Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lamenting the Demise of Jersey Gods

Finally, the promised review of Jersey Gods. The short review is that writer Glen Brunswick and artist Dan McDaid had a great creation, employing evocation of Jack Kirby's New Gods and romance comics, and mixing that with north Jersey. In fact, in the current pop predeliction for "real" stories of Jersey, this fictionalized tale of Jersey is the only one worth partaking. Faint praise, I'll grant, but Jersey Gods, unlike a real housewives or shore dwelling dim wits show, has very good writing, visuals that enchant rather than repulse, and a story that doesn't rely on false claims of real life.

Unfortunately, the all too soon demise of the book has left many things unresolved. Worse still, the story lines that were resolved in the final issue came across as forced by the truncated number of issues available to tell the story. This lead to a plot decision that, in my opinion, totally undermined the relationship that was the heart of the preceding 11 issues.

Here's the thumbnail. Barock is a god. He's like Orion of the New Gods in some respects but is a much more balanced person. Unlike the New Gods, these gods weren't always immortals. One of the things never explained is how these aliens who look like humans, more or less, became gods. Before they were gods there was a massive civil war between the sky city dwellers (Cumulus) and the Walkers, who live on the planet (of which Barock is a member). Barock's father was killed in this war and his brother lost half his face. Barock's widowed mother is somewhat unhinged by her husband's death, though it was more than 10,000 years ago.

Barock is lured to Earth by an attack at a Cherry Hill, NJ mall by an enemy from the long ago war. Barock and his friend Helius come to the rescue. By the code of their world, only Barock can fight the enemy because he's specifically challenged Barock. Barock gets his ass handed to him but is revived by Zoe, a human who is caught up in the midst of the battle. It appears to be a pep talk of sorts that revives him, but in any case the enemy is defeated and teleports away. This is the start of the core relationship of the book that is the romance between Barock and Zoe.

It's a well developed romance. She's a woman who's had a series of boyfriends leave her, mostly because she's more than a little controlling. She's a grunt at a fashion publication, too. Barock is a guy who's never quite found the right woman among his own people and is drawn to Zoe. He doesn't mind her bossiness, and she's less so with him. Before long they're engaged, and she's traveling with him to meet his mother back on his home world. All through these stories there are nice light touches with her parents, her most recent ex, Barock and Helius interactions, house hunting, and so on. It doesn't ignore the mundanes of real life. Instead, it incorporates them and both celebrates them and amusingly looks at how they would affect someone like Barock.

All the while other characters are developed, too. Though they don't have much face time in the book, Zoe's parents are squabbling, loving and courageous in their own right. Helius is the son of current ruler of the Walkers, something of a gadabout playboy. A cleverly named speedster, Rushmore is hinted at as a key element in Walker society but that's one of the many elements not fully developed due to the end of the series. Zoe's employer and a fashion maven are amusing but have an undercurrent of toughness, with some obligatory obsequiousness thrown in for good measure, it being the fashion industry, after all.

One of the most interesting issues involved a story of Helius's half human son. The gods aren't new to visiting Earth, it seems. They'd come often to harvest energy sources. At one point Helius meets a woman who's a slave during the Civil War. The story indicates she was met somewhere near the Gettysburg battlefield, so I'm guessing she was a slave in Maryland. In any case, Helius has a relationship with her and fathers a son, though he never knows of that until the story set in the present. The son has made himself into a wealthy man and gathered two other people with super powers to aid him in capturing Helius. He doesn't appear to be any more aware of Helius being his father than Helius is but captures him just for the power guantlets that channel some energy power that Helius has. In the end, the son dies at the hands of one of his allies, who doesn't want to give up the power guantlet he was given. It was a nicely touching story told in a few issues.

Those same issues have one of the lighter bits, too. Barock has to head back to Earth in a hurry without Zoe, so his mother takes her back to Earth. His mother is a shape shifter and provides the method of transportation. She has a tendency to take an indirect route to things. One of her stops along the way is a cube shaped planet that resembles Earth, much as Bizzaro World does. Homages like that run throughout, not just in the art style.

Hopefully, one day the book can be revived. If it is, it will need to fix what happened in the final issue. That revealed that the Zoe we'd seen in the previous 11 issues was not actually Zoe but a clone. The clone is now dead, heroic though she'd been, and the real Zoe is afraid of Barock with no knowledge of who he is, other than being a member of the same species that kept her captive for a year. Like Spider-man's recent dubious memory re-set, this turn of events just wiped out all of what we'd thought we'd known previously, so far as the Barock and Zoe relationship was concerned, and left us with only the slightest hope that there might, someday, but a relationship between Barock and the actual Zoe.

While I ended up disappointed with the plotting at the end, the art was great throughout. McDaid's art reminds the reader of Kirby without simply copying Kirby. It's the heavy lines and blocky anatomy that bring Kirby to mind, but he doesn't use all of Kirby's visual cues. He uses his own style and cues as well.

Most of the covers are done by Mike Allred, with a couple by Erik Larsen, one by Paul Pope and one by McDaid, but my favorite was the second issue cover by Darwyn Cooke. I'd have liked to have seen a lot more Darwyn Cooke, even though his style is totally differend from McDaid's style. McDaid's was a close second, though.
If you didn't read along as the singles came out, go get the trades that are now out. Or get singles back issue. I've seen a few listings for them at significantly less than the original cover price.


  1. This was a terrific series and I agree that making Zoe a clone did undermine the entire series. I'm not sure how you fix it if they ever get the series going again because then the relationship becomes creepy and not touching.

  2. I thought this was a good, but not necessarily great series. I read it in trade and the series had a completely different feel. I think flaws and inconstencies are more noticable in the trades.

    But, having Zoe be a clone really does invalidate a whole lot of issues.

  3. A really spirited, intelligent review, Thomm - thanks a lot.

    Jim, should JG ever come back, we have a smart bit of plotting in place to avoid any creepiness. And there would definitely be consequences to someone else living Zoe's life for a year - believe me :)

  4. I'd certainly like to see this book back, of course. It's good to know that there's plotting in place for future stories. I hope I'll get to read it.