Tony explores issue #1 of a well-named comic-book.
That’s the word for issue #1 of Godsend, the second prequel-cum-backstory-deepener for the Heroes Reborn show which, we gather, is being cancelled as we speak.
While Heroes Vengeance gave us a kind of prequel for the Carlos Gutierrez incarnation of El Vengador, Heroes Godsend takes us more palpably into the action of the on-screen version, with Farah Nazan front and centre. And likewise while Heroes Vengeance did well most of the way through its story arc and then bungled the handover of the El Vengador persona from Oscar Gutierrez to Carlos, so Godsend takes us directly into Farah’s backstory. As such, it’s unlikely that it can lose, as propositions go – the endless cry of the assembled geeks of the world is for more, more, more, especially when it comes to understanding of their favourite characters, so getting a direct backstory of Farah is – at least potentially – mana from the geek heaven.
So does it deliver?
Beyond a shadow of doubt, yes. Even if, like this reader, you still have yet to crack the opening episode of Heroes Reborn (or indeed Heroes), there’s plenty in this origin story’s first issue to get you hooked and make you want more.
In the first place, the scenario that unfolds in Godsend #1 is rooted in the reality of our world, and specifically in the events of 911 and its aftermath, the surge in violence and hatred as the Western World, and America in particular woke up to be told it had a new enemy on whom it could pin all its sorrow and mourning – the Muslim. Fifteen years on, you’d think enough would have come out to allow a degree of balance in this horrifying conclusion, and indeed to some extent it has – in this issue, Farah gives voice to the idea that now prevails in many sensible hearts: ‘Nineteen assholes hijacked some planes… but because we all read the same book and chanted the same prayers, we were all labeled villains.’
But Godsend #1 is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, the volcanic national hatred that was really grief cynically misdirected by those with warlike motives still exists today – how else explain the rise and rise of Donald Trump, who looks for new groups of ‘the other’ any time the news hasn’t reported him for a day or two, be those others Muslims, Mexicans or (most recently as this is written) women who get abortions. The idea that in the wake of 911, people lashed out at anyone who ‘looked wrong’ or ‘sounded wrong’ is a frightening reality, and while it may be diminishing in the general public, it’s clearly not gone away entirely, and is still a personal and political reality in many places. So setting a Hero’s journey against that background, rather than the series-specific mythologies of world terror and anti-EVO feeling, speaks of bravery from writer Joey Falco. Making Farah a Muslim of course also speaks to something brave in the whole concept of the Heroes philosophy – the world is currently full of superhero stories that either have a religious connotation or feature heroes inspired (or constrained) by their particular religious faith. From Matt Murdock and his intensely Catholic fear of damnation if he kills someone to the unremittingly Messianic tone of Superman movies over the last decade, culminating in the ‘gladiator match of all time – Man Versus God’ in Batman V Superman, the idea that God is somehow on the side of the heroes is one thing, but they’re all generally tied into the mythology of the Judaeo-Christian tradition (X-Men Apocalypse looks as though it might go beyond this narrow viewpoint, but has yet to be released). By making Farah a practicing Muslim, there’s a message coming through that at the very least, Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on the super-people, and that perhaps – just perhaps – superpowers don’t give a figleaf for the beliefs we have when we exercise them. Maybe, like eye colour and height and the shape of our nose, they’re just there, in the genes of particular people (a fairly central premise of the EVO phenomenon being that there’s a genetic inheritance of the EVO nature, if not the exact powers).
All of this is pretty impressive stuff, but to be honest, it would be dry as communion wafers if Falco hadn’t done the first of his jobs in terms of backstory, making Farah an interesting and agreeable character with whom to spend the time of this tale. Fortunately, he’s more than done that, giving her the bedrock for a true ‘hero quest’ – when we meet her, she’s an ordinary girl, growing up in New York, her family’s faith pretty much relegated to the borders of her life, more concerned with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and the hotness of Afghani boys than the history of her people or with some great destiny that might be hers to claim. A ‘holiday’ forced on her by her parents, scrubbing floors and praying with her uncle in Pakistan, doesn’t do a great deal to turn her around, despite his exposition of a good chunk of history, telling her the legends of the Lashkari, mystical historical protectors of the Sindhi tribe of Pakistan. Whoever threatened the tribe, he claims, the Lashkari would protect them against their aggressors. He tells her this during a brutal training session, in which she learns to fight against opponents who are much bigger and stronger and more experienced than she is. Nevertheless, it makes very little impact on her wider world until 911 happens, and suddenly being a Muslim in New York is much harder than it was before, and Farah wants to disappear.
And then does.
Literally, she vanishes, then dashes to her prayer mat to thank her god for giving her the power to go so singularly unnoticed. She promises she will not waste the ability, will not let it be for nothing.
In every solid superhero origin story, there’s a trigger moment, and Farah’s no different in that respect – she stands up for a local Muslim fruit-seller being attacked by a group of white guys in a logic-free, anger-fuelled reprisal. When she slips into invisibility and kicks some ass, only the shopkeeper knows what’s happening. And so, the Godsend is born – the gift of heavenly justice, heavenly protection for the weak, personified.
It’s a great start to the story, this issue, drip-feeding in future conflict with the Renautas corporation too, and giving a few apocalyptic notes to the foreshadowing, in true Heroes style.
As much as Falco deserves the credit for delivering some hefty curiosity-hooks that keep us turning pages and make us want to read the next instalment of Farah’s story, there’s plenty of room to give Roy Allan Martinez and Ester Salguerro their due on art and colourwork duties too. From the first two panels, we know the territory we’re in – a meditation on death and life and finding a purpose, cunningly underscored by Martinez’ effective focus-pull, which also delivers a motif that plays out in more detail and meaning later in the issue. It takes brave artists to try and capture the Twin Towers explosion in comic-book form without it feeling even vaguely exploitative, but the duo of Martinez and Salguerro master that balancing act here. The art itself is purposefully mid-range – never over-explicit or meticulously detail-rich, faces are often notional rather than hugely detailed – but what comes through is both enough detail to give you the scene with a richness, and a tonality of mood that goes beyond the boundaries of the artwork as such. Whether it be Farah’s loneliness in the wake of her parents’ deaths, her frustration at her ‘holiday’ with her uncle, the sepia-shaded history he unfolds for her, or the reality of violence meted out to innocent Muslims in New York, Salguerro’s colourwork shows an intelligence that allows the mood to carry the reader forward through Martinez’ art and Falco’s script, never rushing exactly, allowing the eye to take in all the salient details, but giving a deeper journey through those moods at the same time.
Heroes Vengeance started well too, and only fumbled its potential at the very end. With Heroes Godsend though there feels like a new clarity of purpose to the series, a new focus and a vivacity of storytelling. The artwork is in a slightly different style, with perhaps fewer ‘poster shots’ than Heroes Vengeance. But with a storytelling tightness and a gift for mood imbuing the whole with a weight that resonates with our modern world almost as much as it does as a reflection of the immediate post-911 environment, Heroes Godsend looks to be a series to get on board with and ride all the way to the end.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk