God, the Cold War was so sexy.
I can say that because I only have a historical perspective on it. I was two when the Berlin Wall fell; four when the Soviet Union collapsed. I was part of the first generation that never knew what it was like to know, not merely believe but know, that billions of people could die at any moment, and all it would take would be for one side to just stop caring.
Depending on who you ask, the threat is even greater today, but at least it doesn’t seem obvious.
Maybe you’re appalled at that opening sentence, but I’ve heard my share of people pining for the good ol’ Cold War days, when we actually knew who our enemies were and where the front line was. I’m not alone in my craziness.
I just love the Cold War as a fictional setting. Two superpowers and their allies, totally scared of each other, capable of anything, supremely confident the other side wants nothing more than to destroy the other and rule the world. You can have all types of conflicts here; proxy wars, secret agents, sabotage, nuclear exchanges and open combat on a few different continents as possible stories for movies, books, what have you. And all that comes in the same package. You don’t have to invent any reasons for those settings, and that’s before you start thinking about messing with it with aliens and superhumans.
I know Warren Ellis thinks the way I do, otherwise his series Supergod wouldn’t have come out so well.
Supergod begins in the 1950s with a discovery by the British. Their top secret space rocket enters space with three astronauts, but comes back with a single, space-fungus hive-mind infested super-organism whose thoughts and beliefs are a mystery to them. When this discovery proves that man can be made superior through engineering, governments suddenly break off their romance with nuclear weapons and begin developing nuclear humans.
It would be easy to pigeonhole Supergod as just another superhero tale, but this comic couldn’t be further from one. Yes, there are superpowered men here, but these “men” are not sovereign beings fighting to protect the innocent; these are George F. Kennan’s wet dream, man-sized WMDs, as discreet as a spy and as powerful as an ICBM, with the precision of a smart bomb. Or at least, the men who made them hoped they would turn out that way.
What happens instead is a direct result of the interactions between the different supermen and the philosophies in which they were created. When the gamepieces begin thinking for themselves, the world ends in something other than a mushroom cloud.
And don’t fool yourself–it’s obvious right from the beginning that this is not going to be a happy ending for man. Ellis’ main character, an unnamed scientist, says so on the first page. The entire series is a eulogy in panels.
There is a lot of action in this storyline–this is a nuclear exchange between people. The story is epic in scope, so the only real character development happens to the narrator as we watch nation states duke it out. The strategic stage is set, the walking weapons are introduced, and they are then released to fight.
It’s basically like any Cold War novel you’ve ever read, but Tom Clancy could never imagine a war like this.
There aren’t many secrets to reveal here; this is a montage of fight scenes, all exploring different interpretations of what it means to be beyond human. There are cyborgs, brains in robots, men who blend circuits and cells until they are symbiotic–so many different flavors of sci-fi trans-humanism here, every hardcore nerd is shirking his duty when he remains ignorant of this series. If you have ever read even a sentence about the concept of the Singularity, there is no reason to skip this.
The two major themes, as shown in the name and major characters, are worship and post-humanism. According to the narrator, these men were created not just to be superweapons, but to be our saviors and our beacons of hope. They all treat their supergods as weapons, but the burdens and importance they bestow on them, and the investments they make in them speak to a certain reverence; men and militaries have never been shy about worshiping technology, and when technology and humanity combine, the effect is narcotic to we mere humans. I guarantee that whenever a brain-machine interface allows a man to control an F-22 like his own body, the war nerds will behave the same way.
Ellis touches on post-humanism–the use of technology to make men beyond superhuman–and addresses a core debate in posthuman thought through every character: When you have a creature that is superior to humans in every way, does it think like a human? Would it sympathize with our goals? If it doesn’t, is it wise to create a post-human? Would it be better to let them decide our fate for us?
Ellis’s writing, as usual, is fantastic, and he uses a neat bit of narration I’ve seen from Charles Stross and Children of Men in which minor story points that serve to create atmosphere are are casually dropped in, hinting at events that you’ll never get to see in greater detail but make you want to imagine what they might have been like. I kept wishing we could see what the Rastafarians came up with, but sadly I will have to settle for fanfiction, and all the horribly lewd implications of that prospect.
For me, the showdown between India’s supergod and America’s supergod was brilliant in how many layers of irony were stacked on top of each other in its resolution, but my favorite fight scenes were between India, China and Russia. Each supergod is emblematic of his country’s standing and capabilities, as well as their philosophies and how they might treat the issue of post-humanism. India’s supergod is not merely a WMD, but a hope for a better future; China combines ancient philosophy and spirituality with futuristic cybernetics; Russia and America view their supergods as little more than strategic weapons; Iran wants to empower their theocratic thinking, while the Rastas are just trying to keep a dream alive.
Garrie Gastonny’s art is absolutely impeccable. His work is emblematic of modern action comics, with highly detailed characters, bright, vivid colors, dynamic action scenes and solid lines. It is easy to follow the story through the pictures and you are going to enjoy every single scene. The character designs are awesome, and the fight scenes are stars of their own. The final few fight scenes are particularly epic and imaginative; never thought you could do that with the moon, did you?
The cynicism is pervasive in this short series, and it can make you slightly dour, but honestly I think it’s the only way it could have ended. I wanted it to end another way, but this is, after all, the end of the world; you’re not supposed to get what you want. I am fine with the ending, however.
There are only five issues in the series, and while I wish there were more, I have to repeat myself–it’s the end of the world, deal with it. Still, I can dream, can’t I?
TL;DR: Supergod is light on story, but you won’t care. This is too fun an apocalypse to ignore, so if you know what’s good for you, you’ll spread the good word to the ignorant masses about the coming of Supergod.
Supergod is a five-part comic book series written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Garrie Gastonny, published by Avatar Press. You can purchase Supergod at your local comics store, hopefully. If you can’t, there’s always Amazon or the Avatar store Comic Cavalcade.