GOD IS DEAD… and Jonathan Hickman and Mike Costa Killed Him
CREDIT: Image Comics
Yo, Margaret! Stop asking if God’s there. Avatar Press just killed him/her.
More specifically, Avatar has just launched God is Dead, a new six-issue-series that, aside from being a conversation-starting title, promises to put the world in terrifying peril involving many a pantheon of ancient deity. Put bluntly: This ain’t The Mighty Thor.
What is going on here? Well, the superstar writing team of Jonathan Hickman (Avengers, The Manhattan Projects, East of West) and Mike Costa (G.I. Joe: Cobra) promises this will be an apocalypse to remember, so we got up with them to find out.
Newsarama: Jonathan, Mike…look, I'll be blunt: I just had some caffeine and I'm very silly right now.
Mike Costa: No problem. I just ate a packet of powdered gravy I found in the parking lot. Let's do this.
Jonathan Hickman: Well, I'm old and just woke up from a nap. Go easy.
Nrama: So, based on the title, it sounds like God, or a god, is dead. Ain't that a bitch? Tell us about what's gone down with the almighty entities we'll encounter in this book.
Costa: Well, our title is more of a call to arms. Like something you'd say if God smacked a sandwich out of your hand in the lunchroom. Because in our story, Gods do a lot worse than that.
Hickman: Sure. The title is a lie. I also can't stop wondering when the last time Mike actually ate in a lunchroom was. Most people don't know this about Mike, but he's pretty much the youngest guy being published in comics right now. He's 47.
Nrama: Who are the main characters, omnipotent or otherwise?
Costa: At the beginning of our story, classic Gods from antiquity (Greek, Norse, Aztec, Egyptian and Hindu) return to Earth and declare themselves, causing a massive religious uprising and engulfing the world in chaos.
Our main character is Sebastian Reed, a theoretical physicist who is on the run now that science is essentially outlawed in most of the world. In the first issue he's saved by Gabby Moffet, a hard-talking, no-nonsense badass woman who runs security for The Collective, a group of brilliant scientists who have dedicated themselves to trying to solve the “God problem.” Sebastian joins up with them and they, basically, try to figure out how to kill a God.
Meanwhile we're also cutting between the Gods (Zeus, Odin, Bast, Quetzalcoatl, etc) as they carve up the world amongst themselves, and the last surviving American general in command of a fighter wing, who decides he's going to try to take the world back by force.
Nrama: How did you come up with this? Do I want to know?
Hickman: Well, when I first cooked up the idea for the book the premise was basically: What would all the mythological gods do if they were both real and returned to earth? I thought it would be hilarious if the first thing they did was re-educate the atheists, and then the book would descend into the death of logic, deity cage matches in the seven ancient wonders of the world, and other nonsense.
In 2008, I believe my initial pitch to William (Christensen, Avatar EIC) was a global power play between undercover metal bands, Harvard alums and Afro-French aristocrats, but he begged me to give him something he could actually sell, so I said, “How about Zeus killing atheists?"
So then I started, then signed a deal with Marvel and got super busy, and then I finally finished the rough draft a year ago or something. Anyway, we all got tired of the delays so I asked Mike if he would come in and save the thing. He said yes, and then went and rewrote it into something, well, much better.
I've always said Mike Costa is the most talented 32-year-old I know.
Nrama: You're both known for more science-fictional work -- what sort of approach are you taking with this, showing the gods as more cosmic Kirby-type entities, or the strict interpretations drawn from classic mythology/religions?
Costa: We're skewing much more toward classic interpretations. In fact, I did a lot of reading of texts like Ovid and Gylfaginnig. The idea, for me at least, was to try and coalesce a reasonable interpretation of what kinds of personalities these Gods would have based on their mythological records and the kind of relationships their worshipers had with them.
Not that I'm pretending that we've written some kind of scholarly Theodicy here. We've got Greek Gods drowning cities and Aztec Gods taking down fighter jets. But there was definitely a lot of thought put into the characterizations of the Gods that drew on some real research.
Hickman: Right. And it all works better when it spins off of familiarity.
Nrama: For that matter, what type of research did you do with this -- and did you encounter any obscure entities that you wound up including? Or did you create any new ones for this story?
Costa: The Gods we're featuring are all pretty well known. Basically the greatest hits of the Gods of antiquity (and the Hindu Gods who have survived into our modern age.) As for the creation of a new god – one that could go toe to toe with Zeus or Thor... well, that would be quite an insane act of hubris, wouldn't it? There would likely be some awful price to pay...
Hickman: Translated as “read the book” from the ancient Sanskrit.
Nrama: Avatar is of course known for its family-friendly all-ages kid-appropriate books, in the Bizarro World. What led you to take this project there, and what degree of depravity do you plan to inflict upon us?
Costa: Mass murder. Worldwide cataclysms. Orgies. A dude getting his brains stomped out. All the favored activities that the most popular Gods throughout history have enjoyed.
Hickman: Right. Say your prayers. Eat your vitamins. Never get into a staring contest with a one-eyed god.
Nrama: Tell us about your collaborative process on this book -- how does it work?
Costa: Well, Jonathan is the Prime Mover here. He came up with the concept and then roughed out the issues for Di Amorim, who drew the pages from his scripts. I came in late to the project because Jonathan took a look at the finished art and was inspired to do a total re-write on the dialogue and characters.
That's where I came in, collaborating with Jonathan on that. I script the dialog and captions over the art, Jonathan takes a final pass, and off it goes into your hot, sinful hands.
Nrama: And say some nice things about Di Amorim's artworks.
Costa: This poor man was called upon to draw the destruction of complex architectural wonders, stage massive battle and crowd scenes, design several different versions of mythological or Astral locations, and block human-scaled scenes of romance and dark comedy, all while keeping it all grounded and consistent with itself.
The skill with which he pulled it off should make any heathen believe in miracles.
Nrama: What are some of your favorite alternative looks at religion in fiction? I'm fond of James Morrow's Towering Jehovah and Roger Zelazney's Lord of Light -- yes, I know it was the basis for the fake film Jack Kirby illustrated in the real-life basis for Argo! -- along with Neil Gaiman's stuff.
Hickman: The answer to this should always be God Emperor of Dunes, shouldn't it? I do like books about cults, as they kind of read as starter guides to starting your own religion.
Costa: For my money, the finest and most compelling religious system in fiction is obviously the beliefs of The Coil, as presided over by the High Priest Serpentor as seen in G.I. Joe: The Cobra Files, on sale monthly at your local comic shop.
Last I heard from Hickman, he was sacrificing people to the Drowned God in an old utility sink in his basement.
Hickman: We no longer refer to the “love cave” as “the basement.”
Nrama: A deep philosophical question: What if God was one of us, just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home? ...I miss Joan of Arcadia.
Hickman: Kill me.
Costa: I never really understood the context of that song. Isn't the entire central tenant of the world's largest religion that God actually did become one of us? I don't know. Maybe Joan Osborne never heard of that book they wrote about it. You know, the most popular book in the world.
Nrama: On that note, how would you react if the old gods showed up?
Costa: With enviable poise and admirable heroism, of course. Also I would try to have sex with Aprhodite, because I've read that's amazing.
Hickman: I would try and get me one of those mechanical owls.
Nrama: What's coming up elsewhere for both of you?
Costa: For me, more issues of the ongoing Cobra Files at IDW. Also something at Marvel: It's a three-part story called "The Arms of the Octopus" and it runs through the All-New X-Men special, Indestructible Hulk special and Superior Spider-Man Team-Up special, all out in October.
And something at Image, which hasn't been announced yet, so I'm sorry to say I can't talk about it. You'll just have to have faith.
As for Jonathan, I think his schedule is all booked up with writing 200 issues of Avengers comics in the next six months and then dying.
Hickman: I'm way more invested in the dying than the getting there, that's for sure.
I'm just trying to get fired off something at this point.
Nrama: What are some current books and creators you're enjoying?
Costa: Saga by BKV and Fiona Staples is consistently the most beautiful book being published, both in art and story. Jonathan's Manhattan Projects with Nick Pitarra (and sometimes my pal Ryan Browne) and East of West with Nick Dragotta are examples of what comics look like when their creative teams are obviously having the time of their lives.
I'm sad to see Grant Morrison's epochal run on Batman coming to an end, but Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are making that grief a lot easier to take. Dan Slott's Superior Spider-Man, Jason Aaron's Wolverine & The X-Men and Mark Waid's Daredevil might all be contenders for “best superhero book on the stands” if not for the fact that Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson and Alex Ross just brought back Astro City, but thank God they did.
Hickman: My oldest son just got into Calvin and Hobbes, so I'm loving that I'm getting to revisit that right now.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Costa: Jim Steranko's twitter feed. Am I right? Look no further for 21st Century mythology.
Hickman: I bet Mark Waid didn't order this book.
Costa: Probably not.
Hickman: Oh, you should probably tell people your real age as I really loused that up.
Costa: Sure. I'm 64.
Hickman: Mike Costa, everybody.
God is Dead, in comic shops at least, today!