The world of Godshaper is a remarkably fresh, if not necessarily original, one. In a world where technology has been replaced by personal deities, godless “shapers” make up a highly demanded underclass. With shades of His Dark Materials providing a popular and time-tested blueprint, Godshaper dives straight into building up its wonderfully peculiar world.
Part of what makes Godshaper so interesting is the mundanity of its world. Sure, almost everyone has a god but people use them to make ice cream, or send letters, or print nudie pics. The whole world, or at least all of the midwest town we spend this issue in, has a very specific feel to it. There’s a certain southern politeness, but it’s shallow to say the least and there’s a blend of early 60s conservatism and quintessentially American status-worship lurking just below.
Si Spurrier has also done a fine job of presenting both the mainstream feeling of the world and its counter culture. Cantik gets a little more of a brief, straightforward introduction, but its queer, combative, unplugged energy makes for a striking addition to the story and that leads us to our main character.
Ennay is our protagonist, but he’s not really our hero. Usually that set up results in a charming rogue, but I really enjoy the degree to which Godshaper doesn’t go out of its way to make Ennay likable. Just spending time with him, seeing this world through his eyes, is enough to get you attached and the dual draw and repulsion of being an unethical, free-lovin’, snobbish, unappreciated rockstar is a much more interesting than your standard comics protagonist. Besides that’s why we have Bud, who’s all too happy to play BB-8 for us. Especially with Clara presenting a nice contrast of differing appeals, the story becomes easily engrossing.
Of course, it also doesn’t feel like the full scope of Spurrier’s ambitions has been revealed yet. Notably the significance of making this an alternate history rather than simply a secondary world is unclear. One likely, if incomplete, answer is simply that it provides context and grounding in an otherwise unknown world. However, I’m not satisfied by that explanation, especially because that’s probably going to be hit and miss with readers.
Put simply, I love that Spurrier is trying to introduce us to this universe without resorting to infodumps, but there are plenty of places where it crosses from subtle to confusing and, occasionally, even distracting. The fact that we never get a strong explaination of what beads are seems a particularly notably example. And, given the requirements of this mode of world building, one has to admit that the otherwise standard repetition of ideas in narration and dialogue feels like a bit of a waste.
The art is similarly distinctive. There’s a great, indy malleability in the vastmajority of the action and designs, but Jonas Goonface can bring out the real and the striking at the flip of a switch. Actually, no, switches imply a binary state, and what’s so fun about this quality is how these two aesthetics coexist so naturally, often within the same panel. Bold outlines and careful crosshatching allow this book to run the gamut of the representational, hovering in the simple and universal for panel after panel until the specific crashes into the foreground.
The panel compositions are always lively and pointedly expressive. Goonface doesn’t hide what his intentions for a panel are, but many are subtle enough to communicate to you without the reader noticing. And, as if to put icing on that cake, the total pages always look great.
The art of Godshaper is definitely not standard and it doesn’t even quite fit into the traditional look of modern wiggly, cartoonishness. That might leave some prospective readers feeling unimpressed at first glance, but the longer you look at it the more interesting and skillful it becomes.
I also have to mention just how forcefully rad Goonface’s colors are, because they absolutely make this book. With the glowing gods serving as both an excuse and a highlight for the book’s electric pastel palette, there’s always something wonderful to absorb.
Godshaper is an incredibly stylish debut. Strange and delightfully unusual as much of its ethos is, this very much feels like the start of a triple-A series. The world alone is a stunning piece of work and the story set in it, vague though it may need to be, has real legs. If you’re looking for something different that still packs the punch of an Image book or a Big Two headliner, Godshaper is certainly worth a look. But don’t be surprised if you see Bud’s jolly, empty eyes staring at you from the merch wall of your local comic shop.