Written by Cheryl Cottrell-Smith
God is Dead is a new comic book series headed by writer Jonathan Hickman and run through Avatar Press. The main premise revolves around an all-out war between the gods of antiquity: Norse, Egyptian, Hindu, Greek, and more, with the Christian trinity noticeably absent (at first).
At the midst of this strife are a number of humans whose stories intertwine with the battle between each god as they work to either support or destroy certain deities.
It’s a fairly simple plotline but, if I’m going to review the God is Dead comics fairly, I have to split them up into several story arcs to account for the shift in writers and artists. Initially, Jonathan Hickman started this project with Mike Costa as a co-writer and Di Amorim as the artist. The original intention was to create a 6-comic inclusive story arc, which they did, starting publication in September 2013. Hickman then bowed out and Costa continued on—as of July 17th, 2014, the comics were up to #15. Mike Costa has single-handedly been churning out the stories since #7, supported with artwork by Juan Frigeri, German Erramouspe, and—most recently—Omar Francia.
Since I haven’t yet read #13 onwards, this review will focus on the original Hickman story arc and the first installment of Costa’s vision in issues #7-12.
Hickman’s pet project [SPOILERS]
The series begins with a visit to Vatican City from Zeus himself, who’s unhappy with the way that men now worship, and whose mood is made worse by Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, a painting that celebrates man’s closeness to god. Zeus, an Olympian with an unforgiving temper, doesn’t want love. He wants true worship and obedience. And thus begin the violent sacrifices, the growth of the righteous-pious, and millions of humans running for their lives from both gods and worshippers.
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? – Friedrich Nietzsche
Hickman’s first story arc undertakes a daunting task: all of the gods are fighting to become the only one and, as we all know, there are a heck of a lot of gods. They get whittled away throughout the series, but it’s an interesting (and fairly accurate) look at cultural representations of god throughout the world. It’s a good reminder of the sheer extent and variety of world religions and their influence on society, both in the past and in the present day. There are plenty of gods we know and have learned about, but there are just as many who have dropped away from common knowledge. It would be educational, if not for the bloodshed and sheer violence.
Hickman’s God is Dead is pure entertainment. Which group of deities will win? Can there be only one? The gore isn’t astounding, but it runs throughout the entire series. When gods fight to the death, things gets bloody real fast. Humans, rather than dying as a by-product of these fights, often find themselves the targets. By the end of the first comic, it already begins to look hopeless for mankind—will there be any humans left after the gods have obliterated the earth in their epic battle?
We learn that a small group of renegade humans have gone underground in a resistance to the war of the gods. Of course, they all happen to be either scientists or “security consultants,” which means that they can analyze blood samples from dead gods while also utilizing their extensive training with weaponry and piloting planes. It definitely makes things easier for Hickman if he has skilled characters able to wander around and examine the gods at will. Too easy.
The first arc is primarily the climax of a story, with barely any introduction and no aftermath. It’s fighting, pure and simple. The artwork is detailed and the speech, though often cheesy, is amusing. Hickman’s God is Dead is basically the same thing as sitting down to a movie two-thirds in, watching the action, and then leaving before the final wrap-up scenes. It’s quick, bloody, and full of great fight scenes. If you don’t require any deeper substance than that, then this comic is for you.
Mike Costa takes over [SPOILERS]
At the end of the first arc, only one god remains and the ending of the war doesn’t seem so hopeless. There’s love. Potential.
And then Mike Costa swoops in with the second story arc, showing the sheer degradation of a world focused only on one thing: celebrating and worshipping a god who doesn’t want to do anything other than sit back and be loved. How depressing. How lazy.
As with many post-apocalyptic stories, the aftermath of a gigantic war shows mankind resembling cockroaches, rallying and somehow surviving in a world ravaged by divine forces. There are those who love the new god (priestesses and missionaries), those who do what they need to live a normal life (the majority of people), and those who are never satisfied (the renegades). There’s a new batch of renegade humans in this arc (because the first batch did SO well) and, as before, they’re intent on destroying this one remaining god.
What I liked about the second arc was Costa’s introduction of different dimensions, in which humans could travel to other worlds to investigate where the gods came from and where they might escape them.
Because of that, however, there’s a tongue-in-cheek scene in which two humans use a “transport device based on vibrations and resonances” to “access higher planes and visit God himself.” The science of this device eludes me, but it does lead the humans to a great throne occupied by the “final authority.” Unfortunately, half of the final authority’s head has been blown off and the human responds in kind with the statement, “Oh fuck. God is dead.”
While I liked this scene, I had difficulty with the introduction of a final authority so far into the story. We spend the entire first arc watching all of the gods from antiquity get wasted—Zeus, India’s Trimurti, Nahautl of Egypt, and all of the rest—and then we’re supposed to say ‘Hey, there’s a god above all of these gods: the Christian God. Where is he?” before finding out that he’s dead, too. This stream of thought is a much too heavily Westernized (and Christian) view of how religions rank over others, and it doesn’t jive with the first arc and the giant divine war. Why bring this god in now only to pronounce him dead? Why do none of the other gods mention him before this?
One thing Costa does bring to the table, though, is added depth. Rather than streamlining the story like Hickman, he adds in parallel storylines to give a greater view of what’s happening in the world besides the new god and humans trying to bring her down. I really enjoyed the Sex and Death subplot, featuring Eros, Thanatos, and a slew of ancient tricksters. Costa did a great job of incorporating these lesser gods into the story; in fact, they become a significant part of the resistance towards the ruling god by the end of the arc. And, of course, the fighting continues.
[BIG FAT SPOILER] One of the strongest elements of Costa’s story is the aftermath of the second divine war. Humans have run throughout the God is Dead storyline in a number of ways—as worshippers, as part of the resistance—and the final revelation of the second arc (in destroying this final god) is the realization that they’ve brought about their own destruction. That mankind has destroyed its own world in an effort to save it. Of course, it isn’t the end, since the comics continue, but it’s a brilliant statement on the idea that mankind shouldn’t be tinkering with things it doesn’t understand. That we shouldn’t attempt to destroy everything that threatens us because it might one day come back to bite us in the ass. As the ravaged, destitute world withers around the remaining humans, they realize that their asses have indeed been bitten. It’s hauntingly painful to see.
The story continues after the end of the second divine battle when a new deity swoops in—one who had been absent from everything until now—and we’re left to wonder: where will it end? Are humans bound to be ruled by a god forever, or will they ever be free from their tyranny?
CC photo credit: Di Amorim, Juan Frigeri, German Erramouspe, Omar Francia, and Avatar Press.