Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Review: Commercial Suicide by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie et al

Cover of The Wicked + The Divine Volume 3: Commercial Suicide, featuring a mouthless, half white, half red mask against a grey background. Glowing smoke drifts from the masks' eyes. The series title is overlaid atop the image, with the volume title along the bottom.
Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

COMMERCIAL SUICIDE [Amazon | The Book Depository | comiXology] is the third volume of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE. You’ll enjoy it so much more if you’ve read the first two volumes that I’ll strongly urge the newcomers you to take a step back and start with THE FAUST ACT and FANDEMONIUM before you even consider reading this one. Comics are naturally structured so you can get something out of a single issue, if that's all you've got on hand, but THE WICKED + THE DIVINE is a puzzle series from top to toe. It encourages readers to question the premise on every level as they assemble the wider picture for themselves. That’s a tough trick to perform if you don’t have all the pieces in front of you.

While the text gives us enough clues that we can easily engage in rampant speculation and draw some damned good conclusions, concrete confirmation is slow in coming. Even the definite answers to the questions we’ve been asking for multiple issues bring a slew of new questions along with them, giving the reader another reason to want to view the whole thing in its entirety. THE WICKED + THE DIVINE is fascinating and interactive; flashy and entertaining on the surface, but with a deeper core for those who choose to explore it.

Not unlike fandom itself. Hmmmm.

COMMERCIAL SUICIDE delivers answers-plus-more-questions in a big way, and you're gonna want it on hand as soon as you've finished FANDEMONIUM.

Co-creator Jamie McKelvie took most of this arc off, so writer Kieron Gillen works with five different guest artists--Kate Brown, Tula Lotay, Stephanie Hans, Leila del Duca, and Brandon Graham--to examine what comes next for the Pantheon and their worshipers (and deniers). Various gods give us a new perspective on the events we’ve watched unfold so far, and on the nature of their divinity itself.

And y’all, it’s awesome. While I loved FANDEMONIUM, it didn’t hit me in quite the same way as THE FAUST ACT. COMMERCIAL SUICIDE does. It churns up fresh ground and fans the spark that drew me to the series in the first place.

Perhaps the best thing about it all, intimately connected to the puzzle-book nature of the text, is how the creators utilize their source mythologies. They take millennia-old motifs like Dionysus’s ecstasy, Woden’s sacrifices for knowledge, and the notion of Year Kings and present them in a context that plays up how each story’s traditional roots tie into the pop music angle and the hungers that drive contemporary society.

Unsurprisingly, modern myths also play a huge role; most notably and obviously, the very idea of celebrity and the ways in which prominent public figures can enter our lives even when we’ve never personally interacted with them. Our tendency to mythologize them can be a means of coming to better know ourselves and our society while connecting with others who share our love for the art these people create.

It can also be horrific, though, as is most evident with Tara.

Y’all may recall I was deeply concerned about Tara after I first read THE FAUST ACT because, well, she might be mine (a loaded assumption on multiple levels, as Tara would agree), and it’s difficult to see your maybe-god maligned. Laura and Lucifer, the two characters who serve as our window onto this world, both hate Tara. In this volume we see they aren’t the only ones.

Fucking Tara isn’t just something Laura spits out whenever the goddess’s name comes up; it’s a hashtag people don’t hesitate to tweet right at Tara herself.

Because Tara is the One Everyone Hates; a mythological trope and a modern social role I’m all too familiar with.

The reasons everyone hates her are where it really gets interesting within the series’ wider context. While we see other gods eager to embody their roles--Dionysus holds his hivemind raves; Amaterasu goes through her daily prayer-rituals; Woden creates and schemes; the Morrigan plays up every war-and-death god trope she can get her hands on--Tara isn’t willing to simply be Tara. She wants to create art of her own instead of letting a larger force use her as a conduit. Hell, she’d rather no one even look at her if it means they’re seeing her as a symbol rather than a person, and to this end she dons a mask so people will absorb her talent without being awed by her godly face.

This move often backfires when they instead focus on her godly body; something McKelvie and Lotay comment on with their variant covers for her issue (and, indeed, with all this arc’s face-chopping McKelvie covers).

Tara has to be certain things because that's the nature of the game, but she won’t be everything everyone expects. Her focus issue may be my favourite in the entire series to date.

Her perspective also raises all sorts of questions about how divine music works. If the gods don’t create it themselves, where does it come from? What wider significance does this have alongside the things we already know? How does it impact the gods themselves?

This volume is deeply concerned with the effects of godhood on everyone, not just Tara. Amaterasu tries and tries to be a good goddess as well as a pop icon, but she continually refuses to face how problematic it is for a white girl to represent a Shinto deity and goes so far as to throw a bunch of racist crap at Cassandra. Sakhmet embodies her role so thoroughly that she ceases to care. The Morrigan spirals. Woden is… Woden.

And things ends with the Inevitable Cliffhanger; another invitation for the reader to cry, "What is going on?" before they settle in to wait for the next installment.

Which is what I'm doing right now.


  1. What IS going on! There is a major part of me that wants to wait and let a few issues build up so I can actually have some resolution when I go back and read more. This is the problem with reading comics as they come out, Memory! Reading finished runs does not leave me feeling this way!

    1. This is why I don't read single issues! (Well, this and my budget.) I enjoy things so much more if I can get a decent chunk of story all at once.

  2. I saw this on NetGalley and REALLY wanted to request it because the cover is so pretty, but then I realised it's part of a series. Guess I'd better for look for the others. What's the artwork like?

    1. It's fabulous! Jamie McKelvie devises some of the most engaging layouts in the business. In fact, the issue he illustrates in this volume remixes memorable layouts and visual cues from previous chapters to fit with the current storyline while referencing what's come before. (There's also a nod to The Licked and the Divine, a porn spoof from Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's SEX CRIMINALS.) The guest artists also deliver stellar work that jives beautifully with the gods they illustrate.

  3. This is finally getting ready to ship to me. YAY!