“I’m Cain, the man who invented murder. But God invented me, so ask yourself: who’s the real asshole here?”
If readers expected the story of Jason Aaron and r. m. Guera’s The Goddamned to take a positive turn at the end of the “Before the Flood” story arc, they’re going to be sadly disappointed. This most nihilistic of comics continues to tell the story of Cain, Noah and other familiar figures from the Old Testament, but fills them with the sort of post-modern existential angst one might expect of modern people, faced with the challenges of a fallen world. To say that Cain has lost faith in God is something of an understatement — Cain blames God for everything wrong with the world. He has seen the brutality of humanity up close and personal, and his lack of faith in humanity matches his bitterness towards a higher power. Cain and Noah stop in the middle of a grotesque battle sequence at one point here in issue #5 to discuss theology, and Cain puts his ethos in the simplest terms: “We’re all God’s monsters. All made in his Goddamn image. If he wants his fucking world back, tell him to come down here and take it.” Noah, on the other hand, firmly believes that God has blessed him and that Cain’s curse is ruining his opportunity for greatness. Cain replies simply, “Your blessing. My curse. Let’s see which is stronger,” and proceeds to grapple mano-a-mano with the bearded shipbuilder.
Ostensibly, Cain’s last gasp of faith in humanity here rests in his desire to save a child, Lodo, from the meat wagons of Noah’s people, as a favour to his mother, who he saved from a rape gang in the wilderness. Interestingly enough, many of the people being held captive in Noah’s settlement, being groomed as meat for cannibals or worse, don’t want to leave. There’s a predictability to their miserable lives, and somehow that is superior to the unknown dangers out in the wider world. That only makes Cain more cynical, and when people reach out to him for help, he only growls, “Blame your fucking God,” and walks away. After being rejected by the people he’s fighting to save, Cain finally asks the young Lodo to ask him to be saved. Lodo gasps out a few words and Cain takes his beaten and bloody body away from danger and back to his mother. Lodo’s mother, taking the longer view of existence, begs Cain to stay and remain among her and the other escapees from Noah’s camp and lead them to freedom. Here, the story takes the darkest twist of all.
Cain’s journey ends more or less where it began, with a lone man striding through a fallen world, deeply bitter and cursed to live forever in it. One powerful final panel shows Cain conversing with the skull of an early hominid, perhaps Homo erectus, and the rhetorical message is quite clear: have we come all this way to end up here? The ultimate irony here is that this comic actually does the Bible the compliment of taking it seriously. There’s nothing here about the state of the world that doesn’t have Biblical precedent. One could question the motives of the scribes who wrote those stories down over thousands of years, long ago, as they truly were begging the question of a saviour/creator by rendering out the worst possible world, but there’s no salvation in the pages of The Goddamned. It’s only the fall, with no hint that salvation is on its way. Alas, the message of the comic rings the truest.
People need to be led, the comic suggests, but this desire can lead them into dangerous places. Those who follow Noah, for example, are counting on a hidden God to raise them from their pitiful state, and Noah himself has placed his faith in the great unspeaking, unseen leader. But the metaphor also works on the small-scale as the shocking ending of this issue demonstrates.
[Spoilers if you haven’t yet read this issue from here on in.]
Lodo, rather than being overjoyed to see his mother again, instantly turns on her, stabbing her to death, and declaring himself a leader, of the “Bone Boys”, a gang he joined while being held captive. As he rants about how women won’t be allowed in his gang and how he’s the best (his hair blows around in these scenes in a fashion reminiscent of certain world leaders), Cain simply drops his axe and walks away. Even those who seem to need saving can’t be counted on to save themselves, the sequence implies. Cain’s faith in both humanity and God is shattered, and one senses that he blames himself for ever believing in his own species in the first place. Because Cain, at the end of the day, believes that his family in general, and he in particular, brought this all on the human race, by simply not following God’s arbitrary rules. It’s a tragedy — in some ways, the ultimate tragedy.
A new story arc, “The Virgin Brides”, is coming later this year, but there’s ample resonance, especially on this day, in the first arc, “Before the Flood”.