A God Somewhere

July 4, 2010

This graphic novel written by John Arcudi is something either you have heard about or you haven’t. If you haven’t and are wondering whether it is essential reading, it isn’t. This isn’t the Watchmen or Rising Stars of the moment. Not much in the comics world will change because of its thematic exploration. You won’t want to read it a couple more times to be sure that you got everything right and haven’t missed some crucial detail. The art by Peter Snejbjerg may have its special moments, but it’s not something you can’t find elsewhere or will hail for its technical brilliance. This is not that kind of accomplished work.

A God Somewhere leapt out of Wildstorm’s chugging printing machine fully formed rather than as a limited series first — an unusual practice for Wildstorm. It means that we the readers are expected to treat this story in its totality and to go through it preferably in one long sitting. It also means that, with no guarantee of some basic cost recovered by serialisation, Wildstorm has to charge us a very unappealing price (US$24.99!!) for a normal 200-page softback. And then there’s the other issue: if you have heard about this book at all, you’ll know the various warnings about how it treads very familiar territory. Many reviewers speak like there are just a handful of ways of throwing superpowered humans into “The Real World” — wherever that is. They speak like the idea is already old and like we should all now go back to either pure superheroics fantasy or mere realism. But then I saw this volume’s price tag (US$24.99!!), and I know what real fantasy is.

Poor Arcudi: who will bother with how — between overpricing (US$24.99!!) and undervaluating — A God Somewhere is truly something else? Series like Brian Michael Bendis’s Powers and Mark Waid’s recent Irredeemable and Incorruptible, despite their comparable settings, are still too caught up with the possibilities of having great powers and not the implications. As such, they soon tend towards the dramatic while the whole realm of reflection, especially about what being human means, falls away. But this book — how shall I even describe it? It is part-drama, part-philosophy, and part-psychology. We are asked to imagine what the raising of physical and physiological capabilities does to one’s mind, one’s perception of relationships, social values, life, and the universe. Arcudi’s anti-hero, Eric Forster, is a regular nice guy, a great brother and a good friend, who gets transformed overnight into something steadily more than a human. We watch his transformation, we observe his humanity slip away layer by layer, we experience dys-recognition, and we struggle to re-connect and make sense.

Nothing else is explained here, and that refusal to be distracted is important. Even family and friendship are contexts, boxes into which our laboratory rats is placed, and Arcudi is daring enough to break every rule about them we know to suggest Eric’s evolution. And then he plants what I think is a central speculation: we like to imagine any Higher Being as possessing qualities that are our better traits while barbarity and carelessness belong to the body of the beast. But what if — contra the premise of the superhero genre — a Superman is hardly God-like but just man who cannot set aside his want for weakness and fear of consequences and everything he cannot comprehend? What if true divinity is closer to the damn-it-all Incredible Hulk because he alone knows? This novel asks bold ethical and theological questions and makes no attempt to answer them, only a preparation for the cosmic worst. The title is thus ironic and captures the ambivalence perfectly: it reads like part of a prayer and of hoping, but, by the story’s end, we learn to fear the chances that our universe’s greatest mind and power is, in fact, absolutely alien. What if we are all only alone?

This book’s wannabe god gets 8 stars from Gweek, but Wildstorm is killing them both with that price tag (US$24.99!!).

2 Responses to “A God Somewhere”

  1. alex Says:

    I think I got a lot more out of this book than you did. Whether or not it will change the way comics are written, I can’t say, but it would be nice if it does. This is the first “mainstream” comic I’ve read that was not instructive. Even in WATCHMEN (perhaps especially in WATCHMEN) the characters are all busy telling us what we’re supposed to think about the other characters, themselves, events, or what have you. This book just shows you the story and lets readers interpret it how they will. Like Updike’s RABBIT books, only bloodier. It’s a more adult (or if you prefer more serious) approach to superheroes than I’ve seen elsewhere.

    And I personally think the art is quite special, but I’ve taken up enough space.

  2. Gweek Says:

    Hi Alex, thanks for your thoughts. I do quite like this book, as my later paragraphs and rating show. My point is simply that I don’t think that it’s going to “do” much. It’s a quietly reflective book and, given its subject matter, it’s almost doomed to have a limited appeal.

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