Monday, 2 February 2015

The Wicked + The Divine / Sex Criminals

Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie ,et al, 2014
Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky, et al, 2014
(January 2015)

A double header this time, featuring two of the more buzz-inducing new comics of recent months. It is, of course, grossly unfair to compare them to each other simply because they turned up in the same Amazon shipment, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do here. I am a fickle and capricious god, as all worthwhile ones are.

Both are very good, I should stress, and either would represent a valid and entertaining investment of your time, but I think for me The Wicked + The Divine just shades it. The art is a little crisper, which is more to my taste, and while both have protagonists who are engaging and relatable (though in very different ways), I’m afraid I can’t get over this nagging sense of irritation with Jon, the main supporting character in Sex Criminals.

The story in SC is built around the conceit that certain people can freeze time when they orgasm. This is obviously off the chart in terms of smut potential, but is actually handled pretty deftly here; it could have been an unrelenting exercise in single-entendre and knob gags, and while both feature they’re rationed sparingly enough that they support the rest of the story instead of overwhelming it. Anyway, Suzie and Jon both have this ability which, after some only too familiar teenage experimentation and awkwardness, they come to realize is not something everyone can do. Imagine their surprise when they get freaky together and find out they can both get a petite pause after their petite mort.

The trouble is, Jon just winds me up. I get that he’s not meant to be completely likable, and the frequent and increasingly ambiguous way Suzie refers to him as “this fucking guy” flags up that it’s not just the reader who’s meant to feel that way. But still, what kind of pretentious shitnozzle cockblocks a guy he’s never met from a woman he’s never met by quoting the first paragraph of Lolita? Not just the first words, the entire fucking opening. He just whiffs slightly too strongly of nerd wish-fulfillment, wherein the unassuming nice guys gets the hot and kinky girlfriend simply because that’s what all geeks ultimately deserve. This is perhaps to overstate it, and is a reaction that probably says more about me than the book, but he’s definitely on probation until the second volume.

The other way in which SC comes second (ha!) is also extremely personal. The Wicked + The Divine gives us a pantheon of teenage pop stars tearing up the London music scene while apparently being reincarnations of certain gods of old. I paid for a substantial chunk of my last degree by working doors in London, and so this represents a precision-targeted nostalgia-bomb that’s very hard to avoid. Hell, it even manages to overcome the fact that underage gigs (punters and usually acts under the age of 18: dayglo t-shirts, skinny jeans, dry bars, all that jazz) were, without exception, absolute fucking nightmares. Seriously, I’d happily take the worst grime night over babysitting 800 overly-entitled brats acting like they know the world because, and I quote, “I have AS-Level law,” followed by the inevitable badgering email from daddy at his job in the City the next day demanding to know why his precious Sebastian was evicted for being drunk and swearing at barstaff when Sebastian said he wasn’t and he didn’t and Sebastian would never lie to him (because what possible reason could a teenage boy have for lying to his father about being evicted from a nightclub?) because Sebastian is such a good boy and he never drinks and if he was drunk then it was our fault for supplying him alcohol and by the way he’s CC’ing this email to a ‘friend who works in law’ and it would ‘look well on you’ if we were to fire the vastly experienced, patient, and competent member of security staff who took it into their head to give this little shit his marching orders.

God, I miss it.

There’s a hell of a lot of other stuff to like about WD, from the way it’s set up to examine the modern social media-driven concept of celebrity to the nicely eclectic range of deities who have been resurrected. But the thing which pleases me most is this: Laura, the protagonist, is mixed-race, and this is entirely inconsequential. Clearly I’m bringing my own parental perspective to this, but I can’t tell you how pleasing it is to see this just dropped into the story with no further impact. She doesn’t have a special connection to mystical ‘ethnic’ knowledges; she displays no superior understanding born of her ‘unique’ inheritance; she sure as hell doesn’t exist solely to provide unchallenging exoticism for the reader (her othered half providing the novelty and danger, her ‘normal’ half making it relatable and safe). Her mum’s white, her dad’s black and they relate in exactly the same way as any other set of parents would to their teenage daughter (meaning arguments and fights, principally).

Of course, none of this is to dismiss the issues of identity and belonging that can impact upon mixed-heritage kids (and indeed adults), but in fiction they are so often the defining aspects of a character; to see them portrayed here just as a thing which is is a wonderful and much-needed antidote to that. Bravo.

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