Thursday 10 June 2010

Review: A God Somewhere, by John Arcudi and Peter Snejbjerg (WildStorm, 2010)

For reasons I won't go into I was up before 5am this morning (again), but for once I used the time wisely and finished reading writer John Arcudi and artist Peter Snejbjerg's A God Somewhere. It's an original graphic novel about a young man, Eric Forster, who inexplicably gains superpowers, and what subsequently happens to him, to his brother Hugh, Hugh's wife Alma, and their friend Sam, who acts as occasional narrator, and from whose viewpoint the graphic novel unfolds.

There have been countless attempts at a 'real world' approach to superheroes, most successfully from Alan Moore with Marvelman and Watchmen, which A God Somewhere is already being compared to. Actually those comparisons are misleading; in its unassuming manner I think it's probably closer to Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen's underrated Superman: Secret Identity, although it's a lot more violent. But either way, A God Somewhere doesn't have its protagonist donning a costume and fighting crime. Instead, we witness Eric's gradual disintegration, as he turns increasingly violent and ends up public enemy number one.

And it's the violence that's really notable here; there are dismemberments and buckets of blood aplenty, with hundreds of deaths over the course of the story. In one particularly gruesome scene Eric stamps on a soldier's head and the soldier's eyeball pops out. It's shocking, but then that's the point.

One thing that works really well is the opaque nature of Eric. There are occasional narrative captions, but they're from Sam's perspective; we never really get inside Eric's head, so it's never clear why he does the things he does – in particular the path of extreme violence he embarks on. That's unusual in superhero comics – where generally motivations are clearly explained – and the book is all the better for it, leaving it up to the reader to come up with their own theories. That even goes for the small things: Eric grows a beard and lets his hair grow long, but it's never explained if that's a choice, or if he's simply unable to cut his hair because of his powers (a la Superman shaving with heat vision – a power Eric doesn't have).

Something that worked less well for me was the race element. Sam happens to be black, and encounters racism as a result, but that's never fully developed and doesn't have anything really to do with the main story, so it just kind of sits there. There's a parallel theme of faith and religion that's better explored, particularly in an unsettling sequence where Eric recounts a dream where he's God.

A God Somewhere is full of ambiguities, but those ambiguities only help to make it more compelling. It's a disturbing, engrossing read that manages to transcend the often hackneyed tropes of superhero comics, and Snejbjerg's artwork (and Bjarn Hansen's colours) is utterly sublime.

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