by Spencer Irwin and Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Spencer: It’s a marvelous thing to watch a series come into focus — to reach that eureka moment where you finally get what a creator is trying to say, where a series’ message finally clicks. Simon Spurrier and Jonas Goonface’s Godshaper 6 has been one of those moments for me, a finale that brings all the themes the series has been exploring together in a satisfying, yet completely unexpected fashion.
In the past, Godshaper has taken aim at racism and religion, but here we discover the force that links them: materialism.
This is the very first page of the issue, and already Peggy Slim’s song is making the link between materialism and religion crystal clear. That really should have been obvious from the start — after all, prayer is used to transfer currency in this world, and the bigger the god, the richer the owner — but what hasn’t always been clear is the way this dynamic feeds materialism. In a world where everyone has a god, holiness is top priority, and when that god is a constant reminder of one’s wealth, then it’s easy to decide that wealth=holiness.
I’m particularly struck by the trio of young children watching Peggy’s show from the front row. The boy compliments Peggy by saying “Ol’ Peggy sure is earnin’,” as if the fact that she’s making lots of money is the greatest thing about her. In our world, I don’t think kids are keeping track of the exact amount of money celebrities are earning the way these kids do, but they certainly do see that their wealth makes them important to society, and that absolutely does rub off on them.
The tie to discrimination is a bit more subtle, but still effective.
The priest from the Church of Small Gods, who is speaking here, essentially ties wealth in with being civilized, but also with control. As it turns out, the priest sent Ennay after Peggy, not because she married a Shaper, but because she and her husband had their gods fused together as a show of love. This reveals that the priest doesn’t just discriminate against shapers, but against anyone who subverts the status quo, who thinks that anything is more important than wealth.
It isn’t necessarily her own wealth that gives the priest power, but her ability to guide and influence people by feeding their desire for wealth — if people suddenly decide that love is more important than wealth, then she’d lose her power, and she can’t have that, can she? This lines up well with the idea that many racists — especially many young ones in the so-called alt-right — are driven by fear of losing whatever power they may have, and they’ve decided that minorities are the greatest threat to that influence. Anyone who breaks the status quo, even if said status quo is something as irrelevant as being white or having a god or liking money, scares the people in charge.
That’s the exact message Ennay’s been preaching through his Cantik, and it took meeting Peggy and her husband to remind him of that. He’d been seduced by the tantalizing lure of materialism, by the thought of having a god of his own, but now he’s doubled-down on his old ideals — he’s decided that Cantik, that being a shaper, that pursuing things other than money and wealth are what’s important to him, what he wants out of life.
This revelation allows Ennay, his friends, and Peggy and her husband all to receive happy endings, but what about the rest of the world? There’s no easy “solution” to discrimination and other social issues, but Ennay fights them anyway the only way he knows how: with the power of love.
Well, the power of love and rock and roll:
I love Ennay and Spurrier’s message here, because it all boils down to the idea that love, creativity, and art are more important, useful, and beneficial than riches any day of the week. They’re also saying that stories have the power to change the world, specifically by changing minds and hearts, one person at a time.
Will it really work? Ennay exposes Peggy’s fans to ideas they’d never considered and discrimination and crimes they never knew happened (or, at least, likely didn’t know the severity of), but is this really enough to change people? To change society? Spurrier and Goonface are wise not to offer a definitive answer, but they certainly offer hope, and we may need that more than anything. Sometimes the hope for a better world is all we have, and we just have to keep fighting for it with every tool at our disposal. It’s good to be reminded of that responsibility sometimes.
Drew, I’m beyond bummed to see this series end, but at least I loved the way it wrapped up. Before I finish up myself, though, I’ve got to give another shout out to Goonface. Godshaper is such a thematically dense book that I’ve never been able to make the space to give Goonface the praise he deserves, but his art is an absolutely essential part of this book — bright, dynamic, creative, and just plain fantastic. Look at the perspective on Ennay on that last image I posted — what stunning stuff! And don’t get me started on the cover, which is definitely making my shortlist for 2017’s “Best Of” list. I’m glad I can follow Spurrier over to Angelic, but I’m hoping I can follow Goonface to a new title soon too.
So how about you, Drew? Were you satisfied with how things tied up, or was the ending a bit too rushed for you? Do you wish we had answers to some of the hanging threads? I’ll admit, I’m more intrigued than ever about Bud’s origins after realizing the similarities between Bud’s design and a hood (as alluded to in Bud’s memories) — do I smell a sequel here?
Drew: I wouldn’t be surprised if Spurrier and Goonface have plans on returning to the world of Godshaper, but I almost think leaving those threads hanging is the most powerful part of this issue. So many stories rely on revealing that the protagonist was somehow the key to explaining why the universe is the way it is, I half expected that kind of exposition dump detailing Bud’s origin. But that’s never been the scope of this story. As Ennay always says, he’s not a hero, so fixing the world at that kind of massive mythological level is decidedly out of his purview. But that doesn’t mean he can’t make the world a better place.
Spencer already included that breathtaking spread where Ennay and Bud’s music brings the crowd a kind of euphoric enlightenment, which I’ll get to in a moment, but it’s worth looking at the moments leading up to that, as Ennay and Bud become one to make that moment possible:
Ennay laments what we might understand as “selling out” before Bud helps him find a new way. And it’s that new way that really grabs me. “Something. New.” We haven’t seen that kind of white-on-black text anywhere in this series before, let alone happening in the gutter, which gives it a mysterious kind of authority. Are these Bud’s words, or some kind of irrefutable truth the universe is taking notice of? All we know is that what happens next hasn’t ever happened before.
And that thing seems to be the power of music to turn anger and fear into love. We’ve always understood Cantik as a kind of loose stand-in for Punk, but this issue suggests that we’ve only started to see its emergence as a counterculture — that it’s biggest political impacts may remain to be seen. Those impacts may ultimately be bigger than the scene itself, but the message is delivered one underground show at a time. Ennay may change the world yet, but it will be through his music exposing the hypocrisy and hate that he already knows, not by uncovering some big secret about the universe.
If there’s anything that predisposes Ennay to doing what he does, it’s that he’s only ever known a world where he had to find pleasure in his poverty. He found music, he found love, he found a family, all without wealth or a god of his own. The thought of having those things may be tempting, but when it comes down to it, the things he actually values can’t be bought.
The parallel holds for Punk — it’s very non-commercial qualities are what gave it such power — but can be extended to basically any artform. That is, musicians, painters, writers, even comics creators probably won’t get rich, and probably won’t ever have more than a modest sphere of influence, but they can still use their art to make the world a better place. It’s an empowering message when things feel as hopeless as they do right now.
This page also captures some of Goonface’s genius. The final splash of the gang headed to San Francisco works a lot better if the car is a convertible — that is, we can see all of the characters — but of course, Smudge’s car isn’t a convertible. Solution? Have some fun in the background and show Bud cutting the roof off of the car. It may be a little short-sighted, but it captures the “we can do anything” attitude of this moment, and sets up that final shot beautifully. It’s a minor detail — one perhaps not as breathtaking as the musical or fight sequences — but it’s a vital part of what makes this world feel so rich and lived-in.
Man, the concept of this world has really allowed Spurrier and Goonface to comment on so much — religion, capitalism, racism, homophobia, art, love, hate — I really do understand wanting to come back to it. But to me, this ending was perfect. I’ll keep thinking about this world for a long time, but I’m happy to let it’s mysteries remain mysteries.
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?