Genesis, by Nathan Edmondson, Alison Sampson, and Jason Wordie came out a few weeks ago. A rare one-shot comic book, it tells the story of a man who craves the ultimate power to create, control, and alter his reality. Upon receiving this gift he quickly begins to see that without limits, he will quickly begins to lose touch with the very substance of all life.
Like many melodramatic, art school students, as a teenager I spent far too much of my time questioning the meaning of life. Ultimately my tedious explorations came to nothing, if I’d paid attention in English Literature class I might have known that Shakespeare had already laid it out for me (i.e. life being “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”), but I studied for grades, not comprehension. Instead I found the beginnings of what would become answers in comic books (of course), since those were the stories I truly comprehended and didn’t just study for a grade. It was in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing #56 story “My Blue Heaven” where I first began to see that life is about connection and the experience of the “other”.
In that issue, Swamp Thing flees the earth and finds himself on a blue planet where he is able to first grow himself a new body and then, out of loneliness, grows copies of his home and loved ones from the blue fauna. Before long he realizes that these are simply echoes of the people he misses, and that without autonomy the inhabitants of this world he has created are just a more complicated way to talk to him self. Out of fear of the unknown he has built an elaborate cage for himself, with people who will never surprise or challenge him and a world that will never do anything he hasn’t made it do.
Decades later I was enchanted to read a modern take on a similar cautionary tale in the one-shot; Genesis. Unlike Alan Moore’s take on this in Swamp Thing (and to a slightly lesser extent in Watchmen, when Dr. Manhattan flees the earth), Edmondson and Sampson show us a man who is “gifted” with this dubious power, but who similarly finds that he is quickly driven mad by it. Without the luxury of couching this tale in an ongoing story, as Moore did, Edmondson must tell his story quickly and sparsely, using every panel to pull us into the world and make it matter to us. Sampson’s art must do double duty, telling the story and creating a rapport with the reader. Like many one-shot comic books (with limited space and time to weave a world), the authors use classic tropes as shortcuts to building an intimate environment to great effect.
Edmondson wastes no time cushioning the blow as he immediately sweeps us into this world where rules are fluid and one man holds all the power. His journey to understanding the horrible weight of this power is quick, and the reader is immediately aware that this is a gift no one could actually desire. In Genesis Edmondson gently employs all of the tropes of classic cautionary tales, giving us insight into a world woven by the protagonist, subtly at first and then increasingly aggressively until he disrupts everything that makes it “real”.
Sampson’s gorgeously illustrative art does a wonderful job of dancing the eye along the story, allowing elements of movement to bleed from one panel to the next and adding a rhythm to the story. Before we’re half way through, the line work has become more urgent, the panels increasingly inventive, and it is clear that the chaos is growing and things are falling out of control. The fear and questions posed are echoed by the style and emotion of the artwork, conveyed by an Escher-like approach to space and movement. Grounded by Wordie’s elegantly chalky color palette, Genesis becomes firmly linked to our reality despite the obvious elements of fantasy and surrealism.
Edmondson’s story isn’t about a likable person, or even a sane one, but he isn’t evil, only very limited in his view of the world. Through his nightmarish journey we begins to understand that the power he craves isn’t one that will bring any happiness, but instead quickly empties his world of meaning. There is no obvious joy in this journey, no moment to revel in his power carelessly held over others. Instead all the joy and beauty is in the world exists despite the unhealthy grasping for control over others and we’re swept into his journey of discovery. Like a long lost parable wearing a sophisticated skin, Genesis is a powerfully strange little tale, an engaging and enjoyable dip into a sea of self-exploration and discovery.