It was AiPT! colleague David Brooke who put me on to the idea of reading God Country #1. “The book is right up your alley,” he said. “There’s a quote from Blood Meridian right there on the first page.”
I guess Dave knows me pretty well. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West is quite possibly my favorite book of all time and that fact alone (plus a quick glance at God Country’s cover, which depicts a hulking, bald bad-ass charging headlong towards an iridescent cyclone, Cloud Strifian Buster Sword in hand) was enough for me to take the bait.
Can God Country live up to such lofty literary expectations? Or at least embody some of that dark, surrealistic western vibe I love so much?
God Country (Image Comics)
The quote which preludes God Country,
“The wrath of God lies sleeping. It was hid a million years before men were and only men have power to wake it. Hell aint half full. Hear me. Ye carry war of a madman’s making onto a foreign land. Ye’ll wake more than the dogs,” — Blood Meridian, Chapter 3
Is a warning from the Mennonite, a “prophet” who the protagonist of Blood Meridan briefly encounters in a bar in Bexar (modern day San Antonio), Texas; in it, he urges the protagonist (“the kid”), a runaway teenager who has fallen in with a group of embittered filibusters in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War, not to undertake their unauthorized expedition into Mexico or he and his crew will not only be arrested by the United States Army — but invoke the wrath of God himself.
Of course, the Mennonite’s exhortation is dismissed as alcohol-fueled folly; yet the prophecy rings true when the kid’s company, led by the “madman” Captain White, is soon massacred in grisly fashion by a legion of Apaches.
In God Country, although less prophetic in nature, there too, is a warning to our characters; whether the invocation of God’s wrath will prove destructive to them in similar fashion as Blood Meridian or not remains unclear — but there’s also a kid. And a madman too.
The “kid” is Roy Quinlan. In the first act of God Country he’s visited at his West Texas home by the local sheriff, who tells him about a recent encounter with the story’s madman — Roy’s father, Emmett Quinlan.
“It was a bad one,” the sheriff says. “Son, one of my deputies had to draw on him. He broke the other’ns jaw, Roy. Took me and two more grown men to get Emmett into a patrol car… It’s only going to get worse… he’s going to hurt someone.”
While the sheriff and Roy discuss the best course of action to take with the mentally-ill Emmett, they unwittingly invoke *his* wrath. Like a mad god, he descends the staircase in a furor, shrieking obscenities. “This is my home! Goddamn thieves!” Even the presence of Roy’s wife and their young daughter, Emmett’s granddaughter, Deena, is not enough to diminish his rage.
“I’ll kill you! Kill all of you!”
The episode is enough to make Roy’s wife, Janey, steal away with Deena into the stormy night. “We love you… but this isn’t your home anymore.”
Roy, like his cognate character, the kid, ignores the warnings that are given to him. He chooses to stay with his father over his wife and daughter. “You just don’t know him,” Roy says. “He’s a good man.”
That’s when the cyclone hits and our story really begins…
Is It Good?
God Country #1 is a strong first issue, one replete with genuine dialogue, impressive characterization and plenty of emotional resonance. Writer Donny Cate’s pacing, which simmers at the perfect temperature only to boil over admirably by issue’s end is also to be lauded.
The art by Geoff Shaw is about as well-suited to the narrative as it gets. The characters are lean and bedraggled looking and the deliberately dingy coloring of Jason Wordie suffuses the entirety of God Country in a dusty, Southern Gothic haze. Until the ending, that is.
When Emmett is hit by the storm, and gifted with his deific sword, he is illumined with divine light, his long white hair and Zeusian beard flowing against the rainbow backdrop, the only vestige of the ethereal maelstrom; it’s a smooth transition, one made all the more prominent by all the dreariness and grit that preceded it, and one that suggests Shaw has only begun to scratch the surface of what he’s capable of rendering for us.
“Ye carry war of a madman’s making onto a foreign land. Ye’ll wake more than the dogs.” Indeed, by issue’s end, Emmett has not only experienced a self-awakening — but awakened something else as well; something far less happy to have been roused; and just as the Mennonite’s prophecy suggests, something far beyond our characters’ comprehension.
And you can bet your sweet ass I’ll be here to see just what that could be in God Country #2.