O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
This is a strange animal – an original graphic novel from Wildstorm. It’s like the world has gone crazy!!!!!
A God Somewhere is a superhero story brought to us by John Arcudi, Peter Snejbjerg, Bjarne Hansen, and Wes Abbott. It’s $24.99, which is a bit steep for a softcover graphic novel, but it’s also full-sized, almost 200 pages, and in living color, so there’s that. With Snejbjerg on art, you know it will look great, but will Arcudi be able to keep up?
There are minor SPOILERS in here, if you must know. I’m not going to spoil the end, but I have to write about the main character’s arc a bit, so there’s that. Sorry!
This is a pretty impressive comic, actually. Arcudi manages to do some unexpected things with the idea of a superhuman suddenly appearing among us humans. The way the book begins sets up the theme nicely – we get a narrator telling us that even though we’re self-absorbed, ultimately, we’re “just another character in somebody else’s story.” This first page is a scene of horrible carnage, as a young girl walks among some devastating wreckage and finds her mother, the top of whose head is missing and whose brain is leaking out. Arcudi and Snejbjerg return to this scene later in the book and show us that as tragic as it might be, this girl’s pain at losing her mother isn’t even the focus of the particular scene – it gets the point across very well, as the POV characters of this book and the narrator, a man named Sam, aren’t the stars of the book and will never be stars – they’re known because of their relationship to the superhuman. It’s a very neat way to begin the book.
Arcudi then gives us the main characters: Sam, a black man (his race is important); Eric and Hugh, two California blond dudes; and Alma, Hugh’s wife. In only a few pages, Arcudi does a very good job showing us the relationships between these people: Hugh is the more serious of the brothers, but Eric takes the risks; the brothers rescued Sam from a beating at the hands of white boys at school years before (after the Rodney King riots, in fact), which led to their friendship; Sam is somewhat a pariah among the black men he knows because he hangs out with the white boys so much; Sam and Eric both “saw” Alma first but she ended up with Hugh. All of these little character bits become important as the book goes on, and Arcudi does a nice job introducing them fairly organically. Then, twenty pages in or so, Eric’s apartment building explodes. And he’s completely unharmed. And he’s really, really strong and can fly all of a sudden. Well, that’s odd.
Arcudi then takes the book in a way you might not expect. Eric initially goes out and saves everyone he can from the apartment building explosion, earning instant celebrity, but it’s not long before he begins to change, and not necessarily for the better. He refuses to visit his brother, he becomes disillusioned with the media coverage and the governmental response, and at one point he quotes the Hulk. The situation spirals further and further out of control, until he’s and out-and-out villain being chased by the United States army. Of course, he doesn’t plan to go quietly, and things get a bit ugly.
The impressive thing about the way Arcudi shows Eric’s arc is that he makes it feel inevitable but still manages to surprise us. Early on, we learn that Eric is a good Christian, and this is an important part of his character – he believes what happened to him is a miracle, and based on what he can do, it’s a small step to thinking the miracle has changed him into something divine, far above human concerns. Arcudi doesn’t push this interpretation too obviously (although he does bring it up when he reveals how the book got its title, but that’s a brief scene), but it’s still the major theme of the book – why wouldn’t Eric consider himself a god, and therefore why would anything he does matter? He does things we think are horrible, but they’re horrible based on our moral code – a code Eric no longer shares. Yes, this path has been trod many times with regard to superheroes and what they can do, but Arcudi does a very good job with it, mostly because it’s far more chilling than we usually get. Eric’s arc is a blend of Kid Miracleman’s and Miracleman’s, and when those two conflicting personalities are combined in one character, it’s rather disturbing. Like Sam, we want to hate Eric, but we also want to understand him, and like Sam, we can really do neither. Our hatred is tempered both by the things we learn about Eric the man and also by our confusion about his new worldview. Sam keeps trying to figure him out, but Eric defies comprehension. That’s why this is a good comic – Arcudi refuses to indulge us and give Eric a big speech about his motives, or even to try to explain his new godhood. We can’t categorize Eric, so his motives remain almost completely obscure. And while that might be frustrating, it’s also fascinating. The one act that might make us hate Eric is so unbelievably petty and mean that even it defies our understanding. It’s an act that seems beneath him, yet it’s so awful that we have to loathe him for it, even though we just don’t get it. That’s why Arcudi put it in the book, no doubt.
Interestingly, this isn’t really Eric’s story, as he quickly becomes so aloof we find ourselves lost when dealing with him. Arcudi’s point on the first page is that while everyone wants to know what’s going on with Eric, the wake he leaves behind is much more interesting, even though those people are just characters in his story. Sam, for instance, has to come to terms with his best friend turning into a monster. His best friend, mind you, who saved him from a vicious beating at the hands of bigots. Sam can’t understand how someone who cared so much about him has gone so far beyond that. Sam’s crush on Alma is important, as well, as he feels that he’s perpetually in the brothers’ shadow and can never get the girl he really loves. This leads him to become more reckless as he chases Eric down – he doesn’t have much to live for, but maybe if he can do something with Eric he can win Alma’s heart. The fact that his best friends are white leads to some uncomfortable moments later in the book, too, as he’s confronted by other black men who don’t respect him. Hugh and Alma, as well, are important people in the book, as their relationship is put to the test when Eric goes around the bend. Arcudi does a good job with the superhero stuff, but he does a better job making the three ancillary characters real people, with Hugh and Alma having to confront some things they’d rather not as their marriage is put to the test.
Snejbjerg is magnificent as usual. He and Arcudi aren’t afraid to show nudity (although penises remain verboten in a Wildstorm book, I guess) and they don’t shy away from the violence inherent in superhero comics. One thing that’s impressive is the random deaths that occur when Eric does his thing – there are going to be collateral casualties when superheroes get involved, but most creators don’t show that. Snejbjerg’s portrayal of the violence gets more and more horrific, and while it doesn’t have the visceral impact of, say, issue #15 of Miracleman (mostly because it’s not the first time we’ve seen it), the way Eric seems above it all as opposed to enjoying it makes his transformation all the more chilling. The quiet moments are great, too – when Eric first realizes he’s superhuman, there’s a strange, disturbing smile on his face, as if he’s already gone but is planning not to reveal it yet. It’s a harrowing moment, and Snejbjerg does a great job with it.
I can’t say this is a work of staggering genius, mainly because Arcudi treads such familiar ground. But it is a very good comic, because Arcudi does such fine work with Sam, Hugh, and Alma and how they try to grasp something that’s so far beyond their comprehension. Most comics like this focus on the superhero and what’s going on in his or her head. Arcudi understands that, in most cases, that’s impossible – it would be like trying to comtemplate the mind of a god. Arcudi tries to show us, through Eric’s closest friends, how shocking this kind of event would be, and he succeeds well. It helps, of course, to have such a good artist to work with, as this is a great-looking comic as well as being a thoughtful one. Put down that latest trade of Superman and give this a look – you won’t be disappointed!
Tomorrow: All hail the Immonens!
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