Mankind is a complex creature capable of both great selflessness and great cruelty. Some religions believe humanity's earliest defining trait was viciousness, which led to a world so wicked God had no choice but to destroy it and start anew, using a great flood to cover the earth. Beginning this month, the acclaimed "Scalped" creative team of writer Jason Aaron, artist R.M. Guera and colorist Giulia Brusco reunite for "The Goddamned," a new creator-owned series from Image Comics that explores the world before the Flood.
Just how wicked was mankind? What role did some of the most notable figures of Judeo-Christian lore play? These questions and more are all central to the "biblical noir" series, and CBR News spoke with Aaron about the inspirations for his new epic. Aaron also discusses the not-so-familiar versions of familiar characters readers can expect to encounter including the series' initial protagonist, Cain, also known as the man who invented murder.
CBR News: Let's start off by clarifying exactly what "The Goddamned" is. The term "biblical noir" has been used, and from what I've seen it seems the book will featured plenty of the fantastic elements mentioned in "The Bible." From a genre standpoint is this both a dark fantasy as well as an antediluvian crime tale?
Jason Aaron: Yeah, absolutely it's all that with some elements of Italian westerns, samurai drama, and sword and sandal-style stories. So it's all that stuff blended together in one big pot. It's a very unique mix. I don't think I can't name another comic on the stands right now that's exactly like this. I think it's pretty unique.
It sounds like a cocktail of all the stuff that you frequently write about and enjoy writing about including crime, morally murky characters, fantasy, and religion.
Yeah, absolutely. I think if you take a lot of the stuff I've done over the years from "Scalped" all the way to "Weirdworld," which just wrapped up, this includes a lot of my favorite subjects, themes, and favorite kinds of characters all rolled up into one book.
And yeah, religion and faith have been a long running theme in stuff I've done going all the way back to that eight-page story I wrote, what, now 14 years ago when I won a Marvel talent search contest.
So this is kind of the culmination of that. It's sort of the biggest, most on the nose version of that. It's also something I've really wanted to do almost this entire time. This was an idea I had when I first pitched "Scalped" to Vertigo. So it's something I've been working on off and on for about 10 years now.
If I remember correctly your ideas for creator-owned books usually start out with you thinking about the creator you want to collaborate with. It sounds like this series came about in a different way.
Yeah, I didn't meet [R.M.] Guera until we started putting "Scalped" together. So the original idea for "The Goddamned" was around before that, but yes in terms of the actual creator-owned books I do it always starts with the creator.
I've got a lot of different ideas like "The Goddamned" that maybe have been around for a while that are on the back burner, or that I'm currently working on, or that are just kind of waiting for the right time and the right collaborator.
â€¨Guera and I started talking about what we wanted to do next right after "Scalped" wrapped up. He went off and did "Django Unchained" and a few other little projects here and there, but we were always talking about what we wanted to do. We knew we wanted to do something very different from "Scalped;" something that would seem surprising. This is what we settled on.
So it was never a case of me carrying around this idea and going through my Rolodex and trying to find somebody to draw it. It was very much an evolution of what do I want to do with Guera? Like "Southern Bastards" was an evolution of what do I want to do with [Jason] Latour.
When "The Goddamned" #1 picks up, where are we in the chronology of the Old Testament? How long ago was the exile from Eden?
I think there are some theologians who put a very specific figure on it in terms of the timeline between Eden and the Flood, but this story is set around 1600 years after the expulsion from Eden; when Adam and Eve were sent packing out into the world on their own. That world they walked out into even though they were cut off from paradise was still a fresh, immaculate, lush Earth. It started off with them and just a couple of boys.
So when we jump ahead those 1600 years we're looking at a very different kind of Earth. Man has been fruitful and multiplied, and everything has kind of gone to hell. This beautiful, immaculate Earth has really been laid to waste. And man has very much descended into his worst traits.
We all know how the story of The Flood goes right? God was so disgusted and felt like man had gotten so completely out of control that it was time to pretty much wipe the slate clean and start over. That's the part that's always interested me about that story; the world that had gotten to that point. That's a setting that's rife to do the kinds of stories that I like to do.
How would you describe the state of technological and social development in this world? Are there things like cities or kingdoms in the world of "The Goddamned?"
We'll explore the world as we go forward, but what we see initially is very primitive. I wanted to keep things very simple and primitive. There's even a page in issue #1 where Guera drew a cart with wheels and I asked him to take the wheels out to show that these people don't have wheels.
So we're not going to see, at least initially, big city structures. Well-functioning communities are things that people don't have. Most of the people we meet initially don't have the capability of iron working. So in terms of weapons we're talking about stones, sharpened sticks, and bones. Fire is still a precious commodity.
I really wanted to do a caveman story. That was one of the inspirations for this. I love those old caveman adventure stories so in a lot of ways that's what this is. It's, of course, a much darker version of that.
That's the level of development in the places we'll visit initially. That doesn't necessarily mean the entire globe is like this. Again, we'll expand out as we go forward. Plus, the people we'll see at the end of the first issue seem to have a lot of different capabilities than most of the people we see in the beginning.
I understand the biblical figure Cain is your initial protagonist. When this character has appeared in popular culture before he's often been haunted by his infamous crime and equipped with some fantastic powers. What can you tell us about your initial take on Cain?
He doesn't really have fantastic powers other than he can't die. The story goes that he did this horrible act, a mark was put upon him by God, and he was sent out into the world. That mark was put on him to single him out and make sure that nobody else would kill him. So we interpret that to mean that he can't die. He's kind of our Wolverine or the main character from "Blade of the Immortal." That's his curse that nothing can kill him.
So I've told Guera, "Everyone you draw in this book should be disfigured in some way. Whether they're scarred or diseased or missing limbs, everyone should have a touch of ugliness to them except for Cain." He's the one guy who walks around completely unscarred, which, of course, unnerves people a great deal. They're like, "How do you not have any scars?" Everybody has scars, even babies are scarred or disfigured in some way, but this guy looks immaculate and untouched.
So that's his curse because in a large way he's responsible for what's happened in that he's the guy who invented murder. Since then he's been forced to wander the world and watch what he started to spread throughout all of humanity.
What kind of trouble does Cain get into in this initial arc of "The Goddamned?"
Another well-known figure pops up at the end of our first issue, but this is a very different kind of take on that figure. So we'll get a tease of that in issue #1 and see it explored a little more in issue #2.
In general though, Cain is driven by the desire to die; to end his curse. He's searching desperately for any way to do that, but he hasn't found it yet.
Is Cain the sole protagonist of this series? Or is "The Goddamned" like "Scalped" and "Southern Bastards" in that you're following the choices and developments of a whole host of characters?
We move from arc to arc. Cain is the main character of this first story, and we'll see him again down the road, but the second arc will be something a little different with completely different characters in a different place in this world. So we'll jump around a lot from arc to arc. It's a little more like Ed Brubaker's "Criminal" in that everything takes place in the same world and we'll see how the different stories connect with one another, but we won't always have the same group of characters from story to story.
The fantastic pages I've seen from Guera's art for this initial story are indicative of his style, and it looks like he's having a lot of fun on this project which shares some similarities to "Scalped" but is also very different in a lot of ways.
Yeah, I think it looks incredible. It's him just really having the time and space to really cut loose on this. I've been writing this differently than I wrote "Scalped." This is a bit more like a samurai story so I wanted to do a bit slower pace with bigger visuals. It's more about the world this takes place in and the setting. So there's a lot of big shots of landscapes, and a lot of double page spreads and double page splashes.
We hardly did those at all in "Scalped." I think we went 50-something issues before we had a single double page splash and this series has multiple ones in the first issue.
So this is him really getting to cut loose and show what he can do. In the States Guera is mostly known for "Scalped," but he's done a lot of work in Europe and has drawn every sort of story you can imagine. He's drawn westerns, samurai stories, crime tales and all sorts of historical dramas. So he can really do anything and you'll see a little more of that in this story.
Again, one of the biggest thrills for me is Guera drawing cavemen hitting each other with sticks and rocks, but you'll also get to see all manner of weird monsters and creatures, most of which are pulled straight from his imagination.
Finally, it sounds like in terms of tone there will be some black humor in "The Goddamned," but this is not a straight up religious satire, correct?
No, I wouldn't call it a religious satire. I think everything I do has some humor to it, even the stuff that's really dark. So yes, you'll certainly see that, but in a lot of ways this is a straight take on the Creationist view of the world and what that pre-Flood world would have been like. We're certainly taking some liberties with some of the well-known characters in the story, but in my mind it's still being very true to that idea of the pre-Flood world.
So essentially you're taking your cues from the source material and saying, "Okay, this is what the world the Bible describes would have looked like."
Right, and it's certainly a bit darker view of that world and those characters, but again one of the things that's fascinating about the idea of the Flood and that pre-Flood world is that this is a world that's only 1600 years removed from Eden. So humanity is still so young and so new, and this is a world where the presence of God is real. There aren't a whole lot of people in it who wonder like we do today if there is a god and where did all this stuff come from?
These people know and these are people who are rejecting God pretty much to his face; sometimes literally. So that's a pretty dark world, and kind of the whole point is to show that humanity at this stage has been a completely failed experiment. As to why? That's one of the questions of the book. That's one of the things we'll be exploring. You can't really argue the fact that things have gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Cain feels like he's one of the people responsible for that. He's not letting God off the hook to easy, though.
Again, I think the doors are wide open in terms of what we can do in this series. We see in the first issue right out of the gate that we're not going to be shy and we're not going to be afraid to go to some pretty dark and outrageous places. So going forward the sky is kind of the limit in terms of where we can go and what we can do.â€¨This is not going to be a book for everybody, though. I think we're trying to tell you that with the title, right? [Laughs] That's just the tip of the iceberg too. I think the book, especially the first issue, really backs that up. So it should be pretty obvious from the get-go if it's the kind of book you'll enjoy or you won't.
I'm happy we've got the art team of "Scalped" back together of Guera and Giulia Brusco. She colored almost all of Guera's issues of "Scalped." So that feels good. We also get a variant cover by Jock for issue #1. So it feels even more like we're putting the team back together.
I'm happy to finally be doing this. This is something I've wanted to do for almost as long as I've been in comics, and this feels like the right time to do it. Guera is definitely the right person to create this world with. We've also got Jared Fletcher and Sebastian Girner on board, and they're the same letterer and editor that we have on "Southern Bastards."
I'm writing a lot of books, but I get excited when I'm doing something I've never done before. This definitely feels like that. I've never written a book quite like this, and I don't think anybody is doing a book like this. For better or for worse there is not another book quite like this in comics right now. That's really exciting for me too. So I'm happy people will soon have a chance to look at all of it.
"The Goddamned" #1 is on sale November 11 from Image Comics.