Gødland is the brain child of Joe Casey and Tom Scioli. It hearkens back to the crazy cosmic cataclysmic era of insanity and plenty of Kirby dots long gone by. It's a creator-owned title from Image that brings back the pulpy fun of space adventures and inventive aliens with plenty of laughs as well as daring action scenes.
With the solicitation for Gødland Celestial Edition Vol 2 finally out, roughly three years after the first volume went live and sold out, I thought it would be pertinent to review the first edition so people will know why they should pick up the second gorgeous Celestial hardcover. And believe me, you should pick it up.
The edition begins with an introduction by Grant Morrison. I love a good intro and when you pair the content (wacky cosmic adventures) with a good writer (wacky cosmic bald guy) you usually get the right sort of tone to settle down with. And this short sample gives you an idea that Morrison gets Gødland:
This reads like the difference between Frank Sinatra singing ‘My Way’ and the Sid Vicious cover version. This is Kirby strobing through the mall lights and VDU glare, Kirby sampled and duplicated in the dazzle of MTV and YouTube, overloaded, cranked beyond all tolerance, ripped, burned, détourned and reconfigured to create a cosmic soap opera populated by thoroughly-modern heroes.
The Players and Their Stage
Adam Archer is at the centre of the Gødland narrative; an astronaut who landed on Mars alone and came back with mysterious and Kirby dotted powers which he gained after meeting the Cosmic Fetus Collective. They choose him as the sample hero for mankind, train him in the strange ways of his new powers, and send him packing to showcase his new-found talents by protecting Earth.
Archer sets himself up with his sisters, Neela, Angie, and Stella, in a military base called the Infinity Tower. From here they live and work to keep the cogs of Earth turning smoothly. It’s interesting to note that the Archer girls are all very different and all relate to Archer, the man and his powers, in varied ways. This provides storylines that resonate with depth throughout the arcs to come. The girls may come across as a slight stereotype at the beginning, one is the angry military chick, another is the rebellious and crazy one, and the level headed voice of reason but they're being slowly and steadily developed.
An alien dog, named Maxim, is sent to Earth to locate Archer and instead is ambushed by some of the main villains of the title. This is where the plot kicks off but it’s also where things get incredibly interesting. For me, Gødland’s villains are some of the most interesting concepts I’ve come across in any form of story. Casey and Scioli work together to give interesting character traits as well as visuals.
Archer and Maxim are both defeated by Basil Cronus upon their first three-way meeting. Cronus is one of my favourite villains of all time purely because of his motivation. He’s not after world domination or money he’s simply after the ultimate high. The first thing Cronus does with Maxim is hook up a blood line straight into the jar that holds his floating disembodied skull and ride the melt of sampling an alien’s life force. This is the sort of person we will pit our immensely powered hero against. It’s a great juxtaposition and instantly shows us not to expect the standard fare, this comic is here to show us something else entirely. He spouts epithets of anarchy and nihilism like he’d fit right at home in a title like Casanova as well. In total, he’s a pleasure in every panel.
Friedrich Nickelhead is against Cronus, as well as Archer, and his means and ways are much more traditional. He’s after a bit of old school domination, yet he looks like some kind of low-fi Max Headroom. He’s refined, with a suit and a martini in hand; you can’t help but feel like he should be the servant of the villain, not the main big bad himself, and when you get his origin you understand why. In saying that, he is an interesting robot, and his own servent, Eghad, is hilarious as he seems like a cross between Puck from Alpha Flight and Elton John. He’s a great oppositional villain of order as opposed to the transient nature of Cronus’ dastardly ways.
The third villain who eventually shows herself is Discordia, the daughter of pain maestro The Tormentor. She seems like the flipped coin of Cronus in that she’s only after creating an extreme feeling in others, pain. We first see her milking the discomfort out of Crashman, the world's greatest hero who has been unfortunately caught. She’s an interesting character and easily the most evil of all the main three villains looking to take a shot at being the foil of our cosmic hero.
The opening arc ends with the trial of Discordia for her crimes of pain and suffering. It gives us an exploding head, a panel that rivals Scanners for a splash of the old red, and we also meet the father of Discordia, along with his army of Superman-suited mice. Behind this all, the Archer family is falling apart as not all of the sisters are pleased with their station in life purely being defined by who their brother is. It’s cosmically crazy and yet emotionally resonant. Gødland knows how to introduce a great idea but then also mine that concept for well written storylines. Were this concept placed into a mini series then you know the creators would shoot for the stars and not look back but Gødland is an ongoing and as such everything that is said or shown has to be accounted for. All lines must meet up in the end. Casey salts in small ideas that come to fruition later to serve more meat to the reader over a longer period of time.
With the foundation set up, Casey then sets about plotting further adventures while simultaneously making this universe he created so much more rich and dense. We learn the history of the universe, the origins of Nickelhead and how they connect to The Tormentor, we see who the Triad are and just how they abide, and what fun Eghad can get into within the bowels of Nickelhead’s base of operations, The Funhouse. Basil Cronus figures heavily but to spoil where his head’s at would be a travesty.
All panels point to the coming of King Janus, and the unbelievable power he weilds. The only way to test Archer is to pit him against more powerful and galactic foes. As the book closes we have Neela shooting off into space to have a comparably cosmic adventure and Archer dangerously dealing with King Janus’ immense power and threat. It leaves us on a few cliffhangers and plenty of mind blowing ideas that either need to be closed or further elaborated upon.
The Extra For Terrestrials
Thus ends what I assume you get in the trades, and there also starts the extras package that is contained within this HC making it truly Celestial. First up; the Holiday Special of Basil’s Early Christmas, previously published in the Image Holiday Special. It shows Cronus travelling to the North Pole trying to score his Christmas present early, and he then gives Santa Claus a little score of his own. It’s a four page funny that really delivers the laughs in one scene of Cronus showing his magic trick to a little elf (“How d’ya like me now?!”).
Next up is the cover gallery that not only presents us each of the amazing covers but also the verbose and golden ads that ran in the previous issue. Neither presentations take themselves too seriously and it’s nice to be able to take your time flicking through a cover gallery both for the many words that give you cause to smile and the interesting images that go with them in all their dense glory. We then get the trade dress for the first two trades, which to me seems like an insane amount of detail and comprehensive coverage for one series. This is why the Celestial Edition truly is the one stop shop for all good fans of all good things Gødland.
To end the collection, and do so over many more pages, are three text pieces. One is by comics journalist Tom Spurgeon with ‘What Gød(land) Says When We’re Not Looking’ which looks at the idea of comics being a forum for personal expression. He delights in the fact that Gødland pushes the boundaries of the writer and the artist as well as the audience.
We are given a rare insight into the ‘Unorthodox Development’ of Gødland as we read the initial email exchanges between writer and artist, Casey and Scioli. This completely transparent, behind the scenes documentation gives us an idea of how these two brains worked to create something so fantastical. It is a pleasure to read, and an absolute must for those process junkies in the room. We also get over a dozen concept sketches from a time when Gødland was merely being thought of.
The final touch is from Joe Casey himself. He writes about what he writes, and even takes a second to write about writing about what he writes. It about as metatextual as you would assume from a title this absurd. He credits all of the people who make Gødland what it is and you can feel the excitement he feels at being able to create something so purely about the fun of creation.
Gødland is a series of extremes, in either plot or in motivation for characters. It’s an extreme sense of writing in each issue, and it doesn’t feel like Joe Casey allows any panel to just get a few filler lines. Every line is sharpened to a point where you could balance a galaxy on its tip. There must be many pockets of LSD in Casey’s brain that are being slowly time released one each month as this series goes to print. The ideas come thick and fast and it’s a pleasure to take them all in.
Tom Scioli is the matching extreme of the Gødland team. It doesn’t matter what Casey writes because Scioli manages to figure out how to make it come alive. A junkie with a rotting skull in a jar for a head, easy, giving him characterisation and a sense of cool, just as simple. Torturebots, alien dogs, red pyramids with heads along the bottom edges, all in a day's work. You can’t help but imagine Scioli hunkered down in a dark room with what little natural early morning light that gains admission being filtered through a haze of organic peppermint tea steam and the residual smoke from a few burning embers from the previous night’s roaches. This is the only image of creation that would do any justice to the art that Scioli presents in each and every page, be it a splash of infinite power or a stocky set of heads talking away.
If you’ve bought the first Celestial Edition then I can only assume, nay guarantee, that you’ll be buying the next one out this May (with gorgeous cover to the left). If you got the first trade or two then I hope you’ll be trading up for the second Celestial Edition to fill in the gaps. If you’ve never read Gødland at all then I can only hope that you’ll give a few trades a go, or maybe even track down all of the back issues on eBay, or these fantastically gorgeous hardcover editions. The first might be a little hard to find, but this second one is right around the corner. No matter what sort of page you see this comic on I’m sure you’ll still be stunned by the face-melting splashes and the beautiful creations. How do you get your Gødland?