Godshaper 1

Today, Spencer and Michael are discussing Godshaper 1, originally released April 12th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Spencer: Power, as they say, makes the world go round. Whether it be fame, money, authority, or any other form of strength, some sort of power and influence is behind just about every dealing in the world, no matter how large or how small the stakes. Simon Spurrier and Jonas Goonface’s Godshaper aims to explore the nuances behind the use and abuse of power, but what’s remarkable is how the creative team does so, consolidating nearly all forms of power to one central metaphor: a personal god for each citizen whose might determines their standing in society.

The gods in Godshaper do practically everything for their worshipper, serving as everything from banks and bodyguards to companions and tools. The richer the worshipper, the larger the god, and the more abilities they can amass. They work as a straight metaphor for wealth, but also for the prestige that comes with it — take one look at someone’s god and you can tell exactly how rich, or poor, they are. The extra abilities also work in a similar fashion: a rich worshipper in the Godshaper world can gain supernatural abilities for his god like force fields or x-ray vision, while wealth in our real world gives men the ability to buy others’ labor or opinions, buy their way out of jail, or even sway the public’s opinion of them. They say if you’re rich you can do anything: Godshaper makes that frighteningly literal.

As you would expect, it sucks to be poor, but in this world there’s a class even lower than the poor: the godless. Those born without a personal god of their own are unable to amass wealth (since all money is stored and transacted via god), essentially forced into a life of homelessness. This isn’t too different from the homeless in our world — while most are not born into it, once you’ve become homeless the systems that govern the world make it nearly impossible to climb your way out. You usually need an address to open up bank accounts or get a job, and the fees involved (be they bank fees, transportation costs, etc.) can make it impossible to ever actually save enough money to escape. Much like the gods, capitalism is meant to keep all but the elite few from ever growing beyond their “station.”

Yeah, discrimination is built into both systems as well, despite the fact that the godless actually have quite a bit of power — an ability to shape and refigure gods, a power worshippers covet even as they despise the Godshapers themselves.

I hate how many different horrible things this reminds me of. There’s cultural appropriation, where people adopt the style of a different culture and are praised for it while people from the original culture are berated for wearing the same style. Far worse is slavery, where white men and women obtained the labor needed to run their homes and businesses through kidnapping, hatred, torture, rape, and murder. I suppose the point I’m trying to make here — and likely Spurrier and Goonface, as well — is that discrimination is often tightly wound into poverty.

It’s no surprise, then, that our godless lead, Ennay, is both black and seemingly queer. He’s also into “cantik,” a style of music made without the aid of gods. It’s a counterculture, but even there Ennix can’t escape discrimination.

Ever see how biracial people are mistreated by people of other races, or how bisexuals are often mistreated by gays or lesbians, or how the disabled are mistreated by just about everyone, even other minorities? The lower the status, the harder it is to escape persecution, even amongst your supposed “allies.”

Finding justice in this sort of system can be nearly impossible. Sergeant Smudge, a former soldier who crosses path with Ennay, finds this out the hard way after being falsely accused and court-martialed. The man who framed her, Bogg, has a massive, physically powerful god with the capabilities of a small army. To take him on, she needs a little mob justice.

For the disadvantaged, this is often the only form of justice available, but as the Vespers prove, even this is limited by the resources available to you. Smudge simply doesn’t have the influence needed to recruit enough help, which just makes me think of all the failed Kickstarters, GoFundMe campaigns, and Change.org petitions out there. It’s great that those avenues can help people, but it’s sad that a broken system has made them a necessity at all.

If this all sounds awfully grim, well, it can be, but thankfully, there’s a few rays of hope as well. Ennay presents us with two kinds of powers that can compete with the gods. The first is his shaping ability, an unique gift that not even the richest worshipper can replicate. The second, and more important, is his compassion. Begrudging as it is, he turns back and helps Smudge out of compassion, and that may just be enough to save her. It’s nice to know that there are some things money can’t buy — the question is, in the world of Godshaper, how much of a difference can they make?

Michael, I don’t know if it came across in my piece or not, but I absolutely loved this issue. The world Spurrier and Goonface have created is a large part of that, but there’s so much more to love about Godshaper 1 as well, from the lived-in accents and dialects to the lush colors and detail-filled panels and environments. Were you as struck by this issue as I was, and if so, what stood out to you? Do you have a favorite background detail from Goonface’s work? I’m partial to Bud’s headlight-eyes, myself.

Michael: Crafting a fantasy world that is both original and easy to comprehend is a tough feat, but I’d say that Simon Spurrier and Jonas Goonface have achieved that feat in Godshaper 1. I dove into this issue fresh off of watching an episode of Rick and Morty, and at first I thought I had entered a similar world of oddball ideas with absurd names like the line “Spiff your quiff! Spiff your qiff over here!” There’s not an excessive amount of fantasy jargon however, which made the world of Godshaper a lot more accessible than I initially anticipated. Spencer’s poignant, eloquent read of the issue is a tough act to follow but here I go.

“A god for every person. And a person for every god.” The “personal god” concept that Godshaper is built upon reminds me of The Golden Compass series, where every human has a “daemon” – a physical, animal extension of their soul. If The Golden Compass was an examination of the soul and religious organizations – namely the Catholic Church – then Godshaper might has well be a form of Protestantism, removing the intercession of the church and saints for a direct, personal connection to your god.

The idea of God is a large, complex subject with many different interpretations across scores of religions. Individual believers of those faiths have their own personal relationship with that god; essentially everyone having their own god like in Godshaper. Organized religions preach the virtues of humility and forgiveness through God but how many times – if you’ve ever been the type that prays – have you prayed to God as if he/she were a magic genie? “Please God help me pass this class,” “Help me get this job,” “help me get out of this mess and I’ll change” etc. Simon Spurrier takes that idea of “Genie God” and applies it literally as a weird marriage of commerce and theology.

The boy prays to his personal god to produce the funds required to buy the x-ray photos of “Peggy Slims.” The currency of Godshaper is “beads”, and the boy spends 300 beads – half of what he’s got – on the photos. He doesn’t pray to his god to pull 300 beads from thin air but to withdraw them from money that he actually has. It’s not fully explained how the intersection of economics and godly strength works – and it doesn’t need to be – but I like that even though they live in this world of wonder they use that wonder as a means of transaction. It’s the same reason that worn, lived-in vibe that made the original Star Wars trilogy work so well. Spurrier has made a society where god = money, which probably isn’t that hard to imagine.

“In 1958 the laws of physic went screwy. Electricity, ignition—anything that made life easy: gone. No one knows why.” The world of Godshaper essentially became an alternate reality to ours in 1958. It’s not overt but Jonas Goonface definitely plays into the idea of modern industry being put to a halt before the ‘60s. Since ignition is out of the picture we don’t see much in the way of automobiles, but the rounded edges of Bogg’s (i)mobile home has a certain ‘50s aesthetic to it. In addition, the desperate nature of merchants on every corner selling their wares has a kind of medieval feel about it.

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that in the Marvel universe the general public adores heroes like The Fantastic Four but fears and hates the mutants of The X-Men. Similarly we have our protagonist Ennay – the eponymous Godshaper – who has truly remarkable gifts that are frowned upon by society. Ennay describes Godshapers as “always hated, always needed.” I can’t think of a direct analogy to the real world for someone who is equal parts pariah and essential cog in the wheel. I suppose Spencer’s thoughts on cultural appropriation are the most accurate dissection of the Godshaper’s relationship with the rest of the world.

There’s nothing like a goofy sidekick in an adventure and I think that Goonface totally nailed it with the silent, ghost-like Bud. In an almost R2-D2 way, Bud compels Ennay to do the right thing and help Smudge out at the end of the issue. And his predilection for headwear is charming as all get out.

I liked the humor that was at play in Ennay and Bud’s interaction with Smudge. Smudge is an armless veteran beggar – not dissimilar from someone you might pass on the street – who is telling her tale of tragedy. Ennay actively tries to avoid feeling any compassion for Smudge by explicitly stating that he doesn’t want to hear her sob story. It’s a funny moment that ends up highlighting Ennay’s compassion – and recognition of that passion – when he goes back to help her.

I think Spencer loved Godshaper 1 more than I did but that is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it. I think it was an extremely solid entry into this new world from Spurrier and Goonface and I wouldn’t mind spending some more time there.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

One comment on “Godshaper 1

  1. It took me two pages to get into the art, but only one sentence to get into the story.

    Last week my students competed in the Oregon Game Design Contest – teams designed video games and brought them to a convention to be judged. It was cool. One thing they needed was a 30 second elevator pitch. “In 1958 the laws of physic went screwy. Electricity, ignition—anything that made life easy: gone. No one knows why,” is a great elevator pitch. And it totally leaves out the Gods!

    I freaking loved everything about this comic. I loved the art, the idea of Gods, the characters, the Godfight, the loyalty, how dirty it was, the pain, the joy, the greed… and I especially loved how much goddamn story there was! This could have been a four or five comic arc! (and you know what writer(s) I’m talking about)

    I can’t wait for more. Pretty sure it’s the best comic I’ve read this year.

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