Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, July 18, 2010
      ( 7/18/2010 08:44:00 AM ) Bill S.  

“PEOPLE AREN’T SPECIAL. THEY’RE ANIMALS AND LIKE ANIMALS THEY DIE.” A violent and graphic superhero horror story, John Arcudi and Peter Snejbjerg’s A God Somewhere (Wildstorm) graphic novel races fearlessly into a realm hinted at but never fully depicted in earlier comics like the old Marvel Hulks. As bloodily presented by Arcudi and artist Snejbjerg, the book tells the tale of Eric Forster -- a deliveryman who is driven to a psychotic break by his sudden acquisition of super powers -- and the family and friends whose lives are horrendously changed by this.

The primary lens by which we view the events is Sam Knowle, Eric’s co-worker and friend from high school. Sam, a black transfer student to a predominately white Southern California high school, first met Eric after the blond-haired California boy rescued Sam from a pack of racist bullies, ironically proving more of a hero with no powers than he ultimately does with them. Eric becomes a mega-powerful super-being after an inexplicable explosion in his apartment inexplicably changes him. He suddenly has super-strength, the ability to fly and a seeming invulnerability due to a telekinetic force field. Eric, who is initially presented as religious but not assertively so, first takes his new powers as “god-given,” but it isn’t long before he is having dreams of himself being a deity “in another universe, a smaller universe.”

Sam, along with Eric’s brother and sister-in-law, become both witnesses and victims of the increasingly more monstrous super-being, who by the send half of the graphic novel has become a shaggy, berserk madman randomly slaughtering innocents in the Arizona desert. A God Somewhere treats these rampages, not as a largely harmless Kirby-esque demolition of buildings and heavy machinery, but as the grisly horror shows we know they would actually be. In one scene, for instance, we see Eric lift a tank and toss it at an apartment building; next page cuts to a family down below packing the car from a grocery run, only to be crushed by the falling debris. In another scene, Eric casually trods upon and crushes a soldier’s head. This clearly ain’t no childlike Hulkish tantrum.

Other modern comics writers have upped the mortality level in their stories over the years (heck, Garth Ennis has practically made it his own sub-genre), but more typically treated their characters as cartoonish objects to be torn apart than as more recognizable human figures. Where A God Somewhere separates itself from the rest of the splatter pack is in its believable treatment of its core characters. Sam proves the book’s most identifiable creation: though friends with the blondly white-bread Forster brothers, he struggles at times with the racial dividing line between them. When he later becomes infamous as the closest person to the frightening Eric, he teeters between concern for his friend and appalled horror at his deeds. There are times, in fact, when his friend even appears to be upping the level of violence to make some sort of insane point to Sam.

Artist Peter Snejbjerg (abetted by colorist Bjarne Hansen) treats this material with a commendable straight-faced integrity. He even handles a variation on the Frankenstein Monster Meets A Little Girl bit without giving away the game. When Arcudi takes his surviving characters into their damaged aftermath, Snejbjerg proves just as effective showing us their traumatized lives as he does the earlier over-the-top destructo sequences. It’s moments like this -- or the scene where Sam gets his climactic one-on-one with Eric and finds he doesn’t know exactly what he wants to ask him -- that lift this well-wrought graphic novel above both drive-in era reconstruction or mere superhero deconstruction.

(First published on Blogcritics.)


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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