Review: God is Dead Volume 1

 

God Is Dead has exactly the sort of deliciously chewy premise that Jonathan Hickman and Mike Costa known for. It’s the story of what happens when every single God in human history is revealed to not only be real but returns to Earth. All at once.

Today.

Hickman and Costa’s story follows two principle strands; the god war and the effect it has on us and the efforts of a small group of scientists to build an artificial God and put humanity back in the fight. It’s a smart move and lets him the writers have their cake, ritually sacrifice it, parody it and then punch it in the face all at once. The Gods are tropes given flesh, creatures of immense power and scale who Hickman also, cleverly, shows are inherently limited. These are beings who want, who are defined by that wanting and the wars they wage are as much to pass the time as anything else. They’re savage, creatively brutal and, ultimately, have a gravitational pull not even they can escape. They define the very world they seek to control and in the end can only wage war. The moment they win, the moment there is a one true God, then they begin to stagnate. It’s a fascinating idea dn it allows Hickman to fold in some great moments of jet black humour. A news anchor covering the apocalypse fest is a nice example of this; he starts out as a standard anchor and by the end of the book is ritually sacrificing himself. It’s a nice touch, simultaneously funny and horrifying and that dichotomy is where the book lives.

The human element of the book makes this even clearer. Hickman and Costa take the standard ‘ragtag group of geniuses and soldiers’ trope and almost turns it inside out. The soldiers are a father and daughter private security team who are intensely smart in their own right and the role they end up playing is genuinely surprising. In fact, the book’s best scenes come from the scientist’s attempts to reverse engineer a God and what happens when they (mostly) succeed. Hickman and Costa balance the metaphysical and gristly physical tremendously well, and their plot is the most compelling part of this first volume. By the end of the volume the survivors have not only got what they wanted but found themselves imprisoned within their own success, just like the gods they’ve emulated. It’s a smart, circular piece of storytelling that, again, marks the book out as something very clever.


Di Amorim’s art is, for the most part, astonishing. Rendering the gods with this level of clear eyed detail had the potential to make them elss than what they are but Di Amorim somehow makes them even more disturbing. These are impossible creatures whose presence, and stories, are warping the world around them and it almost never feels safe or predictable. That creates a tremendous sense of unease that, accentuated by the book’s tremendously bloody violence, only ratchets the tension higher. Likewise the design work on the Gods, their weapons and the war they wage is as intricate as it is brutal.

Unfortunately when the book does go for safe and predictable, it really stumbles. Gaby, a security professional on an operation is dressed like she stepped off a metal album cover and two of the scientists, Thomas Mims and Henry Rhodes, are pretty clear analogs for Einstein and Hawking. Both these design choices drag you out of the book and trivialize what, up until that point, has been a surprising, and very dark take on religious belief and the apocalypse. The book recovers, but those early moments strike a bum chord that reverberate for a good long time.


That aside, there’s a lot to enjoy here. Hickman and Costa have done a ton of research and used all of it to drive character and plot to a fascinating end point. Di Amorim’s work is uniformly good and frequently great and Juanmar’s colours and Kurt Hathaway’s lettering seal everything together perfectly. It’s gory, visceral, horrifying, often very funny stuff and it tries far more new things than old. For that reason alone it’s worth picking up.

 

God is Dead volume 1 is out now from Titan, priced £14.99. The ongoing series is published monthly by Avatar. Book of Acts, a two part anthology series set in the same universe is also available now from all good comic shops. It’s BRILLIANT, features Kieron Gillen, Si Spurrier, Alan Moore and others and is a perfect on ramp for the series. Give it a shot. I’d recommend asking Mondo Comico or Travelling Man. Also, thanks to the lovely people at Titan for the review copy.

DC Day 1:Fighting The Next War Early-Blackhawks

Blackhawks is one of the more eccentric of The New 52, reviving a set of characters created by Will Eisner, Chuck Cuidera and Bob Powell in 1941. The Blackhawks were a squadron of fighter pilots, each a different nationality and united to fight in World War II. The concept was immensely successful, although as World War II ended and more time passed, it became increasingly difficult to sell the idea without plugging it into more conventional superhero trappings. The characters were revived twice, made several appearances elsewhere but the concept as a whole began to fade into DC history.

 

This version, written by Mike Costa, manages to not only honour that concept but nest it inside two separate, but complimentary, modern tropes. The first is the re-imagining of the squadron as a much larger unit,with ground forces, logistical staff and UN backing. This places them, interestingly, in almost exactly the position the original version of Stormwatch occupied, and also allows for a larger cast and scope. There are echoes of the classic Larry Hama run on GI Joe here, with the team’s secret headquarters, vast array of aircraft and concealed headquarters, along with their code names and differing specialities all elements that echo Hama’s work whilst still honouring the original cconcept. They’re still an elite unit of international misfits but by placing them in a deliberately contemporary, grounded setting, Costa is able to expand the focus of the series but not lose sight of it.

The second is the inevitable engagement of pop culture with the War on Terror. Pop culture, by its very nature, reflects the time in which it was produced, as shown by the original series using World War II as a backdrop. That engagement has, over the space of the last ten years run the gamut of responses, from gutpunch emotional reaction to cynicism to it becoming a backdrop rather than an active element of fiction. Geopolitical chaos has become a fact of life, and, at its best, pop culture has explored both the human consequences of that and the ways in which society has reacted.

Which all seems like a colossally over intellectual approach to a comic involving fighter planes, power armour and a Russian who is called the Irishman but this is the background that Costa plays with and he plays with it well. He neatly sketches out the idea of the Blackhawks as an elite special forces unit who are tied to the United Nations but not as tied as some might think. It’s another standard trope, one which Ellis used to great effect in his run on Stormwatch and which was later explored by Greg Rucka in Checkmate and it works well here, once again. The end result is the sensation that the Blackhawks are essentially this universe’s attack dogs, the unit that the UN unleash when something difficult and unpleasant needs doing. He does a good job of sketching out the characters too, with the unflappable Canada and Kunoichi, the team’s resident pointwoman and seeming adrenalin junkie the two standouts. Again, none of these characters are unique or revolutionary but none of them need to be. This is high tech pulp, and as a result the more familiar the characters the better.

 

Blackhawks is a known quantity but a welcome one. Costa’s script has some nice action beats to it and the art, by Graham Nolan on layouts and Ken Lashley on finishing and cover is brawny but expressive, giving the characters and the tech room to shine. All in all, this is certainly one of the more left of centre of the DC New 52 but it’s also one of the best put together. It’s a smart, ideas-heavy fast paced modern thriller and it deserves to be given a chance to shine.