When news broke that the creative team of writer Donny Cates and artist Geoff Shaw would be taking the reins of Marvel’s Thanos with issue #13, I wept with joy. Marvel could not have found a more perfect team to bring us cosmic tales of the Mad Titan. I anticipate their take on the book will be fantastic and insane, and that it will be a beautiful story wrapped around a very human journey — even if the titular character is anything but human.
Why am I ecstatic about a book I previously didn’t even notice was on the shelves?
Because of God Country.
First, the story would be nothing without Geoff Shaw’s gorgeous art and Jason Wordie’s mastery of color. Shaw shows a range of world building that is either cosmic or mundane when need be, allowing for grand epic battles and then intimate horrifying moments. Toward the end, there is this brief image of tears falling down a character’s face, and I found myself welling up, overwhelmed with sorrow and serenity for the character.
Throughout, the art smacks with just the right amount of Kirby influence — the energy radiating from the base of a magical sword’s blade is a nice nod to that, and I love how it emanates in subtle rainbow colors as the protagonist journeys through a bleak and colorless underworld.
In re-reading God Country as a collected trade, you get a real sense that Donny Cates has deconstructed the myths of ancient, fallible gods, and then put it all back together to give us a very old, immortal story made fresh and new, dressed in modern clothes and rich with metaphors and symbolic archetypes.
Set in idyllic West Texas, this is a tale of a storm like no other, told down through the generations. One about gods and men trapped in mythic battle, and of fathers and sons, likewise ensnared in endless contention with each other. A tale about legacies… and a wise 12-foot sword that is much more than any sword.
At first, I thought it was a story about the ravages of Alzheimer’s, and the hell it is to feel your memories slipping away. I thought it was about the fear of not remembering the face and name of your granddaughter. While God Country does have all of that… that’s not what the story is really about.
God Country is a story about letting go.
First, there’s the father, afraid of losing his mind and his family for a second time.
Emmett is a geriatric, mostly forgotten man who has lost everything, including his own memories, and then suddenly gets it all back. He’s a tough-love man of grit, determined to never let go of his family again — to hell with what the gods have to say about it, or the trials they send to stop him. Even if holding on puts the lives of his family at risk.
To protect said family, Emmett battles gods and demons alike that spring from the psyche and unconscious, while wielding a massive magic sword named Valofax, who (and I do mean “who”) gifts Emmett with potency and clarity. In his hands, the sword becomes a knife cutting through the fog, letting in light where once was only darkness.
It is also the story of a god, afraid that all he has built has been lost.
This ancient and once all-powerful god refuses to accept that both his perpetually-crumbling kingdom and himself are in the death throes of extinction, as they teeter over the edge of oblivion and annihilation. He is obsessed with legacy, yet that same obsession inhibits him from passing his kingdom on to his son. Instead, he uses every ounce of his vast powers to grasp the last remaining fragments of his realm, holding it all together by force of will alone. He keeps entropy at bay, at the cost of his mind and reason.
It is also the story of two sons, afraid to accept what their fathers have become.
Once gods and heroes in the eyes of their children, these fathers have been brought down by the ravages of time and disease. To borrow from Christopher Nolan and The Dark Knight (or perhaps originally from Bill Finger), you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. In God Country, the fathers have lived long enough to become demons and monsters.
But at the heart of God County is a story about a son learning to let go of his father, as he realizes the pain and suffering that happens if he does not.
While Emmett may seem the protagonist, it is his son Roy who must make the greater sacrifice. Much like the dying realm of the gods, Roy’s home and family are confronted with death and destruction — all because he is in denial, unable to accept that it is time to say goodbye. That refusal literally brings both demon and storm crashing down on his hometown and his father’s house.
It would seem Valofax hears Roy’s wish to have his father back, as the sword also descends with thunderous arrival into the conscious, human realm to save both father and family… though we later learn, as all things with the human heart are complicated and conflicted, that Roy wished for something else entirely. We learn that Roy holds onto a past that was more fantasy than real, and he’s desperate for the nightmare to end.
All the characters of God Country have their storms to weather, their fights to battle, either to win or lose. One fights to keep his family whole. Another fights to remember. And another fights to hold steadfast a kingdom that has already slipped through his fingers.
Finally, it is a story about legacy.
While one father and son learn to let go, thus ensuring their continued lineage and legacy, another father and son are caught up in arms against each other, bringing death to theirs. The juxtaposition is both brilliant and heartbreaking, teaching us that love is more powerful than fear… that we should selflessly give instead of selfishly hold on.
The best thing we can give our children are not kingdoms, but our stories. That way, we are always with them. We live on forever through the stories they tell their children, and their children’s children. That is true legacy.
To be eternal, we have to let go. We have to let go of our fear, not so much of death, but of being nothing, of being forgotten… of forgetting ourselves and losing what makes us who we are in death. Emmett learns this lesson, and with him we realize that letting go is not as easy as dropping a sword from our hand. In fact, it’s the hardest battle we’ll ever fight.