Comic Review: THE GODDAMNED
THE GODDAMNED #1
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: rm Guéra
Colorist: Giulia Brusco
Publisher: Image Comics
Jason Aaron is best known as the Man Who Made Thor A Lady. Which is hardly the most transgressive thing he’d written up until that point; his Vietnam War series was about as seriously critical an examination of the topic as comics can be and doesn’t let anyone, least of all the United States military, walk away unscathed. But with a title like The Goddamned, one gets the feeling Aaron might have been pulling punches so far. It’s not necessarily surprising; he’s openly talked about becoming an atheist after growing up in a Southern Baptist family but this is, as he said, definitely “not going to be for everyone.” But is it for you, the discerning reader of Destroy The Brain?
Well, let’s talk about what The Goddamned is about. If we’re to judge by the first issue, it’s mainly about violence. After being rudely introduced to a nameless, unclothed, unarmed and remarkably fresh-bodied man, we witness him mercilessly slay a dozen-strong clan of barbarians, displaying an impossibly efficient talent for doing so. Writer Jason Aaron crafts a series of fights (more like murders really) that often descend into wincingly gory. He narrowly treads a line between a compelling, thrilling battle and a frankly tiring bloodbath, which at first seems heavy handed. All we have, as a reader, are questions about our enigmatic protagonist but instead of any answers, for seven pages we just witness bare-knuckled brutality just shy of excess. If not for what we learn a few pages later, I’d have dismissed the comic right away as murder porn.
Instead, with an deft reveal via inner monologue, Jason Aaron doesn’t just justify such a callous display, he unveils the deviously brilliant premise of The Goddamned, which I can’t really reveal here without muffling the effectiveness of the first issue. And that’s not even the end! A hideous supernatural entity of immense power, in the form of a giant lizard, gives us one of two cliffhangers. The other is the appearance of a new character, and this is where Aaron proves his genius; the title The Goddamned doesn’t just refer to one character and the other players in this prehistoric game are going to be just as intriguing in their promise, particularly their roles in the story as antagonists or something worse.
But as Aaron said, this isn’t a comic for everybody, in so many, many ways. The main character is completely naked for the majority of the issue and artist RM Guéra doesn’t shy away from showing what’s there when it’s present, Eastern Promises-style. Paired with the unmitigated massacre on display, it’s not for the casual readers. It’s transgressive, but only in the context of the comic industry where being mature about nudity is unheard of. Were the creators attempting to be transgressive by having a man’s genitals appear uncensored in several panels amidst bone-shattering ultraviolence? I hope not, because if they genuinely wanted to do so, they would be better served by applying what might be called “female gaze” to said pages. What I mean is that, more often than not, the protagonists nudity is simply allowed to be present. It’s there, almost as a background element. Again, that’s a big deal in comics and sadly, a lot of other mediums, but going against the grain, as it were, would really mean objectifying his manhood, making it an active subject of the art, eroticizing it the way so many comics did (and still do) to women’s naked bodies. I don’t claim to have insight into what the creators intended, simply how I would’ve made the comic as transgressive as I’d want it to be, and I think that Jason Aaron and RM Guéra didn’t intend that. It’s not a criticism, just an aside I felt couldn’t go unsaid.
Guéra’s art is fluid and hyper detailed, rivaling the likes of Geof Darrow and Juan Jose Ryp, expressive enough to add mood where needed but real enough to evoke visceral reactions to the epic scenes and unrestrained carnage. There isn’t a lot of experimentation in the POVs (mainly in order not to make the chaos too disorienting) but there’s plenty of kinetic rhythm to the panel layouts to make up for it. Colorist Giulia Brusco is actually carrying a lot of the emotional weight here, dealing in colors that are natural but often overwhelmingly strong, such as the saturation of blood earth and bodies during the fight scene, or the looming purple gloom of the protagonist’s late dusk wandering or the firelit, foreboding glow of the strangers in the night. Letterer Jared K Fletcher firmly establishes a prehistoric, epic vibe with the lettering, though the majority of that work is done by Guéra who hand draws the SFX throughout.
If you’ve got an open mind and a strong stomach, The Goddamned is highly recommended. It’s raw, huge, bold and proves that, right now, comics are going new places. It’s not afraid of offending but it’s also brilliant and every facet is top quality. Is it as transgressive as many new outlets will probably pretend it is? Not really, but that’s not the aim of the creators. Instead, I think Jason Aaron and RM Guéra want to be thought provoking while telling a really, really badass story. And in that measure, they’ve succeeded in every aspect.
Razor Shop Writing