Title: The Faust Act
Series Title: The Wicked + The Divine
Author: Kieron Gillen
Illustrators: Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson & Clayton Cowles
Date Added: June 6, 2017
Date Started: August 2, 2018
Date Finished: August 7, 2018
Reading Duration: 5 days
Genre: Graphic Novel/Comic, Fantasy, Mythology
Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critical tongue-attractors like Young Avengers and PHONOGRAM reunite to create a world where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.
The story is fast paced and glamorous in this “gods incarnated into the bodies of youths” metaphor of celebrity culture. It starts off with Lucifer
standing trial for murder, and the trial itself ending in an unexpected way (yes, even more unexpected than Phoenix Wright, though there is an explosion of sorts…). It’s clever how once again Lucifer is being thrown under the bus for something he (in shtis case she) didn’t do (as in some interpretations/translations “Lucifer” was erroneously conflated with Satan, but this is something I need to do more research on).
The majority of the characters in this are POC including the main Laura who desperately wants into this world.
The cycle, or at least who’s chosen, seems perpetuated by Ananke who appears as an old woman. She infuses people (usually teenagers from what I can tell) with the incarnation per what Luci explains, and this is the main reason Laura was at the Amaterasu concert. Everyone wants to be a god, but no one wants to deal with the consequences.
The artwork in this graphic novel is absolutely gorgeous; McKelvie, Wilson, and Cowles definitely deserve all the props, but the story is vapid AF. Before you castigate me and insist “That’s the point!” let me elaborate. My assumption is that later volumes delve deeper into the reasons for the recurrence, but if this first one is meant as an introduction, it does a poor job at showing them as anything more than one-dimensional caricatures.
The main character was annoying in a way far beyond what being a teenage fangirl would entail. Obviously, she should be to some extent especially in a world where gods incarnate or rather take over the bodies of teenagers who then die in two years. It’s something that would appeal to that dynamic, because they don’t have the maturity/capacity to understand how fucked up that is. At one point, Laura is more concerned with them killing Luci than the destruction our resident David Bowie lookalike is causing, and from a fellow fangirl perspective I understand that (I’m thirsty for Sephiroth, a Sephithot if you will), but her unwillingness or rather inability to question this shows the understandable immaturity of youth. However, there’s nothing in the text or subtext to portray how erroneous this is, and it adds to the pretentiousness (?) of the story I can’t get past. It (ironically) aligns with the adolescent myth of immortality itself.
My main issue with this novel is its lack of depth, and again I’m assuming later volumes fill this in, but there needs to be some substance to hold onto to get me there. There’s precious little revealed about these characters. Laura is failing out of college because she only cares about becoming a god, which while I completely understand that, I don’t know anything else about her, nor do I know anything about any of the others. Do they remember their time before godhood? If there had been some hint of background to ground or tie them to something of substance, I could care, but all of them are just these beautiful faces with wit and quips and nothing beneath the snark.
What’s truly disappointing is this novel has an excellent premise, but the execution leaves much to be desired. The only point of view we have throughout is Laura, which in some aspects is fine because, like her, we (the readers) are trying to figure out what the hell is going on , but we never get the whole story. If the author spent more time on the background of each god and less on trying to make them sound cool, it would’ve added so much more depth. Even if a story is geared towards teenagers and has a teenage main character that doesn’t give it a pass. Showing how tumultuous that age is not only doesn’t require a sloppy medium, the medium itself suffers from such.
While vapid characters does make sense for pop stars, no one has any depth. There is no character to identify with so that the comparison would resonate. Laura, understandably, just wants to be like them, and Ananke, the “wise, old woman” trope is just as empty. I believe Gillen is going for the idea that the gods are just as vacuous as pop stars and only care about being adored, and that’s fine. I learned that from classical mythology, and a modern retelling would’ve been refreshing, but the way it’s written doesn’t challenge that concept.
This is why some stories employ the Straight Man motif like The Great Gatsby, which is also about how vapid and empty celebrity can be. Fitzgerald has us view it through Nick who sees first hand how pointless Gatsby’s life is. How no matter how rich he is or how many extravagant parties he throws, he can’t get Daisy to fall in love with him, With all of his money and prestige he never gets what he truly wants. BoJack Horseman does something similar. Everything can look perfect on the surface. You can be “successful” in terms of how capitalism defines success but that means shit all for depression, nor does it erase the damage of the past.
There is an excellent video analysis of Disney’s live action remake of Beauty and the Beast by Lindsey Ellis where she talks about setup and payoff and why it’s vital in the making of good stories (spoiler alert: the live action remake did not do it well. It’s not as egregious as Game of Thrones season 8, but it’s…not good). The Wicked + The Divine’s first installment suffers heavily from this.
Laura Weaver’s ultimate goal is apotheosis, *spoiler* and she achieves it becoming the new Lucifer after Ananke kills her in the same way Luci was accused of killing the judge. The question is why? Why frame Luci? Was the whole point to exchange her for Laura when she proved herself worthy? To pass on the power? Did Laura have to prove herself worthy for the position? None of this is shown or even implied in the novel. *end spoiler* It’s arguably the main reason she became a groupie in the first place, and I’m pulled back into my own grievance since by all accounts this should’ve been a story I absolutely loved. It’s about a character trying to achieve godhood, but I’ve learned from years of consuming and analyzing media that creations sharing tropes with my favorites doesn’t mean I will like them as much if even at all because execution is key.
Laura wants to be a god because she’s a teenager and the incarnations of deity she sees are literally celebrities. She doesn’t want it for any grandiose or omnicidal reason. She wants apotheosis for the sake of apotheosis, because it’s cool. This is fine for a teenage motivation, but neither we nor her learn anything. Godhood and celebrity is intertwined, which turns the latter up to eleven since it’s already highly coveted. It’s why celeb culture is such a big deal. Laura is witnessing the recurrence and it looks hella cool, *spoiler* but she doesn’t achieve her goal until Lucifer is killed. It’s like the power passed from Luci to Laura similar to Highlander, especially considering Luci’s head was literally blown off. It could be seen as “you get what you want, but there’s always a price,” though it’s not like Laura was the one to pay it. In terms of character arc, there’s a huge payoff for Laura, but it doesn’t cost her anything, *end spoiler* and there’s zero payoff for us readers because not only do we not know what’s going on, there aren’t even enough breadcrumbs to get us interested in a trail.
As incarnations of godhood, you gain these awesome powers, but you die in two years. You lose both your humanity and the chance at a real life. This could’ve been used as an amazing commentary on depression, anxiety, suicide, etc. The appeal of this life would’ve been perfect for a troubled teen. You get to be a celebrity/god for two years then you die. All of your dreams come true, and you don’t ever have to deal with the fallout or aftermath, but then there are the people you leave behind. TWATD could’ve tied the godhood to the ideas surrounding the vacuousness of reality TV shows, celebrity culture, etc., but this novel really missed the mark.
We are introduced to these characters with so much potential, but at the end we know as much about them as we did at the beginning. Again, this is not to say that later volumes don’t have more information, but the initial book should make us want more. We need to have some reason to continue the story, some depth to plunge, but it’s lacking. The shallows appear no deeper than what you initially glimpse.