Scalped was an achievement by anybody’s standards: a genre comic about a minority group that started just before the economic crash and not only survived it, but flourished. It stands as one of the best stories DC / Vertigo has ever published, and it’s up against some stiff competition, with which it can go blow-for-blow with no gloves on. Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera did something special with the story of Dashiell Bad Horse, Lincoln Red Crow, and the Rez that haunted them.
Of course, we asked: what’s next? The answer turned out to be the Goddamned, a story set before the Biblical flood. Some people said: “Okay, sure; I’m on-board for anything R.M. Guera and Jason Aaron turn out.” Other people said: “What in the good goddamn are they going for here?”
What they’re going for in the Goddamned is violence, on a Biblical scale. What they’re going for in the Goddamned is to bring a Cormac McCarthy spareness and brutality to the medium of comic books. What they’re going for in the Goddamned shares some DNA with what they were going for in Scalped: without spoiling too much, family is an important hinge; feeling trapped would appear to be, also. What they’re going for in the Goddamned is to put out something that doesn’t look like anything that’s on the shelves now or has been on the shelves in the past handful of years, the venerable Scalped included. What’s more? It succeeds.
The Goddamned is a showcase of what you can do with the comics medium. R.M. Guera has never looked better, and never looked more like R.M. Guera; there is a guttural, brutal nature to these pages that calls to mind a hungry Frank Miller drawing Ronin, or Howard Chaykin, fed up with comics and writing his hate letter in Black Kiss, or R. Crumb doing what he does best. The violence is almost non-stop throughout the book, with double-page splashes and more unconventional layouts than we’re used to seeing from Guera. He’s a master; he proved that with Scalped, and didn’t need to do anything past that to cement. In the Goddamned, he’s swinging for a fence we don’t even know about.
Giulia Brusco, who has never done a bad coloring job in her life, absolutely shines here. There’s an oft-cited truism that calls design “99% invisible,” and that is what Brusco’s work over Guera does here. It serves its purpose and never calls attention to itself. You might stop and admire that the coloring fits so well, but there are no particular flourishes, no particular “Ha ha! Look how brilliant I am!” moments that take you out of the story. It’s gritty and it’s brutal and it’s perfect, which is a decent way to sum up the Goddamned as a whole, but please, finish reading the review.
Jason Aaron is one of the most reliable writers in comics, if he’s not outright the most reliable. His Marvel work is great, and his creator-owned work is transcendent. Think, for a moment, about the fact that this is the same guy who writes Southern Bastards. Think, for a moment, about the fact that this is the same guy who wrote Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine. Then, we find ourselves at the Goddamned, which is a step out of the comfort zone. If you were to pigeon-hole Jason Aaron, which is quite hard to do, you could say he sticks close to crime; none of that here. You could say he goes for absurdity; just a little bit of that here, and it serves a perfect purpose. You could say he sticks to writing about the South and things of that nature; this is set in Biblical times, and, sorry for the spoiler, but that doesn’t really happen. You could say his dialog’s great, sometimes maximal; true, but here in the Goddamned, he pares himself down in an elegant and effective way. It’s a Jason Aaron we know, but it’s a side we haven’t seen. The ending is sterling; if you don’t want to come back after that, you might be damned yourself.
The Goddamned easily could’ve been the head-scratcher it presented itself as, and in ways, it is. It is a book that acknowledges, subverts, and defies expectations and explanations. Jason Aaron’s been doing that since the Other Side, and R.M. Guera’s been doing it since he dropped onto the scene with Scalped. Here, they’re laying their guts and the guts of their characters out on the table, in stark, Biblical fashion, and it’s one of the most successful first issues this reviewer can remember reading.