Everyone loves polytheistic wars. Monotheism is pretty boring because all you ever get are good/evil metaphors and one-on-one boxing matches, but with polytheism you can really mix things up. You can base your morality on a spectrum instead of a either/or dynamic. You can have alliances and subterfuge. That’s why the Greek Pantheon played out like a soap opera and the Norse gods got ripped apart by a trickster. There’s so much more variety and tension to a plot when you don’t have omnipotence (RE: “BMX Bandit and Angel Summoner” skit from That Mitchell & Webb Look).
Maybe that’s why I always was so awful at the whole Christianity thing: where’s the drama when the protagonist has all the cards, made the cards, is the cards and the game itself? Where’s the suspense? Whatever. I’m not here to lambaste anyone for writing style- though perhaps Atomika: God Is Red deserves a critical eye. It’s a very interesting project, though not without making choices that border on esoteric.
The premise is at least pretty cool: a Russian Deity war sparked by Atomika, a god forged out of science and manpower. He was created to serve the king of gods in Russia, Arohnir, but he rebels against his maker and destroys a host of ancient and new gods along the way. It’s like God of War for the Playstation, but with Slavic themes and undertones.
The thing about this particular holy war is that it takes place soon after the Bolshevik Revolution in an alternate history. Atomika quickly conquers the earth in the name of Arohnir, who is the divine manifestation of the Soviet State. Atomika is at once obedient and rebellious, and when he can no longer stand his boss he strikes out to build his own kingdom by finding the ancient pre-revolution gods and defeating them, taking their lands for himself so he could one day defeat Arohnir.
It’s interesting to note that each god represents a particular facet of the Russian identity, some representing the ancient history of the Land of Rus while others exemplify the new Soviet era. Arohnir and Atomika are examples of the watershed moment that changed Russian history forever, while older gods like Morosko and Leshi represent the more natural side of Russia, like its unforgiving winters and vast wildlife expanses. It’s interesting how they’ve reinterpreted certain aspects of Soviet history through the lens of divinity; the KGB are angelic heralds doing Atomika’s bidding and they look like human jets or something.
What I’m curious to know, but unable to discover from simply reading this comic, is how much the creators knew about Russia before writing this thing. Is this just a project a couple Westerners came up with based on what they read from research, or are they basing it on society’s visions of the Soviet Union during the Cold War? I’d have to ask them of course.
The dialogue is mostly a voiceover, brimming with an epic kind of power and anger born from becoming a conquest-minded god. Events and conversations happen kind of fast, but then this is volume 1, which I assume means they did a typical comic run, and man are things condensed in a typical comic book format. I kind of hate how compressed things feel in anything that goes with that format initially. Specifically though I never liked how it seemed to jump decades ahead through the story and never really show us how the world was changing- partly because of the art style, which I’ll get to. Still, I like Atomika’s character. Suitably imperialistic and confident, with an otherworldly demeanor in which Atomika finds himself incapable of doubt or fear.
The art is impressive, but it kind of throws me off. It doesn’t really remind me of classic Soviet aesthetics and it kind of bums me out that it’s so abstract. Scenery is almost totally absent, characters look like they’ve been molded from clay, with black linework portraying a kind of angry energy. The environments that do exist are kind of a blend of tech-organic tapestries, MC Escher-like. Personally I prefer my Soviets to be more tangible, but I think this was probably a stroke of brilliance on the part of the artist- where Soviet culture was dominated by a desire to know things absolutely and view the world in terms of concrete facts, Atomika’s Russia seems formless, almost as if its shape is carved from the whims and dreams of its omnipotent ruler. Absolute in opposition to the traditional Soviet ideal. In this respect, it’s a great move. It’s a fantastic art style in its own right, though personally I have trouble adjusting to it.
Despite my reservations I do want to see volume 2. The thing that entices me is the energy and vigor of the protagonist. I like the way he talks. I think I can get over the art style. I think if they amp things up the art style can really sing. But we’ll see I guess.
TL;DR: Atomika is a fascinating and abstract image of Soviet Russia, though it may have a very select audience considering its design choices.
Atomika: God is Red is written by Andrew Dabb and Sal Abbinanti, illustrated by Sal Abbinanti, Christina Strain and Beth Sotelo, and published by Mercury Comics. Pick up issue 1 from your local comic shop or off the Amazon link up there. Issue 2 is here as well.