Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Godland: I would say words fail me, but obviously they don't. Still, that's probably apt

Godland, volume 4: Amplified Now
Written by Joe Casey
Art by Tom Scioli

While this isn't exactly a new development, the Kirby pastiche has become its own genre, with comics creators trying to ape the King's bombastic action and cosmic ideas. But most examples can't measure up, doing little more than mimicking surface stylistics like squared-off fingers, gigantic machinery, and Kirby dots. But Joe Casey and Tom Scioli's Godland is different; while the artwork definitely has a strong Kirby influence, there's more to it than that. Casey is tapping into the same underlying subconscious themes, giving something extra that leaves an impression far beyond whatever coolness comes from explosions and glowing guys flying around and blasting things with cosmic energy.

But that element is difficult to explicate, much as it's hard to describe the series without sounding like a six year old describing a dream they had. "You see, there's this guy who glows, because he has outer space powers, and there's this huge alien dog who helps him, and they fight monsters and stuff, like a giant insect lady, and there are these three space guys who send an explosive drill into the center of the earth, and the guy's sister also has super powers, and she changes the world to try to make it better, but it doesn't work, and..." It's almost a stream-of-consciousness style of storytelling, with bizarre events piling on top of one another to an exhausting degree.

By this fourth volume, the tone of the series has been established, and it continues from issue to issue without letting up. And while the crazy stories and out-there ideas are what grab the most attention, it's the small touches that Casey throws in that really seal the deal. The three cosmic invaders are named Ed, Eeg-Oh, and Supra, in reference to Freud's "psychic apparatus", and the interesting part of their arc comes when they become infected with human emotion, displaying uncontrollable outbursts of joy or anger, culminating in their decision to massacre the population of Las Vegas and leading to displays of violence that you don't normally see in this sort of Kirby-esque work:

Later scenes play off the ideas of destiny, as Neela, the sister of Adam Archer (the aforementioned glowing cosmic hero), having gained her own cosmic powers, shows up and remakes the world in her image, setting herself up as the Earth's defender before being torn down as a false savior. Also compelling are the continuing revelations about the nature of the cosmic conflicts, as we see that beings are attacking Adam for usurping some sort of natural order, and we even learn more about the nature of this universe, as it was born from exactly the sort of violence that continues throughout the series. There's definitely something going on below the surface here, although Joe Casey is probably the only one who really understands it; the rest of us just have to glean the ideas and try to interpret them as best we can.

Luckily, it's tons of fun to do so, as the action is fierce and wild, the humor is entertaining, and Casey keeps throwing wacky ideas on the page, with the most notable one in this volume probably being a band of gorilla-headed prostitutes that emerge on the scene to defend Vegas from "The Triad" and are instantly slaughtered. Why? Well, why not?

Of course, all this would be moot if the art wasn't up to snuff, but Tom Scioli rises to the occasion honorably, holding up his side of the storytelling with aplomb. He provides page after page of art that retains Kirby-style energy, but goes further, adding his own unique bits of exuberance, like baroquely complex alien machinery that seems to stretch on forever, or an excellently menacing gigantic monster:

Nick Filardi colors really complement Scioli, adding a bright sheen to everything and really making the art pop off the page. The occasional computer-aided touches work well, not overpowering the style, but adding something extra when it's called for:

Yes, it's a veritable feast of cosmic goodness, page upon page of visual and mental treats. Of course, this being the fourth volume, readers are probably either hip to the creative team's vibe, or know that it's not their sort of thing. And it's definitely not for everybody; some will surely be overwhelmed by the breakneck pacing and multitude of crazy ideas that Casey and Scioli are throwing out, while others might not be able (or willing) to put themselves in the unique mindset required to enjoy the immersion in said craziness. But for those of us who can appreciate and revel in the bizarre energy of the comic, it's pure gold. This is the kind of thing that Jack Kirby was talking about when he said that "the Kirby tradition is to create a new comic." Casey and Scioli have certainly done so, building on previously-established foundations to come up with something extraordinary and beautiful. Let's celebrate that while it lasts.