By Donny Cates, Geoff Shaw, Jason Wordie, and John J. Hill
Second chances sound like a good thing, but the thing about them is that even though you’ve been given that chance, you still got to deal with all those ugly thoughts and feelings you didn’t tackle head on the first time. Second chances can be blessings, sure, but that doesn’t mean they make it any easier. God Country #3 explores the guilt, the shame, and all the other unpleasantness that comes along with making things right. Donny Cates continues to sculpt an emotionally harrowing tale tethered to the fantastical and Geoff Shaw delivers with the down n’ gritty of both the hard talks and the hard knocks. Family is hard. Interdimensional zombie gods are hard. Not knowing what’s coming around the next bend is hard. But getting things right and setting things right? That’s the hardest.
There’s a scene in this issue that has a bookcase adorned with Love in the Time of Cholera, Ender’s Game, and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and you know what? That’s a pretty solid foundation from which God Country was borne. Through three issues, Donny Cates is displaying some impressive restraint in his pacing. Much like his characters, he’s trying to get this right. At the heart of this genre mashup is the story of the Quinlan family and at the heart of their story, like so many families, is the story of things left unsaid. Thus, Cates is doling out some of those unsaid thoughts from father to son, from husband to wife, from grandfather to granddaughter, and hell, even from omnipotent spiritual sword to its wielder. Cates isn’t stomping on the throttle towards a vast field of ensanguined gladiatorial combat. Because that action wouldn’t mean anything if it weren’t for what he’s been so earnestly seeding with the quieter, though not necessarily peaceful, homestead scenes.
The themes are there and they’re not trying to be subtle. Emmet literally fights an embodiment of decay this issue. It is the ultimate power fantasy: to be able to hack and slash at the disease rotting you away from the inside. Cates has Emmet reclaim the power of family protector and provider, the things he laments most about getting sick and being a burden on those he cares most for. Combined with some truly humorous moments, the continued shaping of Valofax’s personality as an austere fish out of water, and authentic familial dynamics, Cates asserts himself as a nuanced and intelligent writer that isn’t afraid to slow the tempo in order to serve the broader symphony.
The tempered pacing might not work for everyone, and that’s fair, but it’s hard to gripe with the quality of what’s on the page. As patient and thoughtful as this book needs to be, it does need to be getting to some sort of resolution sooner rather than later. Bring the pain, Donny Cates. We’re feeling it now, but the real demons, not the ones that comes knocking down physical doors, need to be thrown onto center stage and not left in the wings for too much longer.
You can just tell that Geoff Shaw wants to break loose with that otherworldly insanity rife with crackling energy effects and sword swinging ferocity, but he’s just so damn good at capturing the weight of emotional turmoil found throughout this issue’s quiet interactions. His scratched line work and spattered inks unite the action and the talk with the same sense of earthen rawness. Things are hard, no matter if it’s a zombie horde or some beers on the porch. Shaw injects a heft to the Quinlan family at either turn and they visibly carry their baggage in their facial expressions throughout. The only exception is young Dee, whose depiction varies quite a bit throughout in terms of age and features. There’s a ton of texturing with his crosshatching and dirty spatter, but the overly clean definition of Valofax is clever contrast that reminds us just how not of this world it is. When he goes big, like the sole double-page splash found herein, it’s all the more dramatic thanks to the attention to detail all the preceding close-up laden shots were given.
Shaw primarily uses long horizontal panels here, typically stacked in fours or fives, and while the widescreen effect provides some needed vigor to quitter scenes, the issue might have benefited from some more layout variety to add complexity to the storytelling. Not that there’s anything particular subtle about the whole affair, of course. The similar layouts lose some impact as one progresses through the issue and the visual interest can only be held in tact by the sharp and gorgeous rendering for only so long. There’s no doubt that Shaw adds a welcomed cinematic feel by doing so and seeing the surroundings around the focal point characters often lends a poignant sense of eerie tranquility to the calm before the storm element that’s building throughout the series as a whole.
Jason Wordie is fearless here. All of those thematic undercurrents and tonal incense can be directly attributed to not just Wordie’s palette, but their applications as well. Matching the gravelly work of Shaw perfectly, Wordie sponges on his multitude of saturated hues to the characters so as to reinforce their literal and figurative weight. The palette runs the gamut from ephemeral cools to effervescent warms and the whole thing blends itself into something haunting. It’s serene, terrifying, exciting, and ominous all at once. Might want to start calling him Jordie “The Chromatic Chameleon” Wordie, I’ll tell ya what.
There are a lot of words in this here issue, but John J. Hill does a fine job balancing it all in order keep the reader’s eye moving naturally. The font stays consistent in an uppercase format that feels appropriate and Hill mixes things up nicely with balloon borders to denote what’s spoken from either us lowly humans or the supernatural impossibilities.
Turn on that Johnny Cash and crack open a can of beer. Be ready for the hurt that comes with getting another shot at things. God Country #3 isn’t afraid to play in the muck of what comes along with being the mess that is a family. It’s going to hurt, but no one said that getting another go at getting to the heart of it all was going to be fun and games. You can take a swing at the big bad that made it that way, but you’re still going to have to sit down and talk it out in order to really get past the pain.