Jason Aaron is one fearless son of a bitch.
When it comes to adapting myths and legends for modern audiences, the road is rife with peril. For every critically lauded story such as Hero, there exist a dozen others which draw the ire of true believers around the world (or at least the blogosphere).
In retelling the story of the latter passages of the Book of Genesis, Aaron’s undertaking in The Goddamned risks inviting such a response. While there is nothing in the first issue which directly contradicts the scriptures around which a huge portion of humanity shape their lives, it adds to them in a way that those same people would almost undoubtedly call sacrilegious.
His choice of protagonist, the true identity of whom is not revealed until near the end of the debut issue (and which we will not spoil here) is surprising in the best way. The most compelling characters are flawed at their cores, and the brutal man who conceals his name throughout the first journey of this story is no different. He is the absolute last biblical character anyone would call a hero (outside of Satan), and the mystery of his identity helps drive along the largely wordless narrative. There are plenty of hints as to his true nature feathered throughout the story, but the final reveal is no less powerful for having been telegraphed to canny readers. One of the most fascinating things about this series moving forward will be to see how Aaron utilizes this character. He is written in such a way as to be eminently unlikable, but the tasks to which he sets himself force the audience to root for him to succeed. That purposeful manipulation of the reader, given the character’s identity, is tremendously powerful. Readers who don’t figure out who this character is early on will be left feeling corrupted by having rooted for him, something Aaron almost certainly did by design.
If there is a flaw in the script, it is in the abrupt way which the first issue ends. The introduction of the next set of characters to be explored doesn’t feel like a revelation, and the clarification for anyone who missed it seems almost an afterthought. That said, seeing how the first issue’s near-universally despised protagonist interacts with one of the most revered figures of the Old Testament is sure to bring readers back for the second issue.
On the visual front, R.M. Guera‘s art is simply filthy in the best way. The cesspool of a world depicted in the pages of The Goddamned is precisely what one would expect of an antediluvian Earth. It is utterly rotten, dripping with decayed flesh and offal as it is picked over by upright and feathered carrion alike. The pencil-work is old-fashioned in a way which hearkens back to early pulp adventures and gives the book a classic feel. That old-fashioned feeling is a perfect contrary counterpart to Aaron’s script, which shows no hesitation in having its characters curse and perform in the foulest ways possible. The Goddamned is a corruption of a classic form, and it works perfectly. The dark, muddy inks and sickly earth-tone color palette employed by Giulia Brusco only serve to enhance the sense of corruption and decay, lending the entire world a sense of having been sprayed with crude oil, excrement, and blood, all of which have pooled together into a muck through which everyone occupying it must tread.
The Goddamned is an ambitious story which will delight fans of apocalyptic fiction. Its horrific setting, corrupt characters, and unrepentant brutality blend into a sickening masterpiece. The beautiful ugliness of R.M. Guera’s art is impossible to look away from and pairs with Jason Aaron’s script perfectly. It will never find its way into Christian book stores, but it fleshes out the Book of Genesis in a way which will force you to keep reading.