I Was a Teenage Cat Goddess

The Wicked and the Divine, Volumes One, Two, and Three by Kieron Gillen et al.

Reading Challenge: A Graphic Novel (Volume 1) and A Book with a Blue Cover (Volume 2). Nothing fit for Volume 3 but I read it anyway.

This is a graphic novel series centered around a group of gods reincarnated in the bodies of teenagers in the UK. They become pop stars, some very recognizable (Sakhmet is Rihanna, Inanna is Prince, Baal appears to be some kind of generic-brand Jay-Z) and some not, or maybe I’m just old (is Amaterasu Katy Perry? Is that why book 3 has that long conversation where she’s scolded for cultural appropriation?). They are worshiped at their shows (natch) but the catch is that they die after two years. They’ll be reborn another 90 years in the future, but so much for that teenage kid who doesn’t get to grow up. Oh, and that two years appears to be getting shorter and shorter as more of them get killed mysteriously. Or, semi-mysteriously. We know who did it, we just don’t know why, and the characters seem almost deliberately unwilling to suspect the culprit.

The books are beautiful (although Vol 3, which has guest artists, was hit-or-miss for me in that respect) and they move quickly. I’m new to the graphic novel world but can appreciate the skill with which the story moves around on the page. Occasionally there’s a mini-arc that approaches profundity (until another character meets their doom), and the ins and outs of fame are pretty well illustrated. But as more and more hints and questions fly around as more bodies stack up, it was pretty hard not to wonder whether there were too many loose ends to tie up. And although this may not be an issue for some people, I don’t do well with a series that kills off this many characters this quickly: part of me wants to say to the author “well, if you think they’re this disposable, how am I supposed to feel for them?” Sure, they may come back (particularly the ones with underworld ties in their mythology, oh, look, that’s several of them) but it’s still a lot of deaths. It’s actually becoming part of the routine now: “death, death, death, death, lunch, death death death, quick shower,” to quote the great Eddie Izzard.

All this adds up to style over substance for me, but even saying that makes me feel like an old fogey shaking her stick at the damn kids on her lawn. I am clearly not the target audience for this book. People who are teenagers, or who remember their teenage years as a glorious brief shining moment of pain, excitement, confusion and joy, may very well go for this series. Personally, I remember being bored a lot. That’s probably why the characters I wanted to see more of were Laura’s parents, and that tells you everything you need to know about why the series is not really for me.

Suggested pairing: A weak cocktail with a umbrella and a twirly straw and three different kinds of fruit. Style over substance, get it? I would have recommended champagne, but I did that with the last YA book I was an old fogey about.

Conflict of interest reporting: My husband’s cousin is the letterer and gave us the books. Sorry I didn’t love these, Clay, but you were 100% right about me and “Bitch Planet.”

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Recommended Reading

Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine de Landro

Reading Challenge: A book recommended by a family member

The graphic novel is a literary form I keep meaning to explore further. There are several I’ve read and enjoy a lot, but it’s been hard to venture into new ones. Partly this is because libraries tend to store their collections in the Young Adult section that’s plastered with “Teens Only Beyond This Point” signs. Partly it’s because going into a comic store knowing nothing is a dangerous (well, potentially very frustrating) experience if you happen to be a girl. As I’m a 31 year-old woman, therefore, it’s been hard to explore.

Then I went off to visit my in-laws this weekend, and it just so happened that my husband’s cousin walked in with 3 volumes of The Wicked and the Divine and volume 1 of Bitch Planet and said “these are for you guys.” And because he knows me pretty well, he pointed to Bitch Planet and said “I think you especially are going to like this one.”

This is probably where I should announce my conflict of interest: the reason my cousin-in-law was giving us these books was because he was the letterer for them. So if you need an opinion untouched by nepotism, look elsewhere.

However, I’m pretty sure I would have loved this book regardless. It’s fast-paced and full of action: it’s violent as hell but the art manages to convey the violence without reveling in it, which is a neat trick. And it’s jam-packed full of intersectional feminist goodness. Some of the lines were so close to reality, or so beautifully interpreted what ads are really selling women these days that I wanted to highlight and underline half of them.

This volume has pages of ads under the heading “Hey kids, patriarchy!” that also includes a few pieces of real information, like the sobering statistics on domestic violence. An ad for an intestinal parasite states “Stop being so fat and gross, you big fatty!” Muffins are advertised as “Now with fiber, for pooping!”

The story has heart, too. I loved “The Secret Origin of Penny Rolle” more than I can say. Sure, I guessed the twist at the end, but it was a note-perfect mini-story. The rap sheets in the last section were amazing and gut-punching, as was the end. Where is Volume 2? My dealer is about 7 hours away. Maybe I’ll have to actually brave the teens or the nerd boys to get it when it arrives. It’s worth it.

Suggested pairing: Whatever the hell you want. No one can tell you what to do. I think I’d probably pick a hoppy beer, because the patriarchy does leave a bitter taste. It doesn’t get much hoppier than an Ithaca Flower Power, so go for that if you’re feeling fully committed. I’ll probably stick with Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, myself.