God Is Dead Volume One by Jonathan Hickman, Mike Costa and Di Amorim (graphic novel review).

March 6, 2016 | By | Reply More

Bringing together the first six parts of the ongoing ‘God Is Dead’ series, there’s a lot to encourage this reader to pick up the next collected volume. The premise is an interesting one, a world where the old gods have come back to the Earth in expectation of dominion and sacrifice. The different pantheons divide up the world between them, the Norse gods taking Western Europe and North America, the Egyptian gods Africa and so on. Manifesting supernatural powers, the world’s armies are unable to harm them and, in any event, the great mass of people seem ready enough to worship these highly visible gods.

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The artwork is good, by turn exotic, visceral and luscious. Jumping from one part of the world to another in the blink of an eye, there’s ample scope for artist Di Amorim to present a ‘greatest hits’ selection of historical sites, from the Pyramids of Gizeh to the Vatican. There’s a richness to the colours that heightens the vividness of the ongoing apocalypse and that includes the no-holds-barred death and dismemberment of those unfortunate souls caught up in the wrath of the gods.

Such ‘End Times’ narratives aren’t new, of course, but writers Hickman and Costa add a twist to ‘God Is Dead’ by throwing a small clique of scientists into the role of the heroes. This is, unfortunately, where some of the weaknesses start to appear in the series. Possibly understandably, Hickman and Costa make two of the three scientists instantly recognisable as Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein. There’s no good reason why these two characters needed to be such slavish copies of real world scientists and, in fact, it probably undermines any potential character development by boiling down the narrative to what ends up as Einstein, Hawking and some other guy versus the Old Gods.

There’s also a degree of fan service that doesn’t make any sense. There’s a bit of nudity throughout the series, but that’s not in itself objectionable if it serves a role, but it doesn’t. We see the gods surround themselves by barely-dressed slaves, but why? Is it for their benefit or are they using sex to manipulate or entice their human worshippers? Similarly, the female character, Gaby, is presented as survivor and a fighter, trained in all the military arts, yet she’s dressed in what seems to be a spray-on bustier and skin-tight jeans. It just doesn’t make any sense.

The biggest problem with the collection is its inconsistency. In one scene, we see a god survive a nuclear blast but, in another scene, a god is taken out with a well-aimed rifle bullet. Even if we disregard that latter example as a mere ‘newborn’ god, all the battle scenes between the gods themselves show them taking each other out with well-aimed blows and chops. However strong they might be, given the flesh-and-blood nature of their bodies we see when they die, it just doesn’t make any sense to suggest such beings could resist a nuclear blast. Maybe this will all be explained in later volumes but, here and now, it smacks of less than rigorous storytelling or perhaps, more accurately, Hollywood-level storytelling of the sort you’d see in a Transformers-type movie.

Perhaps the central issue is that a by-the-numbers comic book like ‘God Is Dead’ just can’t do the central premise justice. Genuine philosophical questions are side-stepped, and the gods as presented are caricatures of the clichés rather than believable gods. Loki, for example, looks almost exactly like the Loki from the movies and Marvel Comics and has none of the ambiguity or trickiness of the original myth and Thor is even less well defined. While some of the gods visit the Vatican, there’s precisely nothing shown from the Christian belief systems. Indeed, the modern religions are startlingly silent in this story, perhaps to avoid causing offence rather than the intrinsic needs of the narrative, but their absence does weaken the story.

In short, definitely recommended, and an interesting read. This reviewer at least is looking forward to the next collected volume. But objectively ‘God Is Dead’ is more of a miss than a hit, a series that has the potential to be great, but on the basis of this collection, doesn’t come anywhere close to hitting the mark.

Neale Monks

March 2016

(pub: Avatar/Titan Books. 160 page softcover graphic novel. Price: £14.99 (UK), $19.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59291-229-2)

check out websites: www.titanbooks.com and www.avatarpress.com

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Category: Comics, Fantasy

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