcs only show one incarnation of the pantheon so far. Just because a Native American god didn’t show up this round, doesn’t mean it never will.

 

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