Godland: Hello, Cosmic! Volume One, Issues 1-5 by Joe Casey (author), Tom Scioli (artist) & Bill Crabtree (colors)
Godland is a fun, and funny, story about Adam Archer, an astronaut who gains super-heroic powers during a mission to Mars. It’s a playful comic, and even though its playfulness is based on a parody of older comics, knowledge of them isn’t essential. To be more specific, the visual style is based on older artists like Jack Kirby, who drew large, solid people with exaggerated perspective. If you aren’t familiar with Kirby, you will still be in awe of the artwork.
Basically, the stories are good but forgettable parodies, but the artwork really sets Godland apart from other contemporary comics. It imitates without being derivative; rather, it builds on an older style but adds brilliant colors that were not technologically reproducible at the time of printing of the original source comics. In fact, Bill Crabtree does such a good job at colors, he’s one of the only (or perhaps the only?) colorist I’ve mentioned by name in a review this past year. Flipping through the comic will reveal a full, rich sunset of colors. It’s so visually interesting and appealing, a Grateful Dead fan would want a copy of this comic handy just to look at. For this reason, it’s one of the few I would strongly encourage you to track down as a trade and not as a digital comic.
While the artist pays tribute to the artwork of the past, the writer uses parody to make fun of the plots and dialogue of older comics. It really is a funny science-fiction, super-hero story. And it’s good because it’s ridiculous; it’s great because it’s intentionally terrible. The self-conscious monologues that contemporary comics are well rid of are employed again here. For example, the hero, fighting the good fight, talks to the readers by talking to himself about everything he’s doing: “Never . . . had to CHANGE under such . . . extreme circumstances . . . ! There it is . . . !” Ellipses marking struggle and exclamation marks exaggerating emotion cover almost every page: “Walked . . . into her trap . . . like a damn AMATEUR . . . ! Maybe I DESERVE to . . . waste away . . . in this empty universe . . . ” Our hero lets us know his painful struggles every step of the way, and he’s not a likable character at all. He’s downright annoying. But as far as I can tell, that’s one of the main points of the comic: How can we look up to heroes like these?
Other than the art, the villains are what I like best. Basil Chronus wears an old style diver’s suit with a skull floating on its side in a clear helmet half-filled with liquid. He likes to swap out the liquid through the attached hoses by pumping in drugs from alien life forms: “The quest for the ultimate high . . . Like the search for the center of the universe.” He’s my favorite character, particularly when he’s forced by another villain to go cold turkey. My second favorite character in the book is Discordia, who tells us her guiding principle: “Pain is my religion.” There’s a nod to Marvel in that her father looks like Doom. Another villain, Friedrich Nickelhead, is a sci-fi, robotic looking sophisticated Bond-style villain.
There are many other characters that add great variety to the cast and allow for the sit-com style humor in as many situations as possible: The hard-ass General Brigg is seen interacting with the three sisters of Adam Archer. Neela, the sexy, angry feminist who insists on being addressed as Commander and who is angry at her brother for effectively ending the space program before she got to go proceed with her missions. Stella is the reliable sister, a nerd with glasses who operates the switchboard at Infinity Tower in New York. Angie is the sister who is the female rebel without a cause, rejecting both types of success represented by her two sisters.
Finally, the aliens are major characters. One is Maxim, a large dog-like creature who comes to Earth crashing into the Great Wall of China. He goes to live with Archer at the Infinity Tower. He has much to teach Archer. There are also the aliens we keep seeing in flashback as Archer remembers getting his superpowers and initial training on Mars. These scenes are a riot. As the aliens tell him: “You have been chosen by the FATE OF STARS. This is beyond any divinity that YOUR soft thinking brain could ever conceive! Set aside all thoughts of God and Anti-God. We must prepare you for your DESTINY!” They teach Archer the ‘SPIRAL OF ENERGY!” and “THE DIAMOND SUN-HEART AREA SHIELD!” As they tell him, “Those who would not welcome you may taste the FURY OF FIVE FINGERS OF FIRE! Performed thusly . . . !” And thusly, they illustrate.
Reading Godland, you can tell that the writer and artist had a ball. It’s like watching a movie that you just know must have led the cast to crack up laughing each time the director yelled, “Cut!” to end a scene. The creators of this comic must have been laughing and enjoying themselves the entire time. And though I can’t give it five full stars, it’s very close. It does what it sets out to do very well, something few comics manage to do. And even though it’s based on older comics, visually it looks fresh and new because of the combination of the brilliant coloring with excellent imitations of Kirby at his finest.