December 4, 2009

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The Goddess of War Volume 1

Written by Lauren R. Weinstein
Illustrated by Lauren R. Weinstein
PictureBox Inc.

I remember seeing some notes about this one from last year, but I didn't get around to grabbing it from the library until recently. This is partly because of the size, as Goddess of War is bigger than would fit in my work bag.

Checking in at 10 by 15, Weinstein uses the extra space to create pages that flow around standard-size etchings in some places and larger panels (leaving room for clearer details) in others. It's an interesting idea that definitely makes the book standout from the rest on the shelf.

The Goddess of War is an immortal jaded by her long work being ready to assist those who wish for war on earth. As we all know, that's an almost endless job, particularly in the 20th Century, and even the type of war has grown so banal as to bore her. Blowing off her duties, she's soon drunk on sacrificed virgins and thinking about her origins (drawn as both a loving tribute to Wagner and with cynical realism). It all becomes too much for her as she remembers one of her past loves, a Native American who she wronged for not agreeing to be her consort. (Isn't that always the way with gods and goddesses?)

But her superiors aren't very happy, and a little underling with an axe to grind may be after her very life. What to do? Harness a giant monster and fly into space, that's what! I'm not entirely sure what's going to happen next, but I suspect it will be surreal.

I must admit to being a bit surprised this was part of a longer work, but I like the idea of this being an epic story that spans multiple volumes. (Given the echoes of Wagner, I am going to guess a trilogy, but to my knowledge, there's no volume two as of yet.) It also gives Weinstein time to introduce several characters who are sure to have greater importance (Number 2, Xixixi, and possibly some ancient worshipers) but are only seen on the sidelines here.

I also thought the idea of bringing American Manifest Destiny into the story was a brilliant idea. The Goddess tempting a Native American leader then making his life miserable was a brilliant touch. Their scenes together use the oversized space extremely well, and the little details Weinstein draws into the characters makes it a pleasure to look at. She even hits all the right cliches without them feeling played out in terms of the myth of the American West. Weinstein also takes pains to give the characters a modern feel, rather than try to replicate the sensibilities of the period, which I think works best in these situations. Trying to write period dialog can really bog a work down, especially if, as in this case, it's not needed.

While Weinstein puts together a good story, it's the art, that carries this one, since we don't have the complete story yet. The use of varied panel size to keep the reader interested, the large drawings with art going all around them evoke art gallery pieces with comic panels as frames, something I think is just brilliant. In addition, the character designs are creative and the art is just gritty enough (nothing is drawn perfectly in proportion) to take the edge off the epic drama of gods, goddesses, and evil schemes worthy of a 19th Century Opera.

Goddess of War turned out to be very different from what I'd expected. I was figuring on a parody of myth and a satire on humanity's lust for war, and I got both of those. (Anything with Adolph Hitler's head in a room of trophies can't be taken too seriously.) However, there is a broader story in the narrative that only starts to hit you as you come to the close of this book, when you can see that Weinstein is working from a larger perspective and is ready to tell you a story that's also serious and possibly heartbreaking (depending on where she goes with the plot).

I liked Goddess of War a lot and I think most of the people who read my reviews would, too. That goes double for those who are into mythology and are looking for a new way to interpret it, ala American Gods. The approach is very different, but the concept is the same. I look forward to reading Volume 2 when Ms. Weinstein is ready to give it to us.