Garth Ennis’s near-forgotten Goddess
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.