Comics, Critique, Diversity, Essays, Gender, Masculinity, Opinion, Race, Religion

Looking at Men With No Clothes On: The Goddamned

A bit later I’ll talk about racial coding. But first: something pleasant (and NSFW).

The Goddamned, R M Guera, Guilia Brusco, Jason Latour for Image Comics, 2015

The first issue of The Goddamned is chock full of naked penises. Sit tight—I’ma count them for you.

Eleven.

Eleven penises over thirty-one pages is actually not all that many, really, comparing just over one in three to the impression of “chock full.” But it’s a good number (a prime number, with the appearance of two phalluses itself) and enough to draw a feeling of pleasant relief. It’s not the numbers alone. It’s their prettiness and their context. The Goddamned is not a very well-peopled book if you expect the presence of women, but men drawn with tender tactility and grace are a rarity in themselves and count toward a certain sort of wider-landscape diversity. I just want to see nude boys (men).

I’ve gone wrong. It’s not about boys or girls or binaries. The aggressive comics-and-beyond illustrative/narrative push for woman to mean tits and ass and stomach just-so and pussy so neat it’s not even there except conceptually, plus my own positive identification with the designation “woman” has backed me up against a mental wall. I’m combative, and bare-teeth response impulses had me thinking that the appropriate response is “more DICKS from MEN!” Of course, no. The battle of the sexes is a false dichotomy. More bodies of all sorts, and behind that all genders and agendered minds, and none of these bodies dead or useless beyond how they can be drawn bending for a voyeur (Voyeurism is sexual).

I’m going with he because it’s probable. A thirty page issue drawing on the book of Genesis that heavily prioritises what lazy language and patriarchy recognise as “male bodies” is probably going to be creating a thesis on cultural masculinity and maleness, but I want to purposefully remember that you and I in the audience don’t know the facts of gender when we look at the protagonist of The Goddamned #1 just because it “seems so obvious.”

We know he’s got a penis and balls and a gently trapezoid torso shape. His biceps bulge easily and there’s no fat or apparent food production apparatus on his pectoral musculature. His jaw is wide, his ass is angled, his legs are hairy and his eyelashes aren’t registered with linework. Nevertheless paneling favours his body, and pacing invites viewership; linework is luxurious and varies in its width to suggest a catching of the breath or other physical response to attractive nudity. We’re almost certainly looking at a man, a white, able-bodied man (come back and read this sentence again when you’re done with issue one), and he’s beaten up, beaten down, and presented for appraisal without sexual victimisation. I appreciate the gentleness with which the body is drawn because bodies should be suggested with integrity. Does my appreciation for the nakedness, openness with which the body is drawn relate to its physical difference from the template for Objectified Woman’s Body or to the probability of its maleness? There’s probably a fair deal of overlap. I ask for different bodies, and the vulnerability of man.

The Goddamned, R M Guera, Guilia Brusco, Jason Latour for Image Comics, 2015

Giuilia Brusco’s standing-ovation colouring utilises texture and tone to create softness, the aforementioned tactility, an inviting, shammy leather non-shininess. It’s one heck of an antidote to [fill in your own choice of ubiquitous hi-gloss cheesecake artist here]. Cheekbones are sketched out with multiple ticking lines instead of sharply chipped as one plane from a heroic granite face. Hair is tousled, lips are chapped. Ice blue eyes make his skin look all the warmer. Our antihero is naked, naked, naked, until he puts on his He-Man outfit (boots first, dick still right out there), which takes the space of a full page to achieve, and we’re asked to keep looking as he covers waist and genitals—but not all of his delicately curling pubic bush—with a loincloth and cummerbund. A fur poncho over no trousers over knee-high boots? I can deal with that. A thigh’s a nice thing to be left with, when a thigh is drawn well-made.

R. M. Guera gives our man in the desert that Aryan aristocratic Malfoy facial structure, and some of the pettiness that comes parcelled with that is removed by his lack of a comb, razor, or clean water. He’s two kinds of idealised at once, and let me know if either negatively impacts the other for you. His eyes match the skies, and once the ground—whichever’s positioned behind him. “I contain multitudes,” it says, and also possibly, “I am as important as the land or sky.” The blue tones fading to dust-yellow across a mouldy, sub-luminous green suggest the sickness of the land, of the human condition, and of his own Old Testament sinful psychology. He looks like a man that would get a lot of dates, but also the sort of man you might warn your friends not to waste time on. They’d ignore you, because check out that ass.

His penis moves with the rest of him, which is anatomically correct. It’s not emphasised but it’s present and not de-emphasised; a more vivacious, engaging penile presence than Doctor Manhattan’s, Ike Garuda’s, or…what’s another cock in a comic?

The Goddamned, R M Guera, Guilia Brusco, Jason Latour for Image Comics, 2015

Reading The Goddamned #1 felt good because removing breasts and vaginas and unimpregnatable people from the range of primary motifs—replacing them with differently coded bodies and body parts—functioned as a relaxant. If I wasn’t white, I might well have processed the experience differently; a blond white man in the earliest times of creation? Writer Jason Latour calls this book a “fuck you to science,” a telling of the Bible that draws on the brimstone grit of his childhood Baptist education; if science isn’t real, then evolution isn’t real, so white people must always have existed if they do now is a logicalish supposition, but this is fiction and these are choices.

Then again, associating white masculinity with the genesis of violence does make a certain amount of sense.

Correction to the following paragraph, as per The Goddamned‘s Facebook: what you refer as “Esad Ribic variant cover to issue three ” is actually the main cover of that issue by titular artist R. M. Guéra

The Esad Ribic variant cover to issue three (click link to view) with its throwback semiotics of savagery hangs low in my mind. It doesn’t seem to relate to the presentation of the black characters who show up in this first issue (again, click for example). Which makes it all the more perplexing—and all the worse as a marketing choice. If you’re actively grappling with white centrism in extremely powerful narrative traditions, how can you miss the malevolence in creating an image of stooping, wailing, facially pierced ape-men? Platinum blonde warrior hero vs dark, animalistic corner freaks. That’s racist, that’s a racist motif. It’s not a great look for a comic which has so much emphallicly going for it otherwise. A cover that projects racism will quite reasonably turn paying audiences away before they ever see the (eleven) cocks you’re trying to show them.