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We have a couple of pretty great comic book shops here, so we occasionally pick up some new ones to check out now and then. Last time, my S.O. decided to check out Fantom Comics, from which he purchased a copy of the first volumes of The Wicked + The Divine. He hasn’t had a chance to read it yet (the end of school kept him pretty busy!), but I went on a mini comic binge the other day and gave it a shot.
I wanted to like it. I really, really, really did. So many things in it are completely my jam!
Or should’ve been, anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, the artwork is beautiful, and the premise is intriguing — every 90 years, a pantheon of gods and goddesses are resurrected in the bodies of previously-mundane teenagers. The teenagers are given godlike powers for two years, then they die. In the interim, they are essentially the rock stars of their time. There are loads of homages to real-life personalities ranging from David Bowie to Rihanna. The cast is diverse, too, and the books don’t shy away from the occasional drama and friction of it. Case in point, Cassandra (who is Japanese) calling Amaterasu (a red headed white girl) out for essentially yellowfacing as a Shinto deity.
Unfortunately, the writing itself kind of killed it for me.
I read about halfway through the book my S.O. purchased, and so was still firmly in “twenty minutes with jerks” territory. The pacing seemed uneven, but that’s a forgivable flaw that’s occasionally unavoidable in action stories. What really began to lose me was the dialogue.
Do you remember Juno? Specifically, do you remember the conversations? They were steeped in a clunky, quirky, twee badness the way only Diablo Cody could write. This is the other end of that spectrum — rather than trying so hard to be cute and clever they might sprain something, the characters are in a competition to see who can be the biggest, edgiest badass in the whole wide room. It reminded me a lot of certain character types and behaviors I’ve encountered with novice roleplayers, and that’s not really a good thing from my perspective.
I’m a big fan of precision profanity. It can be tremendously helpful at underlining how angry a character is, how utterly boned a situation is, you name it. Like salt, it enhances the flavor of whatever scene it’s used in. It can be the cherry on top of a crowning moment of badass sundae. One of my favorite examples is this one scene in Cube:
The Wren enters one of the rooms. The atmosphere is tense, as it always is — is the room safe, or trapped? There’s no way to know for sure until you’re inside it. Now he’s in.
There’s silence. Then a soft click.
The same goes for sexual references, though they’re usually used to underline a character’s sleaziness or debauchery. Unfortunately, neither profanity nor sexual references are enough to elevate dialogue that’s bland or cringey on its own. Adding more of either of them does not make anything better, it just tends to scrub away any subtlety and nuance. A skillfully-wielded precision f strike is useful. Scattering them like edgelord parmesan is a recipe for narm.
Spongebob: Hey Patrick, what’s that word?
Patrick: Kr-ab-s? Uh, isn’t that that red, sweaty guy you work for?
Spongebob: No, not that word, that word.
Patrick: …<dolphin chirp noises>? Oh, I know what that is! That’s one of those sentence enhancers! You just sprinkle on anything you say, and whamo! You got yourself a spicy sentence sandwich!
Now, these are teenagers. They’re teenagers suddenly elevated to godhood and granted both fame and unimaginable powers faster than they can develop the maturity and responsibility to temper them with. If the dialogue intended to convey the kind of sneering, painfully self-conscious contempt one might expect from immature people with greatness thrust upon them, it succeeded. Unfortunately, that degree of success does not make for especially memorable, interesting, or sympathetic characters — it’s a good thing all of the main cast have distinctive looks, because without them, I probably couldn’t tell one from the next.
By the point I reached, I was actually pretty happy about the two year thing.
Does this mean the story has no redeeming virtue? No, there are certainly enough positive The Wicked + The Divine reviews (and possibly a T.V. show in the making) that can attest to that. Personally, I’m really a stickler for natural-sounding dialogue. I like retro comic vibes in the right environment, and I can dig on some cheesy superhero one-liners in the proper context, but, overall, I need to feel a believable flow between characters — preferably ones whose heads I’m not looking forward to seeing explode.
Normally, I don’t affiliate link to things I don’t like. In this case, I’m very willing to admit that I may just not be the right audience for this series. Have I aged out of it? Possibly. Like I said, I didn’t have any patience for Juno either, and people seemed to go nuts for it (even some older than me, though, so who knows). If your dealbreakers aren’t the same as mine, I urge you to check it out.