Welcome back to Break from the Bat, your monthly dose of comics not connected to Batman, courtesy of the review team here at Batman News. This month, our featured selection is God Country, a brand new book from Image Comics about dads, demons, and dang, that’s a big sword! Written by Donny Cates, with art by Geoff Shaw, colors by Jason Wordie, and letters by John J. Hill, God Country #1 marries a strong, stylized narrative voice with bleak-yet-gorgeous visuals, promising a compelling examination of human sorrow and mortality through gods and demons and magic swords.
After a quote from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, God Country begins with an unidentified narrator introducing the tale of Roy Quinlan, and his exceptional father Emmett. With the elder Quinlan’s health in decline, Roy and his family have moved from Austin to be close by. But when a freak storm brings dangers—both physical and metaphysical—Roy discovers that there is more to his father than meets the eye.
A convincing narrator
Cates nails this book. Localized dialogue and narration can be hard to pull off well, and altered spelling for the sake of pronunciation only works half as often. But Cates sells the narrator perfectly, and I found myself reading in some internal, Sam Elliot-esque voice the whole time. The story is clearly personal to our mysterious host, as it has passed through generations of his family (I’ll assume it’s a he until Cates contradicts me). And yet, I’m not totally convinced of any direct relation to the Quinlans, given the detached way he describes them. Kudos to Cates for thoughtful wording and a consistent voice in a narrator with multiple dimensions.
The narrative itself doesn’t take us very far, feeling more like a prologue than the start of the first act. I think it’s a wise choice by Cates. Given the fantastical subject matter, it will become increasingly difficult to do the sort of character work he does in this issue once things pick up. A conversation between Roy and the local sheriff gives us a natural hook into much of the backstory, but more than that, we learn a bit about both men from how they speak with one another. The sheriff is a kind man, who clearly cares for Emmett; but he won’t deceive himself about the elder Quinlan’s deterioration. Roy—perhaps predictably—swings the other way, insisting he can manage his father’s condition. Janey, Roy’s wife, shares the sheriff’s clear vision, but her concern for her daughter Deena gives no ground to the question of Emmett’s care.
None of these characters wander outside of well-worn archetypes, but it hardly matters. They may come from familiar blueprints, but these are patterns we can relate to, having seen them at times in our own hearts and minds. If you can read a three-way struggle and sympathize with every party, then the writer is doing his job quite well.
Dirty, bleak, and beautiful
Shaw’s layouts are just about perfect. There’s a strong sense of place, thanks to a number of striking establishing shots; and, more intimate scenes feature just the right number of frames, setting a good visual pace for conversations and altercations. Judicious use of the Dutch angle builds tension at key points throughout the book, and several instances of “theme and variation” in adjacent panels add effective emotional emphasis. In all of this, there’s also plenty of room for Hill’s letters—but it never feels like something’s missing from the environments.
I love Shaw’s finishes. While I find the character abstractions pleasant, it’s his emotive faces and postures that draw me in the most. And once the book wanders further into left field in its latter half, Shaw smoothly transitions from bleeding my heart to thrilling my imagination. Wordie’s colors help tremendously, as well. They never quite reach vibrant, but as the story moves, the colors make a subtle journey from stark bleakness toward greater and greater saturation—a beautiful parroting of the narrative arc.
Hill handles all of his tasks with excellence. His sound effects blend well with Shaw and Wordie, always showing an aesthetic kinship to the surrounding artwork. Cates and Shaw make the avoidance of clutter easy, but the larger playground brings its own challenges. Yet Hill places balloons and boxes perfectly, with unambiguous reading order and good pacing.
Hill also goes with borderless balloons, much like what Nate Piekos is doing on DC’s Green Arrow. I like it better here. Piekos doesn’t use much padding, which often leaves the letters a bit too close to, and “unprotected” from, the artwork—the lack of both border and distance eliminates some of the helpful distinction between the letters and the rest. Hill, on the other hand, uses a more Workman-esque padding, and those precious extra millimeters of white space make all the difference for readability.
A strong start
There are scads of new series from a number of publishers each month. Even from a publisher like Image, which has a good track record, it’s rare to find a debut as uniformly strong as this one. Superb character work, an intriguing premise, and outstanding artwork from all three artists make God Country the best debut I’ve read in 2017 so far, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
Thus ends my look at God Country. Check it out, and let me know what you think. As always, we want to hear about what else you’re reading, and if you have anything that you’d like to see us cover in future installments of Break from the Bat, let us know that, too. Read on for some of the other books we’ve been into, and be sure to come back next month.
The Deep (Boom)
Back when the seas were largely untraveled, cartographers would designate particularly tumultuous waters with the disclaimer “Here Be Dragons.” Now that worldwide travel is common, those old superstitions have been dismissed, but… what if they were right? After all, we may be fairly familiar with the surface and shallows of the sea, but what of the deep? What lurks down below where even our most sophisticated technology can’t reach?
That is the question posed by Tom Taylor and James Brouwer’s The Deep, a new all-ages title published by KABOOM!. The series follows the Nekton family, a quartet who study sea-life on the state-of-the-art submarine the Aronnax. It has all the hallmarks of classic family adventure series of yore (there’s the exuberant kid, the sarcastic older sister, the goofy animal sidekick, and the quirky and long-suffering parents), some surprisingly engaging and even occasionally terrifying art, and a true banger of a cliffhanger. A lot of fans were shocked when Taylor left Injustice to work on this and the accompanying Netflix cartoon, but based on just one issue I’d say his experiment paid off. It’s intriguing and fun, and I’m definitely interested to see where the story goes.
The Few #1 (Image)
I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic America stories, so Sean Lewis and Hayden Sherman’s The Few is right up my alley. A deliberately-choppy, disorienting narrative gives a spare amount of detail, but the situation we’re presented with is very engaging, as is the mysterious main character. Sherman’s barren, sketchy, color-lite finishes build a bleak, lonely, dangerous world—but one that I nevertheless want to spend more time exploring.
Justice League of America: Killer Frost: Rebirth #1
Killer Frost: Rebirth is the first JLA Rebirth one-shot that has me thinking, “what’s the point?” Considering Frost was featured heavily in Justice League vs Suicide Squad, I don’t understand why there was an entire special dedicated to her struggle to be good. There was nothing new here. Killer Frost has been just that, a killer. Now she wants to turn good because she’s always really been good deep down. Unfortunately, to stay alive, she needs to drain people’s life force, but she’s finding ways to have “portion control”… That’s essentially the gist of this issue. Oh, and Amanda Waller is a total a-hole.
But seriously, if an entire issue is going to be devoted to her, why not do something else? Show her past, some of the terrible things that she’s done, and that it still haunts her. Don’t just regurgitate what we already know from a story that was taking place at the same time of this title’s release. I’m excited to see Snow on the team, but this issue didn’t do anything for me. It’s a decent read, but completely unnecessary.
Justice League of America: The Ray: Rebirth #1
The Ray is a character that I’m mostly unfamiliar with. I’m sure I’ve read back issues of titles that he was in, I just never really took notice of him. Because of that, I was more intrigued to read his Rebirth issue just so I could get a better sense of who he was as a person and as a hero… Well, neither of those happened here, but not due to a fault of the story. Ray doesn’t have much to reveal, because he doesn’t know who he is. He’s lived his entire life in isolation due to his abilities, so when he finally does take a leap of faith to leave captivity, he’s just then beginning his journey of self-discovery.
I found the story to be quite enjoyable, and along with Atom: Rebirth and Vixen: Rebirth, it made me excited for the upcoming Justice League of America. Ray is enjoyable, relatable, and naively optimistic. He’s a positive character, and this is, overall, a very “bright” book. Everything about this issue felt positive. My only concern is in his new role as a hero. Looking at the playing field, the heroes introduced so far (Ray, Vixen, and Atom) have all recently just become heroes. And knowing Killer Frost’s background thanks to Justice League vs Suicide Squad, I can’t help but wonder if this team will end up being the Jr. Varsity Justice League simply because of their lack of experience.