Today, Patrick and Michael are discussing The Goddamned 1 originally released November 11th, 2015.
And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him more shall be given and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. There I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”
Matthew 13: 10-13
Patrick: God makes Adam and Eve. They defy God’s will and are cast out of the Garden of Eden. They have two sons: Cain and Abel. The sons don’t get along, so Cain kills his brother. God is furious with Cain, marks him as a cursed man and sends him out to the land of Nod away from his family. My summary of the Cain and Abel story right there is about as long as the actual text from Genesis. That book is nuts – it can spend paragraph rattling on about lines of succession, but burn through two deep betrayals and the first murder ever in a scant few sentences. If there’s any meaning to be found in that story, it must be extrapolated out by the reader – that’s why people go to church every Sunday: so someone can try to explain the “meaning” of the stories to them. But even those explanations are hard to understand. Take Jesus’ answer to “why do You speak to them in parables?” above. The point of the stories isn’t to understand them necessarily, but to experience them. Jason Aaron and r.m. Guéra’s harrowing first issue of The Goddamned sets out very specifically to be experienced rather than understood.
The series’ biblical origins are broadcast right from the jump – the first copy we see is a quote from Genesis, right before God decides to flood the flood and start over. But that’s not really that strange. Hell, I started this piece with a passage from the bible, that doesn’t mean I’m going to be writing Christ Fanfic for the next 800 words. But upon flipping to the second page, Aaron makes it clear that he’s talking about God literally, by identifying the setting as “1600 years after Eden.” If there’s any majesty or grace implied by this explicitly biblical setting, it is immediately undercut by the crassness of the image of a one-armed child pissing into a shit-hole.
That’s one hell of a way to introduce readers to a new comic series – undeniably desolate and bleak. Further investigation only reveals more stomach churning details. Because the reader’s eye will naturally start at the top of the page and work down, those details are carefully exposed by Guéra the longer you stare at it. Even the placement of that narration box sorta demands that we start at the kid’s head. From that starting point, the image could almost be inspiring – the sky is blue, and a lone child looks off into the distance. Panning down, we see that he’s maimed, and holding his dick in his hand. The further we travel down the page, the more we see dead trees and skeletons caked in shit. And eventually, we see a naked man drowning in shit, getting peed on.
That’s the tone of the issue in a nutshell. Aaron pulls away from exposition at this point, even forcing his protagonist away from identifying himself as Cain, the aforementioned son of Adam and Eve. Instead, we’re introduced to one of the most savage, vile and disgusting worlds this side of Mad Max. The characters are all prehistoric, but they “fuck” and “shit” and maim and murder for funsies. Again, Aaron is interested in making this as upsetting as possible, so he puts this crass exposition (crassposition?) in the mouth of that same kid. A kid! This world is so intrinsically terrible that even a child talks about the “fuck huts” or stoning a leper to death.
And that’s where Cain’s appearance is… strange. He’s the only character in here not drawn like a caveman. The kid points out how weird it is that Cain has no scars on his body. That’s a body — by the way — that we see in its entirety for the majority of the issue. Cain is naked, and Guéra doesn’t shy away from drawing any part of his body. At first, this reads like vulnerability, but I’m not so sure that there’s a “meaning” behind it that’s quite so literal. Cain takes his revenge on the Bone Boys without putting on clothes, and resultant fight sequence (which stretches on for seven pages) is all the more spectacular for his confounding nudity.
Plus, for however noteworthy you might find a naked man, that’s all dwarfed by the sheer volume and savagery of the violence on the page.
This fight drags on for what feels like forever. The violence is impressive, but the action isn’t particularly articulate. It lacks the fluid expression of weight and movement that something like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles excels at. But that’s arguably the point. The audience doesn’t need to know exactly how Cain is capable of slaughtering this dudes, or how one action leads to another, they just need to feel it.
As Cain steps away from the fresh corpse pile he made, the kid approaches him again, with a question. “Can I come with you?” There’s a page turn before we can see that Cain says no, so there’s clearly meant to be a moment of anticipation – like maybe we want to think that he will travel with a kid and it will soften him or something. We want so badly for there to be a chance at a redemptive narrative, but Aaron and Guéra seem adamantly against it.
Why? Well, I’m running out of space, so I’ll leave that to my good friend Michael. We do get a glimpse of Noah before the end of the issue, with a narration box identifying him as a “man of God.” He’s already collecting animals and lumber, meaning that he’s aware the world is about to be flooded. The question I pose to you, Michael, are Aaron and Guéra simply showing us the world that was so bad God had to wipe it out? That’s a biblical concept I’ve never been able to even remotely wrap my head around, but fuck – yeah, I could see the benefit in letting this world go.
Michael: My impression of The Goddamned 1 was “a Frank Miller tale with Deadwood dialogue.” One of the hallmarks of HBO’s Deadwood was its intentional anachronistic use of slang and cursing – cowboys and saloon owners spouting out every four letter word you can think of. As Patrick noted, Jason Aaron makes use of the same modern cursing juxtaposed with this biblical and bloody tale. The tone of this world is grim, dirty and desolate – the type of thematic inks that Frank Miller with his pen with. Though r.m. Guéra’s figures aren’t as brutishly ugly as Miller’s, the image of bastard barbarians battling in the shit certainly made me think of the crazy old comics legend. It seems like the world of The Goddamned is full of nothing but bastards really; so yeah Patrick, I do think that The Goddamned is trying to paint us a picture of a terrible world that has been sentenced to death.
To play with that metaphor a little bit more I’ll say that we as readers are the jury and Aaron and Guéra are the District Attorneys trying to pile up evidence for us to convince us that this Earth must indeed be wiped clean. I like the idea of telling the stories in between the stories of the Bible in the way that Aaron is. That said, I never saw that Russel Crowe movie Noah, and I really have no desire to. The Goddamned seems like its positioning Cain as the reluctant anti-hero, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he simply continues to be a selfish bastard seeking to end his own miserable existence. The other biblical figure present is Noah, whose brief two-page inclusion is just as vaguely-defined as Cain is. Though Noah mentions the blessings of the Lord and appears to be amassing his “two-by-two’s,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s on the side of righteousness. With his armed men and caged wagons in tow Noah kind of reminded me of a pirate or a slaver. Then again maybe my perception is based on the shadow cast by this violent and cruel world that Noah lives in.
I like the uncertainty of The Goddamned, because right now I have no idea what direction the book is going in or who I’m rooting for. I feel like that Noah reveal at the end of the book is setting us up for a big grudge match between Noah and Cain; but really, who’s to say? If that was the case, however, I could see Cain welcoming a flood to end creation and potentially his curse.
And what about that scene where (I assume) Cain tries to kill himself by fighting that dinosaur thing? It’s moments like those that make me think that anything is possible in The Goddamned, so trying to speculate the future is like pissing in the shit-wind. I’d definitely be game to see Aaron and Guéra pull some more characters from the Bible and throw them into the shit pond however.
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