Anyone of a certain inclination who has read the Old Testament can’t help but come away thinking of it as pretty “metal”, to coin a phrase. Fights to the death, plagues, burning cities, vendettas, and a jealous and vengeful God are all elements one would find in any number of serious heavy metal albums, let alone in one of the world’s holiest books. Jason Aaron and rm Guera’s new comic The Goddamned doesn’t so much invent these stories but simply presents them, as Orson Welles once said, “With their original speed and fury”. This is no Darren Aronofsky big-budget re-imagining of Noah’s ark: it’s a full-on celebration of the grotesque, violent and bleak world presented to us by the bible itself. With lots of kick-ass fight scenes worked in.
The language matches the violence of the surroundings. Aaron and Guera go out of their way to remind us what was really meant by the phrase “nasty, brutish and short” when applied to life in the ancient world. The book begins with a character (looking like a beautiful, fully-formed modern human) rising from a pile of shit and corpses after being urinated upon, hungover and confused. Later conversations establish that his crashing place is called the “shit pond”, and there are other locales charmingly named the “fuck huts” and the “fire hole”. This is a profoundly unsentimental society, which in its way, is probably utterly accurate to living conditions in the distant past. For those who yearn for a simpler time, this is it. (I, for one, will take a proper toilet any day over the “shit pond”.)
The symbolism of a beautiful man rising from a pile of fecal matter and decaying body parts is a rather on-the-nose image. We all come from that primordial goo, and we’ll all go back to it. This is simply the truth of being a biological organism. But Aaron and Guera fairly revel in this grotesque celebration, like the great grotesque artists of old (Bruegel, etc), and in terms of the comics tradition, reach back into the dark recesses of Robert Crumb’s imagination for inspiration. It’s a rich thematic area, and too little seen in modern comics, so they deserve kudos for simply “going there”. It’s like “Terry Gilliam’s The Bible“.
One major plot point is that the man is literally a man “who cannot die”, so his quest seems to be not for immorality, which would be the cliche, but its opposite. Perfection, in terms of function and form, would have been an aberration in the world the creators present, and turning the familiar story trope on its ear is a bold and original choice. Another is the use of language, liberally peppered with profanity and blunt assessments of the situation, recapitulating sacred ancient texts through the vernacular of a bunch of dudes from the Jersey shore. Not since Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ have we seen biblical history done in quite this way, with this level of loving disrespect.
Then there’s the fight sequences. For those who love their comics violent, this is the book for you. The centrepiece of this debut issue is an eight-page fight sequence with no dialogue, but the fight isn’t some lovingly elaborate superhero battle, but rather a knock-down, drag-out old-school “ass-whipping”. There are some great action movie beats during the fight, such as when the hero pauses, spinning an axe on a long tether while his opponent readies himself for another blow. As someone who isn’t particularly a fan of violence in any form, I was still impressed by the choreography and the pacing of this fight sequence. I enjoyed Sexcastle for the same reason: the fights were creative, interesting to look at and imbued with a sense of fun , sadly missing from so many modern comics (and films) that equate “dark” with “profound”.
By the time Noah himself shows up at the end of the issue, Aaron and Guera have established a world, a storytelling idiom and defined a sub-genre. From here, no doubt they’ll take us through this dark, violent but still corny and fun version of the old testament, sprinkling in enough in-jokes and references to keep any audience entertained. It’s not for the faint of heart, but what finally makes The Goddamned work is its knowing, sly sense of humour. That’s what will get me back for issue #2 of what could be an interesting and fresh new comics series.