THE GODDAMNED Vol. 1 by Jason Aaron, R.M. Guera, and Giulia Brusco
While equally disturbing and bloody, THE GODDAMNED Vol. 1 shines in its characterization of its two leads: Noah and the immortal Cain. Though chaotic art and a lightning plot keep this story from perfection, it still deserves your consideration for its dueling ideologies.
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By now, everyone understands the cliche, “Winner writes history.” Over the millennia, humans have spun story after story, but most often we only hear one side of that story. We pay witness to the champion’s words but forget what he had to do to rise up. Whether to entertain or teach lessons, these stories form a foundation on which a culture lives. For that reason, speculative fiction takes on an interesting role. Writers can look at historical or world events and spin tales, twisting our perceptions to acknowledge the losers. True or not, these speculations delve deep into the skimmed over details in the original telling. Stepping into this tradition, writer Jason Aaron and artist R.M. Guera have twisted the tale of Noah’s Ark in THE GODDAMNED Vol. 1.

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Containing five issues, the first issue of THE GODDAMNED follows Cain, Adam and Eve’s firstborn and the inventor of murder, as he travels across the ancient world. With weapons in hand, Cain stumbles through a world full of corruption, violence, depravity, and death. His only wish is death, a blessing God tore from him when Cain killed his brother. However, Cain soon finds himself face to face with Noah, a religious zealot who has enslaved the desert’s many tribes. Using this forced workforce, Noah has plans to save the good of the world with his ark, damning all others to God’s wrath. What follows is a battle for the fate and innocence of Noah’s captured slaves, as Cain takes the fight straight to Noah’s main camp.

Bloody Trails

Courtesy of Image Comics

The world of THE GODDAMNED is beautifully realized in all of its bloody, horrifying glory. While the world itself cannot be redeemed, Jason Aaron manages to construct a believable world from page 1. The vast horror and cruelty of this world are nearly impossible to fathom, but Aaron is unafraid to explore more in-depth. The tribes that Cain encounters leap off the page with weapons drawn and a crazy look in their eyes. While we know very little about this world by the final page, we have experienced its darkness right alongside Cain. Even the most innocent children are capable of the worst acts in this story. On one occasion, when Noah sets his “hounds” on Cain, we see that they are actually leashed children trained to kill.

THE GODDAMNED is appalling in the same vein as a slasher flick. However, unlike these bloody horror films, the evil of this world serves a purpose. It demonstrates how far humanity has fallen in the 1600 years since Eden’s fall. It also showcases why Cain has little hope or love for God. He sees little trace of the Almighty in the daily slaughter and corruption. More importantly, though, it forces readers to look at blips of goodness in Aaron’s world. Despite everything, Cain willingly comes to the aid of Aga, whose son is enslaved by Noah. Seeing this singular instance of love gives Cain, and the reader, hope for the future. Then it is immediately stripped away during the next killing spree.

Cain’s Conquest

For all of these reasons, THE GODDAMNED is not an easy story to read. It forces readers to see the real depths of human suffering and cruelty. For those wishing for an upbeat, happy view of the human condition, this is not your story. Aaron infuses his story with a deep cynicism which is equal parts harshly realistic and exaggerated. No one survives Cain’s world except for the first murderer.

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While this seems initially poetic, it also comes across as genuinely heartbreaking. The only things Cain knows how to do are kill and survive. He isn’t the product of this cruel world, but the one who created it. Aaron does a fantastic job delving into Cain’s mind. Though deeply cynical, Cain’s perceptions provide an interesting and fitting philosophy of the new world order. He sees human folly inevitable only if God is an imperfect being. After all, he created humans in His image. This, of course, leads to the moment in which Cain meets Aga. Her love and affection she has for her son make Cain question his mindset. Though he doesn’t change his view of God, by the end of the story, his perception of humanity changes.

Noah’s Slaves

Courtesy of Image Comics

Cain isn’t the only character with decent exploration. While wholly violent, Noah comes across as a relatively well-balanced villain. He has no remorse for the people of his world because he believes that they don’t deserve mercy. Their failings have only tainted the world order. On the one hand, I surprisingly agreed with him. We don’t see Noah until halfway through the second issue of this story, so we have only seen the landscape of bloody violence in which he resides. While it is not clear whether God has spoken to Noah, we can see how his mind has twisted his goals. Coupled with the absolute chaos of his reign, we see a character wholly devoted to his cause. We can’t relate to Noah’s hatred, but his philosophy is interesting to examine.

Sadly, though, none of the other characters of this story receive much characterization. Aga and her son Lodo appear to play an essential role in furthering the plot, but by the final page, none of that matters as the focus shifts solely to Cain and Noah. Otherwise, this cast is full of extras. I felt fine with this decision, as the overall plot deals mostly with the dueling philosophies. However, I could have done with a focus shift to some other human minds. Otherwise, Aaron jams us into Cain and Noah’s heads, without any understanding of the lengths others have had to go to survive. Are these people truly evil, or have they found themselves in a situation where cruelty is the only option?

Beautiful Grit

Courtesy of Image Comics

R.M Guera and colorist Giulia Brusco have rendered this world in stunning detail. Typically, I lean toward cleaner linework when reading comics, but there’s something so gritty and visceral in Guera’s style that works perfectly for this story. This pair lends an air of chaos and messiness to this world that truly showcases its hard-hitting action and blood-soaked emptiness. Together, Guera and Brusco have built this world visually into a place that I never want to visit, and that speaks to their artistic talent.

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Despite the wonders of their art, I will say that at times I found it hard to determine what exactly was happening on the page. Guera’s art is almost visually overwhelming with details abound. While this is not a problem for ninety percent of the story, during the more chaotic fight sequences, I couldn’t break down the flow of events. Not a dealbreaker by any stretch of the imagination, but I would be remiss not to mention it here.

Final Thoughts: THE GODDAMNED Vol. 1

THE GODDAMNED Vol. 1 is a high-action, gritty, and philosophical adventure through the heart of the ancient Biblical era. With brilliant allusions to the source material and fantastic diversions, THE GODDAMNED explores the heart of Cain’s struggle with God and the cruelty he invited into the world. This is a heavy, gory, and bloody title, and because of this, I would not recommend this to many readers. Still, if you can look past the violence and the darkness of this world, THE GODDAMNED is an introspective and interesting look at theology and human nature.

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