***Full spoilers for God Country #1 follow.***
If the first issue is a good indication, God Country by Donny Cates (with art by Geoff Shaw, Jason Wordie, and John J. Hill) might be one of the most extraordinary superhero comics published in a long time.
The premise is fairly simple: a magical sword cures a dementia-afflicted old man of his weakness and restores his mind, turning him into a god who has to battle with demons and worse threats.
But that fantasy premise serves merely as a framework for a very human story and promises a much more complex tale than the first issue reveals.
Emmet Quinlan is an old widower who suffers from a particularly severe case of Alzheimer’s. It’s so bad that even the local police are beginning to have trouble handling him. Emmet’s son, Roy, has moved with his wife and daughter (Janey and Deena) to live with the old man and take care of him, but Emmet’s violent and abusive outbursts become too much for Janey and Deena.
But despite her husband’s pleas, Janey refuses to subject her daughter to Emmet’s abuse, even if the old man isn’t in his right mind. Before she can leave town, however, a tornado (suspiciously green in color) destroys the west Texas town where they live, and a demon emerges from the funnel. Just as it is about to attack Roy and his family, though, Emmet leaps into action with a huge sword that the tornado brought with it and slays the demon.
There’s a lot of good stuff here:
Many people know the heartbreak of having to helplessly watch while the health of a loved one declines. The hurt is especially bad when that loved one is a hero to us (as Emmet clearly is to his son). We’ll have to wait and see whether the series lives up to this first issue, but God Country promises hope in the despair of diseases like Alzheimer’s.
The fact that Cates looks to fantasy and not to science for that hope is interesting. He might have imagined a future in which science finds a cure for Alzheimer’s, but instead, God Country seems to turn to a more spiritual hope. (Cates talks about the spirituality of the book in a recent interview.)
And even though there is plenty of fantasy and action, the fight between the newly-empowered Emmet and the demon is not the centerpiece of the book. In fact, issue #1 spends very little time on the fantasy elements, telling us about the sword’s name, origin, and hinting at a coming threat only in a few pages of exposition at the end. Instead of dwelling on the fantasy and action elements, issue #1 is mostly interested in the very human story of Emmet, Roy, Janey, and Deena. And it’s that focus on the humanity of its characters that really makes the fantasy elements shine.