This week, I feel the need to remind everyone of what it says on the masthead here at the Dork Forty: Everything written here is just one dork's opinion. No more. No less.
Even still, though, if you're easily offended... specifically about religious matters... you should maybe just stop reading now...
The Goddamned 1 by Jason Aaron and r.m. Guera
So it's probably a bit infantile of me that fully half the reason I bought this comic is because of the title. I mean... That's some audacious shit. Not just profanity, but full-on blasphemy, right on up there at the top. I couldn't not buy it.
Well, okay... I suppose I could have not bought it, if it had looked like crap. But it didn't. It looked like a well-rendered bad ass barbarian fantasy epic. And it was written, I swiftly noticed, by Jason Aaron, one of the better purveyors of bad ass pulp fiction in comics today. Aaron's work isn't generally what I'd call “high-brow.” Sometimes, in fact, he even slips from “engagingly low-brow” into “downright puerile” (portions of his Thor run have dipped below that line, for instance). But most of the time, he gives good pulp. And he especially gives good noir. Just check out Scalped, for instance, the first book he did with Goddamned artist r.m. Guera, or he and Ron Garney's Men of Wrath. There's some fine twisted-up anti-heroes in those books, and this one promises maybe the biggest anti-hero possible.
We'll come back to that notion in a moment, though. Because first, I should explain what the premise of The Goddamned is: it's Biblical fantasy, set (we're told) “Before the Flood.” So the world is in a real freaking mess. Mankind has descended into debauchery, and God ain't too happy with us. In fact, he's kind of starting to regret that he created us in the first place.
Yep! Right outta the Book of Genesis! Only six chapters in, and already God's starting to think he made a mistake. That's a very early vision of Abraham's God, I think: all-powerful but not all-knowing. Not, technically, perfect. It makes Him more like the gods of classical myth, and is a detail most likely dating from those times and those kinds of stories. Which, I know, is an idea that probably offends some people. But I've come to see Genesis (and, if we're being honest, much of the rest of the Bible) as parable rather than history. Stories intended to teach lessons and answer questions. The mythology behind the historical faith.
If that idea does offend you, my apologies. I don't mean disrespect for anyone's beliefs here. I'm just stating my own. But if you're still reading at this point, despite my warning at the outset, I really, seriously, suggest you stop now. It's only going to get worse.
Now, for those of you who are still here...
I really like the fact that Aaron's drawing on these early myths. This is the stuff that would become the basis of all the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam chief among them). They're stories from the days when it was just one religion competing for followers with dozens of others in a relatively small part of the world. It was a wilder, woolier time for the faith, when it festooned with all sorts of weird little stories involving angels and monsters and demons, some of which didn't make it into modern teachings at all, and others that survive only as brief mentions, a few lines of verse here and there that don't get brought up much in Sunday School.
But they're things that always excited my imagination when I ran across them on my own. While I don't hold much in the way of specific beliefs today, I did undertake a reading of the Bible as a kid, starting from page one. I don't think I made it much past Genesis (too much begetting, no doubt), but when I got to the bit about angels mating with humans and giving birth to giants... Well hell, man. That's a sort of begetting I wanted to know a whole lot more about. So when it came up here in the first issue of The Goddamned...
...I knew this was my kind of funnybook. These stories are a great source for fantasy writing, but writers often don't draw on them as such because, well, as I've already discussed... They're foundational tales for existing, living religions. And people get uptight sometimes when you start calling their religion mythology, and write stories about their religious icons like they were Hercules or Zeus. Aaron's taking that leap here, though, and I love him for it.
He's doing something else at the same time, though, that I find really fascinating. While Our Hero looks like a handsome devil of a modern-day man...
...the people around him look a little more... primitive:
Those are the Bone Boys, a gang of thugs that rule over a tiny village composed of little else but "fuck huts" and a watering hole poisoned by human waste. They, and pretty much everyone else we see in this first issue, look a bit like prehistoric early humans. Cavemen, in other words. So it seems that Aaron's tying together evolution and the Biblical creation, answering perhaps that question asked most memorably (for me, anyway) by Spencer Tracy in Inherit the Wind:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMxFOA85A3w
That's... just the Cain's wife part I'm referring to here. The rest is pretty great, too, but has only peripheral connection to our discussion today. Anyway. Cain's wife. Where'd she come from? You've got the Garden of Eden, Adam, Eve, and their kids. So who does Cain marry? A primitive woman? Does the perfect creation of Eden interbreed with Neanderthal Man to give rise to modern humanity? Now, I'm just guessing here. I don't know if that's what Aaron's saying or not. But it sure seems like it, and that's a great crazy idea.
Of course, “great crazy idea” pretty much describes the world of The Goddamned in a nutshell. It's all giants, monsters, and hard-bitten men living in a hard-bitten land. It's a Biblical Western, with echoes of everything from The Wild Bunch to Mad Max to Conan to El Topo. Oh, and there's Bible stuff in there, too (again, more on that in a minute), but I couldn't think of a film that's really used the Bible in quite this way. I mean, maybe The Prophesy, but... I really don't want to mention that in the same breath as the classics listed above.
Anyway. It's a great mix, high-brow enough to intrigue but low-brow enough to excite the imagination. It's good stuff, highly recommended...
...but it's not perfect. If there's a misstep in this first issue, it's in that scene. Our Hero encounters a typical plucky kid (okay, a... plucky caveman kid), who he pumps for information before going off and doing what needs to be done. And when he's through, the kid asks to go with him. It's a scene we've seen a thousand times before, and in a story that's going to so many interesting places, trodding so much untrod ground, this scene is a let-down. It's either lazy writing, or a failed attempt at turning the scene on its head. No matter what the hero's answer is, we've seen it before. I think the last time it worked was in From Dusk Til Dawn, and even then it only worked because of how the refusal was worded: “I'm a bastard, but I'm not that much of a bastard.” And that film was made in the 90s, so... It's well-past being a cliché.
Still, though. That one scene hardly ruins the whole book. Because there's more to love in The Goddamned than I've said. But now we come to the sticky part. To discuss the rest of what makes this book so fascinating to me, I've got to reveal the identity of Our Hero. But I've been avoiding that subject because it's a tiny bit SPOILERY. I mean, they've been blabbing it out there in every piece of press the book's gotten, so I probably shouldn't worry about being coy. But the way the book itself is structured, his identity is something you're supposed to wonder about.
Our Hero's name isn't revealed there. It's not revealed, in fact, until almost the end of the issue, and it's a pretty cool turn when you get it. I'd read nothing about the series beforehand, and though I had an inkling of who he might be from context clues, I still really enjoyed coming to it without foreknowledge. So if you want to be a pure audience for this thing... if you want to be dazzled by Jason Aaron's writing prowess... you should join our very religious friends and stop reading now. Trust me, it'll be a better read that way. So get outta here and go find yourself a copy of The Goddamned. Go on, now. Git!
The rest of you, however, can join me after the jump and revel in the SPOILERY knowledge that Jason Aaron's latest barbarian anti-hero protagonist is...
Yep. It’s Cain. Aaron’s drawing here on the legend that Cain’s punishment for killing his brother was not just banishment from Eden. He’s also been damned with eternal life. Now, that’s not in the Bible. Rather, it’s sort of a Christian folk belief, a story that’s been passed around outside the official doctrine. Truly mythology, then. But it’s a great piece of mythology to use for this kind of story.
For one thing, it makes the series’ title entirely literal. But it also means that Cain is immortal, and nothing can kill him. Which is a handy ability for a two-fisted barbarian cowboy to have. Of course, by this point in his life, all Cain wants to do is die. He spends his days wandering around, seeking oblivion, looking for something, anything, that can end his miserable existence. Or, failing that, getting blind drunk to dull the pain. So it’s also a pretty great noir character hook.
Also, yes: in that last picture up there, he’s getting ready to fight a dinosaur. Which is awesome.
I suppose this means that Aaron’s drawing on the Creationist belief that humans and dinosaurs existed at the same time. Which, I imagine, might be the only thing in this book that would please such fundamentalist thinkers. Well, I mean… I suppose it might jibe with their “10,000 year old Earth” theory, as well. We’re told the story’s taking place “1600 years after Eden,” and though it’s not immediately apparent in the Wikipedia article on Young Earth Creationism, this source says it’s just about right. Because, remember, The Goddamned is happening before the Flood. Plus, its last big reveal (and another insanely SPOILERY bit) is that Cain’s chief antagonist here would appear to be…
HEH. Yeah. Can I just go on record right now as saying that the description of Noah as a “Lumberjack” is the best thing I’ve read all week? Genius.
Seriously, though, I really love this idea. Now, as I’m sure you recall, Noah is the one righteous man God found when he decided that mankind was a mistake, and that he needed to wipe the Earth clean with the Great Flood. So he told Noah to build a boat, and gather his family to go around collecting pairs of every living thing they could, so the innocent animals of the Earth could survive the Flood.
But you know, even as a kid, that seemed like a massive undertaking to me. Eventually (as you might guess at this point in the review) I came to question it, to see it as a parable rather than a literal story out of history. But when I was younger, and still concerned with the story logic of the thing, I wondered how he did it. The logistics of it are mind-blowing. There are SO MANY ANIMALS, after all, and even setting aside how big that boat would have to be (I didn’t know what a cubit was, but I imagined it had to be a pretty freaking huge unit of measurement), just gathering them all would be so very, very hard. The man who could do that would be a force to be reckoned with.
Now, translating that to the pulp caveman fantasy terms of The Goddamned, I can see how that might make him a difficult man to get along with. The quest would drive him to extremes. This is a man who’s willing to write off the rest of humanity in the name of God, and go about his work regardless of anyone else’s safety or well-being. Which, in the age of terrorism, might make it easier for the modern reader to sympathize with fallen humanity than with Noah. Hell, even the guy who invented murder might look good in comparison…
Plus, I’m thinking Cain’s going to be the reason the dinosaurs didn’t make it onto the Ark. And that’s bound to put them at odds.
Alright. I suppose I’ve said all I need to say. So! For its irreverence. For its boldness of theme. For its sheer awesome feel-bad Biblical Caveman Adventure glory… I can only give The Goddamned a very high recommendation indeed. If you like pulpy noir fantasy adventure, and if you’re up for having some fun with Biblical source material, you couldn’t do a whole lot better.