There is perhaps no summer vacation more mythologized than the one that took place at Villa Diodati near Switzerland’s Lake Geneva in 1816. Countless artists and historians have imagined the creative atmosphere that begat Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and now, writer Kieron Gillen adds his name to that list.
The Wicked and the Divine–which tells the story of 12 gods who reincarnate every 90 years only to die two years later–is, at its core, an exploration of the nature of inspiration and that infamous meeting of brilliant minds in Switzerland seems tailor-made for Gillen’s world.
That said, his take on the events of the “Year Without a Summer” is only loosely inspired by what actually happened. For one, the one-shot takes place 15 years after the real-life events, in 1831. Really, just about the only historical truth he sticks to are the people who stayed in the Villa, with the added twist that each is also a reincarnated god. Gillen plays fast and loose with both gender and sexuality in the present-day storyline, challenging expectations and tradition, and the same is true here.
At the center of the story is Inanna, who appears Prince-esque and gender fluid in the present, and as Shelley’s half-sister Claire Clairmont in this time period. Where the Inanna readers know is (sometimes literally) a ray of star light, this version is deeply depressed and filled with self-loathing. Not helping her self-esteem is her lover, Lucifer, who usually appears as a David Bowie-esque woman, but is embodied here by noted poet and cad, Lord Byron. Also not helping her state of mind is her former lover and current brother-in-law, Percy Bysshe Shelley, a.k.a. the Morrigan. Rounding out the group is Mary Shelley herself, the reincarnation of Woden. While all of the god-human pairings are clever, it’s that last especially that’s intriguing.
Present-day Woden is a sexist, possibly racist guy in a Daft Punk helmet who’s the closest thing the series has to a villain outside of the actual villain, Ananke. In this period, however, she’s bitter and sympathetic, turned cruel and cold after losing multiple children because of her god-hood. On the surface, the two versions of the characters would seem to have nothing in common, but Gillen’s writing typically isn’t very obvious and the similarities here are subtle and meaningful. Both versions are defined by their fear of losing their creations, but they understand creation and life in very different ways—largely because of their genders. The rest of the issue is similarly complex and it’s a little difficult to talk about it here without spoiling everything. Suffice it to say that by the end of the issue, you’ll understand not only where the idea for Frankenstein came from, but also wonder how what happens applies to the present day storyline.
As for the art, Stephanie Hans (with whom Gillen previously worked on 1602: Witch Hunter Angela) steps in for regular penciller, Jamie McKelvie, and colorist, Matt Wilson. Her painterly, softer style perfectly suits the issue’s gothic tone. Though The Wicked and the Divine always has a touch of the fantastic, this issue feels particularly odd and other-worldly because of her art, hinting at a type of horror and strangeness the rest of the series never quite has. And while Gillen himself has said that reading this issue isn’t necessary to understanding the present-day story, the world he’s created is so complex (some might say convoluted) that you can only benefit from seeing more of it.