Best Shots Advance Reviews: THE GODDAMNED #1, LAST SONS OF AMERICA #1

"The Goddamned #1" variant cover by Jason Latour
Credit: Jason Latour (Image Comics)
Credit: Image Comics

The Goddamned #1
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by R.M. Guéra and Giulia Brusco
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

While “The Greatest Story Ever Told” refers to the second part of the Christian biblical canon, it’s the Old Testament that is a never-ending well for revision and recreation. Based primarily on the Hebrew Bible, the rich vein of storytelling that has sprung from interpretations of Genesis (Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah) and Exodus (primarily Moses) has filled the cinemas and comic book world alike. On one hand, there’s the slightly sexualized Robert Crumb offering The Book of Genesis Illustrated. On the other, there’s Darren Aronofsky’s tumultuous and sprawling film Noah, released several years earlier as a graphic novel with artist Niko Henrichon. Jason Aaron and R.M. Guéra’s ambitious and brutal The Goddamned definitely falls into the later camp, applying his grim vision to a biblical figure he posits as the ultimate loner.

While the subtitle of "Before the Flood" conjures up visions of a very specific biblical figure, Aaron’s tale opens instead on the bible’s original outlaw, a figure whose parents were cast out of paradise and who invented murder. Like Aaron’s Scalped or Southern Bastards, his lead is a hard-ass with a past, albeit one with 1600 years separating him from Eden. Immediately, Aaron plays with the mythology in terms of it being a post-apocalyptic Western, as a Man With No Name emerges from the wastelands like some hybrid of Mad Max and Clint Eastwood. There are roving tribes and violence aplenty, something both Aaron and artist Guéra gleefully seem to revel in.

The Goddamned takes an unrelentingly grim view of the eve of the first apocalypse, one with a sense of foreboding but no particular hurry in getting anywhere. Cain is searching for “something, for anything” that can end his so-called curse of immortality, and there’s no shortage of people and things (including dinosaurs!) willing to give it a shot. There’s a lineage in this title that can be traced back to the likes of 2000AD and the European fantasy pieces found in Metal Hurlant and its American counterpart Heavy Metal. Aaron seems content to wallow in the murk for a while, which is perfectly fine during this first taste of world-building, although the urge to have a piece of fruit or take a shower may overwhelm you at various points in the narrative.

The Scalped team reunite for this series, and Guéra takes his bleak views of the desert to an even darker place in this outing. The opening page is a post-apocalyptic vision of a one-armed child urinating into a wasteland of rotting corpses, and Aaron only gives him more fodder from there. The lead is a blonde-haired and blue-eyed rendition of hyper-masculinity, one generation removed from his maker. By contrast the other people literally drip with the filth of the Earth. There’s something of Richard Corben in Guéra’s character designs, a perfect nod for a series that has some horror in its blood as well. Guéra’s backdrops are also stunning, from the vast desert landscapes that look borne of somewhere deep in the Antipodes to the eviscerated animal flesh that serves as window-dressing for one of the roving tribes.

Aaron has described his latest work as “a Biblical caveman apocalyptic barbarian western noir,” and nothing we’ve seen here would dissuade us from that notion. Guaranteed to offend at least someone, with Cain taking some Preacher-esque views on the nature of God, it’s undoubtedly a story that rattles some of the austerity off the austerity off of these ancient stories, turning one of the original sinners into an anti-hero for an age that is full of them.

Credit: BOOM! Studios

Last Sons of America #1
Written by Phillip Kennedy Johnson
Art by Matthew Dow Smith and Doug Garbark
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Oscar Maltby
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Matthew Dow Smith plunge head-first into the seediest of underworlds with Last Sons of America #1, a crime drama with an attention-grabbing plot, executed in an all-too ordinary manner.

In an alternate universe when military herbicide Agent Pink was used on U.S. soil in an act of biological terrorism, Last Sons of America #1 follows a pair of adoption agents trying to keep up with demand when every adult American is infertile. In an attempt to keep their business afloat, Jack and Julian Carver head to Nicaragua to find impoverished families willing to give up their children for a price. It's an evocative concept, clearly but not always effectively communicated by Phillip Kennedy Johnson's wordy script.

The heart of the issue lies in the relationship between Jack and Julian. Forever stressed by the sheer gravitas of their job and their dangerous surroundings, Jack and Julian play “good cop, bad cop” to each other in a desperate bid to keep their collective sanity. Writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson frames the initial exposition with Jack and Julian convincing a Nicaraguan factory worker to sell his children, but later relies on conversational dialogue to explain the nuances of their lives. This keeps Last Sons of America #1 stuck in a relatively slow pace while Jack and Julian argue over the ethics and viability of their child exporting enterprise, telling us all about series antagonist Don Carlo instead of showing us why we should fear him. It's a frustrating flaw that does little to play to the comic book as a medium, limiting us to two heads in a car when there is limitless possibility for visual storytelling.

Matthew Dow Smith's thickly-lined and intentionally ugly portraits carry the grim tone of Kennedy Johnson's script, as does the heavy use of negative space; which bathes entire rooms in nothing but the focal character and a few hastily-sketched pieces of furniture. Dow Smith's creased and under-lit faces won't be to everyone's taste, but nobody can dispute their effectiveness in establishing tone. Panels are conventionally staged, keeping a tight focus on the two brothers as they descend into darkness. Suffice to say, Last Sons of America #1 is one moody-looking comic book.

Color-wise, Doug Garbark restrains himself to fit Last Sons of America #1's hard-boiled tone, making heavy use of gray, beige and sunset orange to highlight the murkiness of Jack and Julian's work. A few short and sharp bursts of blood red prove an effective background to violence, a tried and tested use of color that works well here.

Last Sons of America #1 has a rock-solid central concept and great characterization, adeptly illustrated by Matthew Dow Smith and Doug Garbark. Despite this, Phillip Kennedy Johnson's script is heavy on exposition and low on visual ideas, making Last Sons of America #1 a dry offering that fails to engage the readers interest past the initial high-concept. There's potential here, even if the jury's still out on whether it will be fully realized.

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