Hid­den Gems

Garth Ennis’s near-for­got­ten God­dess

Comic Heroes - - Contents - Matt Bielby It’s still pos­si­ble to track down the graphic novel collection, if you look hard enough…

Garth Ennis’s Ver­tigo minis­eries from 1995 is a fast-paced, wildly over­cooked pi­caresque romp, in which vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one (main girl Rosie Nolan a no­table ex­cep­tion) is some kind of hor­ri­ble, self-re­gard­ing psy­chopath.

It all kicks off when reg­u­lar Ir­ish lass Rosie – a Lon­don zookeeper, all girl-next-door lov­abil­ity, in­tri­cate red curls and un­likely Doc­tor Doolit­tle qual­i­ties – finds her­self man­i­fest­ing in­cred­i­ble but un­con­trol­lable telekine­sis. Soon she’s ac­ci­den­tally tear­ing Scot­land from the rest of the UK and push­ing it out into the North Sea, achiev­ing in sec­onds what Alex Sal­mond could only dream of, and at­tract­ing un­wanted at­ten­tion of the worst sort.

Soon our girl’s on the run, pur­sued by mis­an­thropic CIA agent Harry Hooks and, close be­hind, the equally dan­ger­ous Con­sta­ble Dixon, a men­tal­ist Bri­tish po­lice­man with re­venge in mind. Dixon’s ac­com­pa­nied through­out by a pair of mem­o­rably pug-ugly hench­men, the “Butcher Bruvvers” – imag­ine a par­tic­u­larly bru­tal Twee­dle­dum and Twee­dledee, by way of EastEn­ders’ Mitchell clan – who epit­o­mise the level that much of God­dess works at: glee­fully vi­o­lent, vaguely satir­i­cal, scat­ter­gun in terms of tar­get. Amer­i­can ar­ro­gance, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist hypocrisy, po­lice bru­tal­ity and gen­eral hu­man dick­ish­ness all get it in the neck – typ­i­cal Ennis, you might say, but it has a subtly dif­fer­ent flavour.

In­deed, there’s some­thing of a Euroin­flu­enced Pat Mills feel to God­dess – think

Sláine, Finn, Third World War – that’s no­tice­ably dif­fer­ent to the pure Amer­i­cana of much of Ennis’s later work. It feels like a strip that could have run in Cri­sis – the po­lit­i­cally charged 2000 AD spin-off – though it was ac­tu­ally, ap­par­ently, orig­i­nally de­vel­oped for Dis­ney’s abortive Touch­stone adult comic im­print. DC picked it up just as Ennis’s Preacher star was on the rise.

As things get in­creas­ingly out of hand, Rosie gath­ers an oddball bunch of com­pan­ions at her side: God­dess’s whiny ta­ga­long nar­ra­tor, Jeff; a homi­ci­dally over-com­mit­ted biker-cum-ecoter­ror­ist called Mud­hawk; and Mud’s per­ma­nently pissed off ex-girl­friend, Sam. By the time we get to the Arc­tic cir­cle – for most of the story is one big global chase, glo­ry­ing in some of the most spec­tac­u­lar land­scapes in comics – we’ve seen fighter planes crash and bod­ies in space, build­ings tele­ported to the North Pole and ships dropped from the sky, as well as all man­ner of dan­ger­ous beasts, from sharks to po­lar bears. Death is every­where, with heads ex­plod­ing and bul­lets tear­ing through splat­tered flesh nu­mer­ous times per is­sue.

It’s lively, then, but there are prob­lems. Rosie her­self swims in and out of fo­cus; Ennis of­ten seems more en­am­oured with his cast of crazy killers than the mys­ti­cism lurk­ing in the back­ground; and, far too of­ten, our he­roes seem al­most as bad as the men­tal­ists chas­ing them – yes, Mud­hawk, we’re look­ing at you. The 11th hour switch to Wic­can-style New Age pa­gan­ism – in which Rosie is re­vealed to be a “God­dess”, one of eight plan­e­tary deities with Earth’s best in­ter­ests at heart – sits kinda un­easily with all the shat­tered kneecaps and tiger maul­ings that came be­fore.

Red, Dead, Re­demp­tion

Re­spon­si­ble for much of the joy of God­dess is artist Phil Winslade – a bearded, long-haired Brit who looked like a mi­nor mem­ber of his own cast, and who’s since en­joyed runs on

Howard The Duck, The Flash and oth­ers. Here he was do­ing his very first pro­fes­sional work, the eight is­sues of God­dess ap­par­ently

tak­ing him three years to draw – eas­ily be­liev­able, when you con­sider the ob­ses­sive, al­most autis­tic level of de­tail he brings to ev­ery­thing.

Why he isn’t a big­ger star is some­thing of a mys­tery, for Winslade knocks it out of the park with his en­ergy, com­mit­ment to kitchen-sink re­al­ism, and strong (if oc­ca­sion­ally over-egged) fa­cial ex­pres­sions. Yes, the fig­ure work can be per­haps a lit­tle off at times, but the wa­ter­colours-over-inks look suits the story per­fectly, and you can feel the love he’s poured into ev­ery page. It’s fun watch­ing Winslade get bet­ter and bet­ter as the minis­eries pro­gresses too, and great to see a guy who’s ac­tu­ally ob­served what he’s draw­ing for once in comics: you can count the spokes on his bi­cy­cle wheels and the hairs on each char­ac­ter’s head, his cars are all recog­nis­able makes and mod­els, the hum­drum re­al­ism of his build­ings spot-on.

And his coun­try­side is tran­scen­den­tally, awe-in­spir­ingly great.

Then, when Rosie’s mag­i­cal pow­ers re­ally man­i­fest, we get an Art Nou­veau style – kinda Alphonse Mucha, with in­tri­cate il­lu­mi­nated borders and sharp out­lines – which works bril­liantly.

In 1996 Ennis had one of his many Eis­ner Award Best Writer nom­i­na­tions for the dou­ble-whammy of this and Preacher, and

God­dess in many ways feels like a dry-run for that more fa­mous, am­bi­tious com­pan­ion ti­tle. The strong gags, the sharp di­a­logue, and the sud­den swerves from vi­o­lent, some­what self-in­dul­gent farce to po­lit­i­cal anger and beer-fu­elled sen­ti­men­tal­ity are cer­tainly all present and cor­rect here, and the ba­sic struc­tures of both are re­mark­ably sim­i­lar too.

A flawed gem, then. God­dess God­dess might’ve been bet­ter if Ennis had scaled back on the gross-out hu­mour and ran­dom skew­er­ings, and per­haps con­cen­trated more on Rosie and her predica­ment. More subtlety to the eco mes­sage wouldn’t have hurt ei­ther. But it reads well – and looks amaz­ing. Best of all, af­ter a slow-ish start God­dess God­dess re­ally ramps up the ten­sion and in­trigue in the later is­sues, build­ing to a prop­erly ex­cit­ing, and touch­ing, cli­max rather than trail­ing off weakly, as so many comics do.

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