Romance and Tragedy with Goth: Young Lovers at War

The cover of Goth: Young Lovers at War

Goth: Young Lovers at War

Paul Allor (writer), Seth Adams (artist), Josh Jensen (colorist), Claire Napier (editor)
Source Point Press
November 27th, 2019

What does it mean to be goth?

Is it the music? The fashion? The films? The culture? Can goth be narrowed to a finite place in time? Does it breathe in the still images of black-and-white horror films, or the dour sweep of Siouxsie Sioux’s dark lids? Is it Bela Lugosi and Maila Nurmi? The Crow and The Craft? Wednesday Addams and Lydia Deetz?

The cover of Goth: Young Lovers at War

This is the peculiarly pointed, intriguingly expansive, and absurdly vague question at the heart of Goth: Young Lovers at War. Released by Source Point Press, Goth’s core thematic question is posed by writer Paul Allor, artist Seth Adams, and colorist Josh Jensen to appropriately melodramatic ends. It is the first in an anthology series of episodic one-shot comics tethered together by the idea of goth as a plastic, evolving state of being.

In the pages of Goth: Young Lovers at War, the central question of gothness is one of cultural identity. Goth stretches backwards in time, across mountains and seas to the unforgiving cold of Northern Italy. The year is 237, AD. Goth’s first story follows the story of doomed lovers Gerda and Dolphus, two Visigoths defending their tribe and their nomadic way of life against Roman forces.

Gerda narrates her star-crossed affair with Dolphus. Her lover is a moody young warrior, seeking a glorious death at the end of a Roman blade. While the men do battle, Gerda uses her position as the tribe leader’s daughter to unite their disparate people through an arranged marriage.

Gerda and Dolphus during a romantic interlude.

Battles rage as the Visigoth plot their next move against the Romans. Dolphus rages at the impending political union that keeps the lovers apart, finding solace only in increasingly grisly clashes against Roman soldiers. Meanwhile, Gerda looks to the future as the new matriarch of her people, bound by her obligation to the tribe.

With the Visigoth tribes united following the union of Gerda and her new husband, the men prepare for a unified assault against the Romans. However, Gerda knows that the heartbroken Dolphus will surely die in the battle. She sneaks away to meet him for one last lover’s tryst before stabbing him – literally and lovingly – in the back, leaving him unfit for battle.

The story is short and tidy, yet engaging. While I find the premise fun in its question and scope, I can’t say much for Allor’s dialogue or characterizations, as Adams and Jensen do much of the narrative heavy lifting. Gerda is the most fascinating character of the two lovers, with a commanding narrative voice that pushes the story forward. Her longing for Dolphus rings very true for her, as does her sense of obligation to provide a future for her people. It’s an interesting narrative tension that gives her a sense of depth in a story somewhat lacking it elsewhere due to its short length and tight structure.

That said, while given a compelling setup as the subject of the narrative rather than its primary point of view character, Dolphus isn’t particularly well developed. We don’t see enough of his perspective of their relationship to really share in his grief, either, bombastic though it may be. I want to like him, but I’m afraid I just don’t know him very well. Their relationship is quiet, longing, and intimate, but left a little shallow due to pacing constraints. However, Gerda’s voice shines through to save it through strength of character alone.

Adams captures the influences of contemporary goth culture through the artwork. He offers us moody interior spaces and wild terrain striped by thick prison bars of shadow as moonlight streams between towering trees. Gerda, with her furs and dense curls, bears the iconic Siouxsie Sioux’s tight red mouth and heavy, forlorn eyes. His bodies feel heavy and lived-in, with each character wearing the weight of their world on their shoulders. Jensen’s judicious colorwork adds a powerful emotional undercurrent to the art, and, for me, ran away with the book.

Dolphus fighting Roman soliders.

The world of Goth is cold, sickly, and off-kilter. Scenes are unfeeling, with silvery blues or yellowed greens everywhere that Gerda and Dolphus are separated. Night is an overwhelming sea of blue and deep black, whereas the day feels gray and tired. When the lovers are together, the world is warmed by earthen tones and candlelight, chasing away the chill to make them look alive. By contrast, Gerda’s wedding and her subsequent consummation scene use shades of purple and earthy red respectively to evoke passion, but they are undercut by a yellow patina that makes these pages feel lifeless.

When the lovers are united for their final scene, the forest is cast in cold blue tones. Their forms are separated by deep fields of black. It’s only when Gerda stabs Dolphus that the panel turns red. Her blade and his pain fully embody life itself, in the blood and the rage and the passion between them. As Gerda retreats with her stained knife, Dolphus bleeds out into the dirt, left in the blue to drown in it.

The lovers together for the last time as Gerda stabs Dolphus and leaves him for dead

Here, to be goth is to embrace the inevitability of death and its function in our lives. Death is everywhere – at the edge of every blade and in every furtive glance across a candle-lit tent. It hides between the trees by night and splashes against the muddy earth. To be goth is to revel in the melodrama of ill-fated romance and lovers doomed to their fates.

Even so, Gerda pushes death back at every turn. She does so more effectively than any soldier, striving to build a future for the Visigoths. In this near-apocalyptic scenario, she does what she must to ensure that her people survive. Dolphus, too, should he survive the night. He will be denied his meaningless death on the battlefield and forced to participate in the future that she’s building for them.

Goth, like Gerda, does not subvert death; it merely makes peace with death on its own terms.

For now, at least, as the issue concludes in a preview: The Goths Will Return, teasing the reincarnation of Gerda and Dolphus amid the 1980s goth subculture.

For everything that it gets right, Goth does not fully deliver on its genre-bending promise and the elegance it affects. Being that this is the first in a themed anthology, its aim isn’t immediately clear to the reader without prior knowledge to the title’s intent. The first story is tragic but somewhat dull without context. The understanding that the lovers travel forward through the many incarnations of goth culture and identity gives the story a sense of intrigue. However, as a stand-alone, the intrigue fizzles into a conventional period piece.

Perhaps this issue would have been more successful as a narrative if it had been released with the rest of the series in one cohesive volume. The demands of the comics market may have very well made this impossible. This is a shame. The question posed by Goth: Young Lovers at War is one worth investigating, and the use of thematically linked episodes across time and space is a highly engaging way to do so.

Despite its small stumbles, this issue did my goth heart good to see. I’m curious to see where the story goes from here, and what fate has in store for the lovers.

Magen Cubed

Magen Cubed

Magen Cubed is a novelist, occasional critic, and general internet menace. Frequently seen hollering about monsters on Twitter.