This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on December 12, 2016.
The obvious draw of God Country lies in the first half of the title. This is a comic that features interstellar beings along with their named swords and millennia spanning struggles. It’s the sort of thing that literally none of us can relate to, and that’s what make it so fascinating. These bigger than life concepts are what have driven comics since even before Kirby created the Fourth World, tapping on the unlimited potential of the page to unleash infinite power. Yet it’s in the Midwestern phrase of “God Country”, or rather “God’s country”, that the series finds a relatable and human grounding. This is where the series real power come into play.
You can see this connection between the grandiose and the utterly mundane in the very first pages of the book, a spread that brings the reader from the expanse of space to sprawling plains. The first couple of panels are filled with Kirby Krackle, the sparkling, spherical energy of the planes invented by “The King” himself. They reveal the power of the cosmos in a language utilized in American comics since the 1970s. But the purpose of the page is not to focus on this, but to sweep downward like the camera at the start of Star Wars, reorienting us to the desert below. Mythos and cosmos are left behind in order to visit Texas.
Of course, if you know anything about Texas, it’s that mythos is not something you have to leave behind even in the dirtiest and smallest corners of the state. It’s a place founded on legends, both historical and entirely without fact. Whether you’re talking about the creation of the state (which was briefly a country, all its own) or its legends like the Rangers and Pecos Bill, this is a place packed with stories. When the tornado lands in God Country #1, it’s easy to imagine Bill lassoing it or those colors coming from a brand new tall tale. And that’s how this series sets itself up. The framing device of a future narrator fails to separate fact and fiction and allows this story to exist in that purest of forms.
The people and ideas within the story are anything but pure though. Writer Donny Cates and artist Geoff Shaw grasp the complexities of small town Americana and understand that even in fantasy, humanity is a beast with many levels. To grow up in rural Kansas, Texas, or Oklahoma is to know the pain we bury deep within communities and family. They are the sort of place in which a sheriff can say “before someone gets hurt” even after a deputy has had his wrist broken. The looming shadows and terrified eyes portrayed by Shaw perfectly capture the traumas we half-remember from childhood, even as the details fade. What he shows isn’t inescapable evil, but the regular ugliness of illness and being torn between responsibilities. It is the epic scale of emotion captured in something barely worthy of a local headline.
The family in God Country #1 are primarily sketches of people. They are easy to project upon, but their histories and connections are lacking here. This is the bare bones construction of people and place that will require time to be built up. The house itself still lacks a town and people to suggest a history. Even so, this is a debut that grasps what its most important elements are and leaves plenty of room to expand upon those which lack breathing room here. The juxtaposition of gods against the smallest domains of men, accompanied by a clear grasp of small town struggles are the key to God Country, and they are well displayed in this first issue.
God Country #1 is a story nominally about gods, but one that really appears to be about the country in which they are most often claimed. It’s about the people who find themselves bound up in issues of religiosity and whose problems can feel as grand as Greek tragedies, even as they so often go ignored. Not since Southern Bastards #1 has an Image comic so well captured this section of America. It is a comic that will astound not only by its epic scale, but by its human focus, and for that alone it should not be ignored.