Depending on who you talk to (and based on the strength of your own moral barometer), I’m either a well-educated or completely failed Christian. You can chalk both up to my Catholic school upbringing. And while I may not have kept my faith, I still have that which drew me to religion in the first place: a deep love of human mythologies. Whether you believe the tenets of the Abrahamic religions as true, or simply view them as an allegorical guidebook of self-governance, you have to admit that their shared mysticism, their creation and apocalypse stories, and their lore are some of the best ever committed to either oral tradition or paper, and that they still exist as a fertile field for narrative exploration. And yet, even though that material is being mined in The Goddamned, it’s not what brought me to the book. That was thanks to another kind of devotion.
Jason Aaron is becoming one of those creators whose first issues I will check out without a second thought, simply because he has so rarely steered me wrong. His work on Thor(s), Southern Bastards, Scalped, Punisher and most recently the Secret Wars crown jewel, Weirdworld, has confirmed him as a legit heavyweight in my eyes, in both the independent and mainstream industry. Pair him once again with his former Scalped collaborator in artist r.m. Guéra, with a story set in a reimagining of the aforementioned Judeo-Christian creation myth, and I’m 10 different shades of on-board. Naming it The Goddamned is just icing on the cake.
If it’s one thing this first issue proves so far, it’s that this story is anything but complex, following as it does the biblical Cain: first son of Adam and Eve and, after slaying his brother Abel in a fit of anger, the world’s original murderer. Set 1600 years after his parents’ banishment from the Garden of Eden, the world has become, for all intents and purposes, the Cursed Earth from 2000 A.D. -- barren, hollow and warped; all the hallmarks of postapocalyptica, but without the nuclear fallout. Cursed by Yahweh for his actions to wander the earth forever, Cain has become unkillable (like, literally - his healing factor would make Wolverine blush), which is bad news for the savage tribes who would bring him harm, and for himself, who can never escape a world of literal shit thanks to his unfortunate immortality.
Of course, that doesn’t stop him from trying, by picking fights with all sorts of things, from the prehistoric version of biker gangs to tyrannosaurus rex demons, all in the vain hope that something can kill him, thus giving God the biggest “Fuck You” of all time. Little does he know, however, that, as the title of this first arc (pun!) - “Before the Flood” - subtly implies, he may have some assistance in his pursuit from a most unusual source: Mother Fucking Noah! And you know what? It’s... pretty okay.
While far from his best work -- even, arguably, his least nuanced and most subdued in recent memory -- Aaron, in The Goddamned #1, sets up an interesting dynamic based on those classic biblical stories I love so much, but allows it to speak in the modern vernacular. So Cain, even though he has lived for 1600 years (and millennia before the present day) speaks as we would, with all the shits, fucks and cunts you could possibly want! That anachronism is an interesting choice; one that makes it much easier to read than your traditional holy text, while making the character verbally more relatable. And while it isn’t bad, it’s far from the game-changing greatness some readers have come to expect from Aaron. Again, following Cain on his misadventures through a world he is cursed to haunt is a fucking great conceit, but at least in this first issue, there’s nothing particularly special about what is being brought to the table. Except the art.
In the absence of Aaron’s usually more robust dialogue, r.m. Guéra is tasked with doing most of the heavy lifting in this inaugural issue, and boy does he take that ball and run with it. Whether it’s the half dozen pages of brutal bifurcations, decapitations and disembowelments meted out by Cain wordlessly (apart from a smattering of nicely lettered sound effects from Jared K. Fletcher), or the rich tapestry of shit with which he so roughly textures his world, Guéra’s style is cold-blooded, barbarous and raw; a primordial filth that is far less tamed than Scalped. Then again, so is this world.
There are, however, a few times when things get a little too mirky for my tastes, whether that’s because of Guéra’s loose hand in carving out his figures, or thanks to the thickly trawled-on colors of Giulia Brusco; but for better or worse, the presence of The Goddamned feels caked in muck, which, given that the protagonist wakes up in a heap of shit, works out quite nicely, thematically-speaking.
While it’s an intriguing, gorgeously sullied story that will undoubtedly congeal in some very cool ways (I mean, who doesn’t want to see Cain vs. Noah?), I wasn’t blown away by The Goddamned #1. But what it has set up is more than enough to keep that old Christian myth-obsessed side of me sated for now, and wanting to consume more next time.
The Goddamned #1 Writer: Jason Aaron Artist: r.m. Guéra Colorist: Giulia Brusco Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 11/11/15 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital