Best Shots Review: THE WICKED + THE DIVINE: 1831 (10/10)

"The Wicked + The Divine: 1831" preview
Credit: Stephanie Hans
Credit: Jamie McKelvie

The Wicked + The Divine: 1831 #1
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Stephanie Hans
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Credit: Stephanie Hans

Every 90 years, 12 gods return as young people. They are loved. They are hated. And in two years, they are dead. Thus is the nature of the cycle. While The Wicked + The Divine may have shown us that the story can divert from this norm, with their 1831 special, co-creator/writer Kieron Gillen and guest artist Stephanie Hans take us back two iterations of gods to the 19th century in order to show that in order for a cycle to be broken, it must first recur.

Much like the opening issue of the original WicDiv, series, 1831 centers around death, albeit in a far more intimate way compared to how the gods of the 20th century went out. While we joined those gods at the immediate end of their lives, here we join the five remaining gods of the 19th Century a week before they’ll all be dead as they confront their impending mortality and their lives as gods - even as one discovers mortality arrives for them quicker than it does for the other four. What Gillen does well is make changes based on our preconceived notions of Lucifer, Inanna, Woden and Morrigan after spending four arcs with them - for example, Morrigan and Woden have had their genders changed and so they feel like new entities rather than carbon copies, while a familial bond between three of the gods brings them even closer beyond the relationships we’ve already bore witness to.

Credit: Stephanie Hans

The third arc of the main WicDiv series set a precedent for fantastic guest artists dropping in for just one issue, making the arc feel eclectic and singular with each passing chapter, while still keeping things grounded within the established universe. That rings true in 1831 as well, and it’s a treat to see Stephanie Hans’ art paired with Gillen’s words - Woden’s character design in particular brings back strong memories of Kid Loki’s design when the two creators worked on Gillen’s final Journey Into Mystery issue. The issue is set at a villa in Lake Geneva which Hans captures with both majesty and an ominous undertone. Stephanie's layouts are packed with detail even when there is a high panel density and her muted colors are able to not only capture the feeling of impending death throughout the book, but also create some truly dynamic and striking images when things get mystical. In particular, there’s one page in the second half of the issue with six differently sized panels, but Hans finds a way to not only have the camera pulled out enough so the actions of the characters are clear to see, but also so the camera can capture reactions from the other gods in the room. This demonstrates expert framing and blocking of a scene which is impressive in its own right, but even more so when the scene has energy swirling around the room.

Credit: Stephanie Hans

The main series has taken the idea of teenagers as gods and combined this with how pop culture icons are perceived. Here, Gillen and Hans take the former and use it with a drastically different culture. While the gods of the current generation could be found in Instagram selfies, the gods of 1831 could easily be found on the stage or in paintings from the Romanticism movement thanks to the elaborate outfits and Alex Ross-esque imagery and expression found within each panel of the book.

While it has recurrent ideas that will be familiar to anyone who’s reading the main series, The Wicked + The Divine: 1831 tells a compact story that does not requires prior reading or knowledge to understand the plot on the surface. For fans of the series, this is a captivating glance about the gods that came before, how they lived and how they died. As a result, it informs why the gods of the 2010s have strayed so far from the path they were expected to travel. The graphic that’s used to show the status of each god forms a circle, but just because it becomes a cycle of death within two years, doesn’t mean the gods are prepared to go quietly into the night.

If you’re looking for a The Wicked + The Divine fix before the main series returns later in the year, or haven’t yet jumped on the title and want a taste of what the series can do when it’s firing on all cylinders, or simply want a one-off story, then you should not hesitate to pick this issue up. It’s a stunning issue: Gillen gives us a look into a scenario that’s familiar, but has enough divergence from what we know to feel fresh, Hans’ expressive art breathes life into these characters so the issue can slowly drain them of said life and together they set a high bar for one-shots that follow in the future.

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