Note: This is the first part of a multi-part look at Joe Casey and Tom Scioli’s Gødland, published by Image Comics from 2005 to 2013.
Jack Kirby never let us forget the potential for good and for evil in humanity. Most of his works from the Sixties through to his death remind us that we could be a villain just as easy as we could be a hero. That’s the heart of all superhero comics– the line between Mister Fantastic and Doctor Doom is actually fairly narrow. Scott Free and Orion are heroes because of the choices that they made but all of their life circumstances could just have easily pushed them to follow in Darkseid’s legacy (just see Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s brief interlude on Apocalips in Kingdom Come for their vision of this.). Joe Casey and Tom Scioli believe in the idea of Kirby’s brand of heroism. Gødland Volume 1: Hello Cosmic shows their desire for the greatness that they believe man can evolve into but couch it in a 21st century cynicism that may be stronger than that the heroism could ever hope to be.
Gødland is the perfect Marvel legacy comic. More than just Tom Scioli’s clearly Kirbyesque artwork, Joe Casey and Scioli tap into the energy and excitement of those early Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comics. Gødland Volume 1: Hello Cosmic is the type of comic that so many creators in the 1970s tried to reverse engineer out of old Fantastic Four comics. Casey and Scioli focus squarely in on the spectacle of those comics but never lose sight of the inner humanity of their characters. Personal discord runs hot and heavy through these comics, recalling everything from the family dynamics of the FF to the youthful uncertainty of Peter Parker. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, we talked about how all of the mainstream artists were trying to be Jack Kirby but we never talked about how all of the mainstream writers wanted to be an updated Stan Lee. Look at the Wolfman/Perez The New Teen Titans; for as much as it was counter programming to the Claremont/Byrne The Uncanny X-Men, it’s written as a Stan Lee Marvel comic book, trying to overwrite the DC DNA with the Marvel formula.
Casey and Scioli’s story is 2001 meets The Six Million Dollar Man if it was a comic book drawn by Jack Kirby. Astronaut Adam Archer went to Mars as a man but came back as the next evolution of humanity. Living in a skyscraper with his three sisters, the family forms an ersatz fantastic foursome. Adam is the first of a new type of man but he’s still firmly a man of the 21st century, as cynical and self absorbed as any modern man. He may be next step of mankind, the cosmically aware man, but it’s Casey and Scioli’s developing rogues gallery that show the variety of types of humankind. There’s Basil Cronus, the floating skull-in-a-helmet that’s looking for the next great mind altering experience (i.e. the next big high); Friedrich Nickelhead, the rat-pack wannabe ruler of the world; and Discordia, a daddy’s girl who has her own domination issues to work out. Here are the villains and heroes of a new humanity, all just as messed up as the generations of humanity before them.
As much as Casey is trying to capture the magic of the comics that made the teenage him so excited, he’s using the old, sometimes corny elements of those comments to look at how far or how little we’ve come since the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s. Decade by decade, you can trace his writing back to what he’s exploring. Hello Cosmic plants us firmly in that heroic optimism (or maybe optimistic heroism) of the Lee/Kirby comics but it can’t quite wrap its head around where Lee and Kirby were coming from. There’s not a whole lot “with great power comes great responsibility” behind Adam in this first volume. He’s a “hero” because he has the power but there’s very little heroism in this book yet. It’s like Casey wants to believe in old timely heroics but, as a child of the 1980s and Frank Miller, Alan Moore and Howard Chaykin, he can’t get the cynicism out of his system.
On the surface Scioli looks to be just another Kirby imitator on this book, taking it to an almost fanatical level of recreating style down to the square fingers and blocky anatomical figures. But Scioli understands Kirby and those early Marvel artists in ways that so many others have failed. This is what comics used to look like in the post-Kirby Mavel comics of the 1970s but Scioli captures the bombast and krackle of Kirby so much more than just by copying the older artist’s line. There’s the sense of wonder and awe in what Scioli draws. He’s as comfortable at drawing the family drama as he is aliens and fantastical outer space vistas. His interpretation of those early Marvel artists (Kirby, Ditko, Heck…), filtered through a focused Kirby lens, opens up a new universe of comics, that feels both like an original and an homage.
Joe Casey’s comics are always about comics. They are his way of chasing the dragon of his childhood while filtering them through older eyes and imaginations. Gødland Volume 1: Hello Cosmic is his and Scioli’s interpretation of Kirby and Lee, Wittenberg and drawn during a time where Kirby’s krackle have become codified and lifeless by thousands of imitators and Lee’s ideas of superheroes are corny and simplistic. They’re taking back Lee/Kirby from Marvel and DC and questioning why we bought it then but cynically shrug it off now. Adam Archer is Superman, he’s Thor and Captain Marvel but without the faith of those characters’ creators. Gødland wants us to be ready for the power cosmic but doesn’t have any trust in us to understand the responsibility that comes with it.