“And God saw that the wickedness of Man was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that He had made Man on earth, and it grieved Him in His heart.”
These words, taken from the sixth chapter of Genesis, open Jason Aaron and r.m. Guéra’s new creator-owned antediluvian thriller The Goddamned. Accompanying them is a landscape bleak and barren but for bones scattered sparsely. Overhead hang clouds of red like rust. The skies are blue in the next page, but the locale depicted is all the more disagreeable to life. Dead trees not yet fully rotted show this habitat to not always have been so inhospitable, as do the decaying heads in the foreground, their fetid flesh being picked clean by a swarm of maggots. Far off into the distance can be seen the silhouette of a settlement, presumably from which hails the solitary figure in the picture, a one-armed savage using his only hand to hold his cock, a stream of yellow piss mingling with the mixture of mud, sludge, ooze, and excrement that comprises the clay below.
Many artists more skilled than Guéra succeed in finding beauty in the abject ugliness of mankind and the world it inhabits. The artistry of Baroque period painters such Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Rubens was such that they could make seem martyrdom noble, war valorous, filicide pious, even rape romantic. Guéra succeeds in not doing so. Everything from the faces of characters to the expressions they wear to their garb and ornaments are just as hideous and deplorable as the desert of the opening pages. I mean it as a compliment when I say the very name “Guéra” ought to be coined as an antonym for Sehnsucht.
If anything, he captures the world Aaron has written all too well. As an aesthetician and self-professed kaliphile the potency of the art did detract from my enjoyment of the issue. But given that the providing the reader joy does not seem to be Aaron and Guéra’s goal, I cannot fault them for such. They seem to be creating a piece of art meant to assert an entirely negative and pessimistic anthropology. It would be difficult to read this issue and not come away slightly more misanthropic, and as such the issue works on its own merits.
Cain’s own internal monologue conveys such nearly as well as Guéra’s pencils. Walking alone after his most recent homicides, the first murdered thinks to himself:
“My parents were born into paradise. A place without want. Without death. A perfect garden they could live in for all eternity. It took them a couple of weeks to get kicked out…
“My brother was always an asshole. The first two children born into this world and we couldn’t fucking stand each other. That alone ought to tell you how fucked we all are.”
Of course, we the readers know exactly how fucked Cain and his ilk are. The arrival of Japheth, Ham, and Shem in the final pages are reminder of the coming wrath. But Cain’s words are equally relevant to those of us in the twenty-first century without the storm clouds of a forty-day flood accumulating on the horizon. If human nature really is the same as with the characters in The Goddamned, then it matters little whether we’re sinners in the hands of an angry God, holding over the fires of perdition and eagerly awaiting any excuses to drop us in and watch us burn, or if we’re all just shitty people who only through dumb luck haven’t killed ourselves off quite yet. Rather, if mankind is now or ever was like the Bone Boys and their brethren, then God would be right to be aggrieved and repentant for making us, and within His rights to unmake us, whether with flood or with fire.
This seems to be the thesis of The Goddamned. Not to compare what is merely a decent first issue to the greatest work of literate in the English language, but it may very well prove that Aaron’s purpose for this series is to “justify the ways of God to men” as per Milton in Paradise Lost, albeit instead of the Fall with regards to the Deluge; not even that mankind actually has suffered divine punishment, but that such judgement would be justified.