God Country Review
By John Saavedra
God Country is a bit deceiving. On the surface, it’s an action-packed fantasy saga with cool fights and cosmic violence worthy of a CGI-heavy blockbuster. The art is grandiose and the colors are loud. There are tons of monsters, gods, and a very big sword. But underneath God Country’s heavy metal sensibility is something much more heartfelt: one man’s struggle to remember.
Emmett Quinlan is a widower with dementia prone to violent outbursts. He lives alone in a rotting house in Texas on a road that seems forgotten by time. The world that writer Donny Cates and artist Geoff Shaw have created for Emmett is one of desolation — a not so subtle metaphor for the old man’s deteriorating mind. His memory is fading and not even the company of his son, Roy, is enough to keep him anchored to reality. The first time we meet Emmett, Shaw gives him the aura of a monster — a hulking bearded giant with rage-filled eyes hiding in the shadows as people enter his home. It’s in the earliest scene that Cates delivers one of the most effective moments of the book, as he shows just how much Emmett’s illness has affected his family; how he’s tearing Roy and his wife, Jane, apart; how his granddaughter Deena looks on in horror as Emmett threatens to kill them all if they don’t get out of his house.
Then things completely change for Emmett and his family through an impossible divine intervention. It almost feels like a dream, a beautiful coda for a dying old man wishing for one last adventure. When a mysterious tornado hits Emmett’s home, the old man is bestowed with the power of a magic sword named Valofax, which was forged by Attum the God of Kings, the ruler of a dying cosmological empire beyond our universe. Besides giving him god-like strength and powers, the sword gives Emmett back his sanity and memories. Cates reveals a gentle man who misses his wife and wants to make good with his family for however little time he has left. Unfortunately for him, Valofax is a coveted artifact for Attum, a dying god who is trying to keep his empire from completely crumbling.
I love the parallels between hero and villain in this book. Both Emmett and Attum are old men at the end of their days who refuse to let go. They’re both capricious, angry, and scared; and they’ll do anything to keep what little they have left. Of course, the book isn’t so much about how they cheat death as it is about accepting their inevitable ends. Cates acknowledges that we’re all going to go one day and that the really important thing is that we’re remembered by those we’ve left behind. That’s the real victory, Cates suggests in this powerful book.
Shaw’s art is spectacular, too. He gets to play around with a dry Texas landscape as well as a nightmarish underworld full of horrors, and a crumbling kingdom somewhere far beyond our plane of reality, and Shaw really nails each location. His designs for Attum as well as some of the other gods are also truly spectacular. Attum seems to be made up of the cosmos itself in some of Shaw’s panels, which is a sight to behold. There’s one character design I loved above all others but I’ll let you discover that on your own.
God Country is my favorite kind of comic, a book that presents itself as a high fantasy adventure comic before lifting the veil on something much more meaningful. Emmett’s story is an ultimately rewarding journey for both the main character and the reader. I felt that we both left a little more at peace after turning the final page. The story was over but not forgotten.
God Country TPB
Writer: Donny Cates
Art: Geoff Shaw
Colors: Jason Wordie
Letters: John J. Hill
Publisher: Image Comics