Late last month, a team of creators released the first in a planned series of comic books called The Wicked and Divine. Loosely grounded in Greek mythology, the comic explores the lives of gods who, every 90 years, descend to Earth in human form for a preordained period of two years and wrestle with the intricacies of mortality, fame, faith, and youth. With a high-energy plot and some of the most intriguing comic-book characters in recent memory, The Wicked and Divine — just two issues in! — already seems like prime material for a Hollywood adaptation. Here's why.
It doesn't waste any time.
The Divine story focuses on a human girl, Laura, who finds herself enthralled by the legions of gods who manifest as pop stars. She gets invited backstage at one of their "concerts" and, as protagonists are wont to do, gets thrust into the middle of their world. It's humans versus gods, in a sense, with Fox News bemoaning their presence and the legal system fumbling to enforce any rules at all.
By the end of the first issue, one of the gods (presumably) assassinates the judge presiding over her trial. In the next issue, that god — Lucifer incarnate — promises to initiate Laura into the ranks of her demons. (Yes, Lucifer is a woman.) So we're already at the good stuff: the gods banding together to gain acceptance among humans, human alliances with the gods, mysterious snipers, and the building of a universe.
The artwork is beautiful.
And if handled properly by the right filmmaker (keep Tim Burton's hands off this), it could be some Sin City levels of gorgeous. Consider a page in the series’ second issue, in which a character tumbles down a chasm tiled with the faces of Ananke, a masked god — it's like Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole smashed together with Wonka’s famous hell-raising journey down the tunnel of chocolate-river-coated horrors. Such carefully rendered artwork would be a welcome step towards the more fantastical for Hollywood.
It's a nuanced study of fame.
The comic’s premise is the idea that these gods descend to earth every 90 years for two years at a time. What makes it so forward-thinking is the way in which Divine’s creators demonstrate such a keen understanding of the nature of fame — and the pop-culture ripple effects that it spawns — in 2014. The gods in this universe have natural auras that exude "star quality" on earth, so it's only natural that they assume the role of celebrities on the scene; that is, they have very few skills beyond, uh, godliness, but people idolize them nonetheless. It’s powerful, clever stuff that says as much about humanity as it does about celebrity.
It explains its mythology quickly and succinctly.
A lot of the problems with big-screen comic-book movies come from the exposition necessary for a wider (read: non–Comic-Con) audience. The Wicked and Divine pegs much of its backstory to the Greek mythology many of us know from our social-studies days, but throws some modern-day twists into the mix that don’t elicit head-scratching.
There's also a thematic benefit: By giving these gods turned humans practically limitless capabilities, the comic’s authors have allowed the story to focus more on the moral code than the “rules of the road” that bog down many of the most popular superheroes. When one of the gods gets thrown in jail for ostensibly assassinating a judge, she remarks to a visitor that she could break out with the snap of her fingers, but adds that “even my hubris has its limits.” A god bogged down by moral quandaries: That’s some clever character development right there.
It acknowledges its predecessors but establishes its own world.
At one point Laura visits London’s National Portrait Gallery, where there's a portrait of a vaguely Mona Lisa–esque woman decked out in ... full Thor garb. That’s the kind of cheeky humor meets perfunctory reverence that a new series often gets wrong.
The humor is actually funny.
Imagine a world in which Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark had the exact same amount of punch lines but only an eighth the smarm, and you'll come up with the comic sensibilities of Divine. "Another site with no relevance, yet more blah ..." reads the screen of Laura's iPhone during a failed Google search. When Luci sits in her prison cell, she recounts advice given to her: "Don't reveal yourself — you'll only end up locked in prison without your cocaine and wearing a pair of frustratingly unerotic fingercuffs. I wasn't aware there was such a thing." Find the right actress to bring Lucifer to life (Jennifer Lawrence could get the job done in about ten years, I think) and the movie would kill.
I know it's early in the series to be talking about development, and there is always the chance that Issue 5 could introduce a talking raccoon or something. But life is full of uncertainties, and in the meantime, this is a super-compelling story. So I beg you, Hollywood: Stop trying to make American Gods happen. Make The Wicked and Divine happen instead.