Pagan themes have been a ready source of inspiration for popular culture for decades, providing mythic heroes, sinister occultists, and enduring symbols in every genre of entertainment. But rarely has any inspiration been so widely used and so widely misunderstood. Join us for thoughts, criticism, and commentary on the intersection of Paganism and popular culture.
GOD IS DEAD - and beyond offensive
At nearly the same time that Marvel Comics canceled JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY - a title that spent the entirety of its most recent run exploring the unique and wonderful creation that is Marvel's Asgard - one of Marvel's most prominent writers launched a comic through Avatar Press that I, perhaps naively, hoped might fill the void left by JIM in my monthly comics stack. Like JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, this comic would seem to deal with the storytelling trope of ancient gods in the modern world, a premise full of culture clashes and opportunities for introspection into the role of mythology, both in the past and in the now. At best, this could have been an AMERICAN GODS-like myth trip. And even if it were just average, the premise alone would seem to guarantee some fun stories, right?
So I bought it.
The book, GOD IS DEAD, by Jonathan Hickman, Mike Costa, and Di Amorim, is one of the most profoundly awful things I've read in my life.
Unfortunately, it isn't because the story is just bad all the way through. If it were purely amateurish, it would have just been forgettable and disposed of. Instead, in the two weeks since I bought the comic, it's been stewing in the back of my head. My definition of good art is art which improves with consideration; obviously, I think bad art gets more and more repulsive every time one thinks about it. GOD IS DEAD falls into the latter camp.
The plot of the book, in short, is that severe natural disasters occur in numerous places around the world, killing millions with their sudden violence. Just after these incidents, the gods of mythology return to the earth. Most dramatically, a man in white appears in Rome, throws open the gates of the Vatican, and seats himself in the Papal Throne. "Enough! I have returned. The lightning has returned. Zeus has returned!" These first pages are actually quite good (even if the art is a bit slipshod - Zeus is apparently about four foot nine, given the perspective in one of the panels.)
It's after this that we run screaming off of a cliff.
Gods reappear all over, taking back their traditional homes - the Aztec gods take over Mexico City, which (of course!) becomes site of an endless parade of human sacrifices. The Egyptians and the Aztecs are at war in Washington, DC, for some reason. (Were the gods of the Powhatan and Piscataway not interested, I guess?) All world governments have fallen to the gods, more or less - the President of the United States (who is clearly not Barack Obama) still lives, but in an underground bunker far away from Washington. Meanwhile, Odin makes plans for a banquet for all the gods, in which they will divvy up the world and go forth to rape and pillage. ("This bitch is ripe and wet and spread wide open for us," he says. "Let's take her." Such dialogue. Such... poetry.)
Our "heroes," such as they are, are a group of Americans (of course!), four white dudes (of course!) and one token woman who runs around wearing a sports bra, a skirt, and combat boots (of course!) These brave souls, who still believe in the power of science!, will band together and find some way to end the despotic rule of these cruel and murderous gods.
So in the end, we get one more "science versus faith" story, one more instance where religion - as expressed by the mythological gods of religions nobody believes in anymore (right?) - is seen as pure evil and science and rationality is pure good. And that's just such a disappointment, because it's a boring, tired story. There could have been more.
Think about that first scene again. Zeus - Zeus! - shows up in Vatican City. He controls the lightning, he controls the storm. He is undeniably super-human. What on earth do we do with that information? How would our world change? What would we have to reconsider? I doubt the world would all immediately fall its knees and pledge themselves to him. Instead, we would see an awkward and difficult period of adjustment where we would have to really work out our relationship with faith and with our relationship to the divine.
Instead, we just get murderous, contemptible gods and our scrappy underground white saviors.
Jonathan Hickman, if you don't follow Marvel Comics, is supposed to be a big deal. He's arguably the most prominent writer there these days, handling the flagship comic of their line, The Avengers, and their blockbuster crossover, Infinity. He's supposed to be good. And working with the smaller, creator-owned publishers is supposed to give such artists more freedom to do things they couldn't do at the majors.
Jon? If this is the best thing freedom can give you, maybe take a little while off.
GOD IS DEAD #2 came out this past Wednesday. I will summon up the courage to read it and let you know if the bile settles at all in a few days.
Please login first in order for you to submit comments