Who are “the goddamned”, referenced in rm Guera and Jason Aaron’s The Goddamned? This ultra-violent re-interpretation of the Old Testament is faithful to the original text in the sense that the goddamned are really all of humanity. Everyone who served time in Sunday school knows that God was so disappointed in the world, so goes the story, that he flooded it and killed everything, save for what was spared by Noah, his hand-picked agent of survival. One question many kids had (I did) when contemplating that lesson was why — what did humanity do that displeased God so much? It seemed like things were going pretty much okay, and then suddenly God turned all “vengeance-y” as Whedon would put it. Sure, there were bad people, getting into bad trouble, such as those in the infamous city of Sodom and Gomorrah, but surely they represented the worst of the worst, and there must have been the best to counterbalance it, just as it is today. If God was displeased with people in those days, he must have been especially angry during the decadent days of the Roman Empire, or heck, the 1970s. Humanity has always had the capacity for cruelty and misery. God’s decision seemed to be completely arbitrary.
Perhaps that’s what inspired the writing of this graphic and disturbing comic, because the people depicted here are really quite deserving of vengeance and scorn. We saw in the first issue references to “rape huts” and other such instruments of power-based torture, and in issue #2 we see even more of the dark parts of the human psyche. (As a sometimes-biologist, I always take care to note that one need only regard the behavior of chimpanzees and some of our other close relatives to see where we get our devious nature. It’s amazing, really, that any of us are capable of love and empathy, given our biological heritage. We’re emphatically not peaceful or loving by nature.) Guera and Aaron really “go for it” in this book, giving full vent to a human species completely devoid of morality or social order based on anything but physical power. It’s a world full of horrible people who, as Patton Oswalt put it, go around saying, “I’ll have rape for dinner.”
All except for two characters, both of which we follow in issue #2, Noah and Cain. We meet Noah early on in this issue, cutting down trees to build something (spoiler alert: it’s bigger than a boat). Some charming locals approach him and implore him in their most polite language to surrender his iron axe, “Drop it or get gut-fucked”. Later in the conversation, they simply refer to Noah as “meat”, but luckily our hero knows how to wield his axe as a weapon as well as a tool, and dispatches his aggressors handily. Since this is Noah, after all, he takes care to save a little earthworm crawling on the bodies of those he has most recently mangled. If we know anything about the builder of the ark, is that he’s an animal lover, but not so big on humans. In this book, we can understand why.
Meanwhile, Cain is still wandering through the wasteland and he encounters a woman in need of help, but doesn’t readily offer it. In a world where everything wants to kill and rape everything else, it makes sense to exercise some caution when meeting new people. But Cain also sees something in this person that gives him pause. In terms sin and redemption, this book is heavy on the former, but still makes room for the latter, and we get some effective examples of it here.
One could argue that all of this is simply an excuse to render out scenes of horrific violence and brutality, and there’s a kind of fun to be had in letting the beast out of the cage, at least in terms of our imagination. But The Goddamned pays the bible the compliment of taking its message seriously, namely that there are people in this world worth saving, as long as they aspire to the better angels of our nature. This is a world sorely in need of either saving our scouring (we know which one God’s going to pick), not unlike that depicted in movies like Mad Max, and like Miller’s dark vision of the future, this vision of the past has, under all of its ugliness, a beautiful beating heart. That redeems not only the story but, by extension, humanity itself.