Welcome to Read This Next, a brand-new ongoing feature here at Blastr designed to help you find more comics to love. The idea is this: We take a comic that's a big hit with readers, a comic that's been in the news lately, or both, talk a bit about why it's great and why it's noteworthy, and then steer you toward other comics connected to it in some way. Whether you're a new reader looking for a guide to more than just that one series your friend recommended, an old reader hoping to find new stuff, or just someone looking for something to read, we're here to help.
This week, we start with a comic that's both a critically acclaimed hit and the subject of a just-announced TV deal.
IF YOU'VE READ: The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson and Clayton Cowles
Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's collaborations have a habit of staying close to forms of pop culture outside of comics (to prove it, they had Marvel Boy dancing to The Ronettes in the opening scene of their Young Avengers run), and The Wicked + The Divine might be the purest manifestation of that yet. The book is about The Pantheon, a group of 12 deities that arrive on Earth every 90 years. Each takes over the body of a living person, wields magnificent and terrifying power for two years, and then dies, only to return again in another nine decades.
The book is about the various machinations of The Pantheon, but at its core is a story of pop stars imagined as literal gods, empowered with the ability to, among other things, kill someone with a snap of their fingers. McKelvie deliberately modeled the characters after real-life pop stars like David Bowie and Prince, and Gillen's writing explores the complexity of celebrity via instant godhood in thrilling ways, in part by placing much of the story's point of view in the hands of a young fan who can't get enough of Pantheon concerts. We see almost literal cults of celebrity spring up around these deities. We see them rise and fall. We see them work magic quite literally through performance, and then work a different kind with their own hands. It's a stunning book, and in many ways it's the next phase in the evolution of a theme that Gillen and McKelvie started playing with a decade ago.
READ THIS NEXT: Phonogram: Rue Britannia by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
If The Wicked + The Divine is about gods wielding their power through (among other things) music, then Phonogram is about magicians wielding music as their power. Gillen, a music journalist before he got into comics, thought about all the ways music can move us, about how it can deeply influence who we are almost instantly and how it can provoke such spontaneous and often shocking emotion. Then he took that figurative sorcery and made it literal. Phonogram imagines a world populated by Phonomancers, magicians who use music to change who they are, fulfill their desires and even hurt others. The history of British pop music is deeply woven into Rue Britannia, so much so that I felt the urge to look up a great many band names after I read it, but Gillen and McKelvie never reference themselves out of the story.
In Rue Britannia, Phonomancer David Kohl feels himself unraveling and realizes that he must go looking for his musical and magical patron: the goddess Britannia, a manifestation of the Britpop music that's both Kohl's love and his source of power. There are other Phonomancers who take different musical paths, you see, and if they manage to get rid of Brittania, they will completely change who David is. The metaphor there is easy to grasp, especially if you're someone who lives permanently in one musical era, but there's so much more to dig into with Phonogram that it's one of the most satisfying re-reads out there. Gillen himself put it this way, back in 2005:
"The subtext of Phonogram is that it’s all real. The magic isn’t just posture, but an expression of my theories of how Pop music works. The metaphysics of its world are what I believe. Another standard way of me describing Phonogram is 'Imagine Promethea if Moore cared more about the yeah-yeah-yeahs in Martha Reeves and the Vandella’s Heatwave than the deified sock-puppet he keeps in the bathroom'. It’s true. It’s music-journalism by other means, with its elements constructed not just because they look good or seem cool to us — which they do — but because they describe this is what music does to people."
If you like the way Gillen weaves metaphor into magic, and if you dig McKelvie's art, check out Phonogram. There's already a second volume, The Singles Club, for you to try, and the third volume, The Immaterial Girl, begins publication in August.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Want more? Check out these titles.
Young Avengers: Style > Substance - Gillen and McKelvie do teen superheroes.
Journey Into Mystery: Fear Itself - The beginning of Gillen's long epic fantasy deep-dive into the Marvel Universe.
Pretty Deadly Volume 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios, and Jordie Bellaire - This one has nothing to do with Gillen or McKelvie, but just like The Wicked + The Divine it's a great merging of pop culture (like Western and Japanese revenge cinema) and mythic concepts. It's also just a really great comic.