After years of toiling in near-obscurity turning out quality series like “The Paybacks” writer Donny Cates and artist Geoff Shaw finally hit it big earlier this year with their miniseries “God Country.” Now having read it, it’s easy to see why this miniseries caught on the way it did. It’s a textbook example of how to mix high fantasy action with grounded human emotions in an entertaining and affecting way.
We’re introduced to the Quinlan family as adult son Roy is being told by the sheriff that his father Emmett had wandered off along the highway and broke the jaw of one of his deputies as they tried to bring him back. Emmett’s problem is that he has a particularly bad case of Alzheimer’s, to the point where he can’t recognize his son, daughter-in-law Janey, and granddaughter Deena. Roy is left to look after his father after Janey reaches her limit and takes Deena with her as they leave town. Her plan is derailed when a massive storm touches down on top of the Quinlan household leaving more than destruction in its wake: a demon and a giant magical sword.
The sword finds its way into Emmett’s hands and he slays the demon in an instant. More importantly, the sword has cured his Alzheimer’s and restored his memory. It also lets Emmet know that it has a name, Valofax. While getting his hands on a magic sword that allows him to become a gigantic Alzheimer’s-free badass would seem to be the best thing that has happened to Emmett in quite some time, there’s a catch. Valofax was forged by a vengeful god known as Attum, and he wants his sword back.
Thanks to Shaw, the action in this miniseries is rock-solid. He’s got a gritty, impressionistic style that reminds me of Sean Murphy -- very good company to be in. What this means for the series is that the scenes where people are just talking to each other look just as good as the ones where Emmett is off in other realms fighting other gods. (Yeah, Attum has a family of his own.) Shaw is also great with communicating the epic scale of the threats Emmett faces along with imbuing each scene with the proper mood. There’s a lot of emotion to be sold at the core of “God Country” and the artist generally nails it.
This emotion comes from the clever premise and execution of it from Cates. Even though we only get to see the Alzheimer's-stricken Emmett briefly, those moments are still enough to leave an impression as to how far gone he is. So when we finally see him regain his senses it comes as a genuine relief. Moreover, even though it means angering a god we understand why Emmett is willing to take on Attum and his family in order to hold onto Valofax. This leads to that big fantasy action that all fans want to see, but with genuine humanity underpinning it all. It makes each conflict that much more nerve-wracking as well because death isn’t the worst thing that could happen to Emmett. He could lose Valofax as well and the memory of who he used to be as well.
As for the high fantasy parts of the series, Cates doesn’t get bogged down in worldbuilding with them. We get enough development to know what drives Attum, and his sons Aristus and Balegrim -- gods of war and death, respectively. Cates even manages to subvert expectations rather well with Emmett’s first encounter with Aristus which gives the God of War further room to develop as a character. Balegrim isn’t as lucky, though he does drive the plot along quite well while the nature of his powers allows for some memorable visuals. Attum himself is memorable in his arrogance and displays of power and makes for a decent enough “final boss.” While I can’t say that these characters are truly memorable creations, Cates does give them enough development to the point that I was left wanting to know more about them after the end.
There are points where the message of “God Country” can feel a bit too on-the-nose and where it gets overly sentimental in ways that might annoy some readers. Yet the story is delivered in a way that’s both clever and very well-executed to the point where the miniseries earns its sentimental moments. “God Country” is heartfelt without being manipulative, full of impressive action-fantasy spectacle, and some nice moments of humor to make it all go down great in the end. Cates and Shaw deserve every bit of the success they’ve earned with this miniseries, and I hope their work at Marvel on the next arc of “Thanos” broadens their audience further…
...So that they can get back to delivering more great creator-owned titles like this.