A God’s Empire Falls in Kieron Gillen & André Lima Araújo’s The Wicked + The Divine: 455 A.D. #1

Comics Reviews Kieron Gillen & André Lima Araújo
A God’s Empire Falls in Kieron Gillen & André Lima Araújo’s The Wicked + The Divine: 455 A.D. #1

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist/Variant Cover: André Lima Araújo
Colorist: Matt Wilson
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Cover Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: May 17, 2017

WicDivMainCover.pngThe central concept of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine—12 gods reborn on Earth every 90 years; within two years they die—is metaphorically rich and open to a host of interpretations. It’s an incisive look at pop culture, belief and mortality. 455 AD is the second in a series of one-shots that delve into the history of this concept; last fall, 1831 explored the pantheon that arrived in the 19th Century, while this one follows the group of gods that arrived as the Roman Empire crumbled.

Make that “god”—by the time this issue begins, all of the totems save one have perished. The last deity standing is this group’s incarnation of Lucifer, who shares a fondness for dramatic finger-snaps with the contemporary version, but is overall a much more haunted character—specifically, by his memories of the now-departed Bacchus, with whom he’d had a relationship. In the opening pages, Lucifer, garbed as Caesar, goes to war with an approaching group of Vandals. His plan: to take on the guise of the reborn emperor and preserve Rome, rather than succumb to the specter of his scheduled demise.

The Wicked + The Divine: 455 A.D. #1 Interior Art by André Lima Araújo & Matt Wilson

Not surprisingly, things do not go according to plan. Ananke, minder of the gods, reminds Lucifer of his destiny and of the flaws in his plan. Lucifer’s memories of Bacchus also act as a kind of conscience. But he’s also unpredictable, which leads to one of the most unsettling scenes in the series so far—and given that The Wicked + The Divine has incorporated heads exploding in visceral detail, this is no small accomplishment.

In his script, Gillen explores some of the interesting boundaries of this series’ world. Why couldn’t a god try their hand at ruling? What, exactly, is the difference between worshipping a resurrected emperor and a resurrected deity? And what happens when a god’s persona and the person incarnated as that god are ever so slightly incompatible? This version of Ananke seems more vulnerable than the colder, more efficient Ananke encountered in the main series. It’s a useful moment of characterization—it isn’t hard to find the connection between how the character’s actions here lead to her demeanor by the time of the book’s first contemporary arc, The Faust Act.

The Wicked + The Divine: 455 A.D. #1 Interior Art by André Lima Araújo & Matt Wilson

André Lima Araújo’s artwork is equally suited to the historical grandeur of a book set in the waning days of Rome and for the more horrific direction that several scenes indulge. His design for Lucifer-as-Caesar gives a good sense of the man at the core of the god, and of the actor at the core of the role. And he’s quite good at conveying the panic that numerous characters experience, from Ananke’s unease at handling Lucifer to the shock of the Romans faced with a seemingly risen Caesar.

At the core of The Wicked + The Divine lie numerous concepts that resonate. At the core of this particular issue is a fascinating variation on those concepts—of how fame and worship played out at a very different time and place. The result is a haunting and unsettling story, an eminently readable look at the cost of worship, the psychic strain of divinity and the ominous consequences of both.

The Wicked + The Divine: 455 A.D. #1 Variant Cover Art by André Lima Araújo

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