Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Garrie Gastonny
Published: Avatar Press, 2009-2010
A friend from work recently turned me on to Warren Ellis’ Supergod series, released in 2009-2010. I am somewhat familiar with Ellis’ previous material, having read some of Transmetropolitan and The Authority quite a few years back, but this title sounded particularly interesting.
The story involves a “superhuman arms race”, wherein major global powers work in secret to develop their own superheroes. Britain is the first to accomplish this: in 1955, British secret forces send three astronauts into space to examine the effects of space travel on the human body. Some kind of invasive space fungus infects the ship during the mission, which fuses all three astronauts into one, giant, three-headed monster. The monster, duly named Morrigan Lugus (after two Celtic deities), is revered as a god. This kick-starts the global effort to create the perfect superhuman.
This should give you a good overall sense of the series. If that’s not enough, the tagline to the comic is “Praying to be saved by a man who can fly will get you killed“. It’s a brutal, depressing comic, but it’s also one filled with slices of black humour and pseudo-philosophical statements on the need for religion and supreme figureheads. I was worried that Ellis would be beating the reader around the head with this concept, but it’s introduced early in the series and doesn’t necessarily stunt the plot in any major way. The story’s narrator, Reddin, references this question of man-made deities and humanity’s desperate need for a higher power every now and then, but mostly these ideas are clear in the pages and don’t warrant further exposition.
Over the five issues of the series, we’re quickly introduced to Earth’s other versions of “the superhero”. India’s Krishna, a sentient AI whose mission is to “Save India”; China’s Maitreya, a being who can control the flesh of human beings at will; Iran’s Malak, who is able to break down the atomic bonds of all matter; and the United States’ Jerry Craven, a dead Air Force pilot turned cyborg.
Ostensibly, Jerry Craven is this world’s Superman and Jesus Christ combined into one “supergod”. Jerry “JC “Craven lives in a controlled, small-town-USA, man-made bubble referred to as “heaven”. When he’s needed in global conflict, he’s brought from “heaven” and put to task. Not much more is given to us about Craven, but it’s clear to see his purpose here – it’s even a little heavy-handed at times, but not enough to ruin the story.
I won’t go into too much more detail about the story, but it’s short enough to allow the sometimes-complex plot lines to breathe and develop before outstaying their welcome. The whole story is framed by the narration of Reddin, a British scientist who worked on the original Morrigan Lugus project, who tells the story whilst sat on the burning banks of the Thames, in present-day London, which helps the reader understand the various goings on of humanity’s attempt to save themselves.
I enjoyed this title very much. At only five issues it’s over quite quickly, but it packs a lot into the pages in a mostly clear, enjoyable way. A minor criticism concerns the artwork. Gastonny’s art is by no means bad, but I personally felt that Ellis’ story could have benefited from a slightly more intricate art style. I initially was thinking of someone like Steve Dillon or Phil Winslade. Still, it’s a very minor thing and doesn’t detract from the overall story. Highly recommended if you’re looking for a short deconstruction of superhero fiction framed within a story of human catastrophe and global apocalypse.