Industry legend Ron Marz of “Witchblade” and “Green Lantern” fame comes to a brand-new series that seems to embody the hardcore spirit of the ‘90s. “Dread Gods”, created by another industry vet Bart Sears, seems to unabashedly bathe in its exaggerated physique and mythic figures. With Tom Raney on board for art, does this issue succeed in telling an interesting story, or does it serve merely as a nostalgia cash-in?
Written by Ron Marz
Illustrated by Tom Raney
Colored by Nanjan Jamberi
Lettered by Dan Lanphear
Ominous Press launches with the first of three limited series set in a science-fiction/fantasy universe of epic heroes and insidious villains. In DREAD GODS, gods in a fantasy world discover they’re actually monsters in a post-apocalyptic landscape. Acclaimed creators Ron Marz and Tom Raney join with art master Bart Sears to usher in adventure like no other! Includes a backup tale by Bart Sears, and a wealth of added content.
I like to keep it no secret that I’m a big fan of 90’s aesthetic. There’s just something about that exaggerated physique, the convoluted storylines and absurd style that allures me. So “Dread Gods”, on a surface levels, is perfect for me. Marz starts off mysterious by throwing us in a vague post-apocalyptic setting, full of voyeuristic people looking to get their fix of actions. They literally plug themselves in and experience how these depictions of Greek gods like Zeus fare in large scale brawls. It’s an interesting social commentary on consumerist society, especially as Marz has the trashy, broken citizenry of his world fighting for their turn. The focus of these dregs, if you will, appears to be a disabled, hopeful person, elevating the story to more of an empowerment fantasy. Marz shows it to be more like a drug fix here, with our protagonist rushing for his next adrenaline hit at the end of the issue.
Beyond this, however, there’s not much depth to this debut. Expectations are wholly fulfilled, as our heroes are the literal archetypes that most fantasy is based on – we have the whole Greek God pantheon, with Zeus at the forefront, and all of them act like the flawless individuals they represent. There are moments that show interesting character subversions, like Zeus’ dream of drowning, and to some extent, Hades’ grey area approach to negotiations, confronting Zeus with ‘YOU HAVE SLAIN MY CHILD’. But these characters fit their moulds perfectly, to the extent that it’s not overly interesting. It’s clear that there is an overarching narrative, and I applaud Marz for weaving that in, but I shouldn’t find myself cringing at the action-based narrative that takes up 80% of the book.
Marz’ writing is still solid, and clearly takes a back seat to the dynamic art, but there’s a fine line that hovers between overbearing readers with too much information, and not giving them anything to go on at all. Marz’ narrative falls into the latter, for the moment. After reading the issue, I was perplexed as to what had just happened with the intertwined settings. The only solid context I could mine was from the solicit text, which tells me only that it’s set in a post-apocalyptic landscape. It’s just troubling to me that this was not obvious during my reading of the text, and that I had to go and seek outside information that even still doesn’t fit right with my reading of the text. During the book, nothing suggests that the gods realize they are in a post-apocalyptic landscape, save for Zeus saying ‘We must find a way… to be free’. To some extent, it’s good for readers to work for this information, but it can be something of a turn off in a first issue.
Raney is the big guns of this issue undoubtedly. His massive, bulked up figures have a very smooth, cinematic feel to them, combining the best of the 90’s decade and what people love about modern superheroes. Zeus never comes off as an aggressively powerful god – Raney always draws him in relaxed positions. Even when battling the Hydra, Zeus seems to be confident and calm, which is pretty interesting to take in. Similarly, the action sequences are very fluid, and never just feel like modelled statues. Zeus’ initial grappling with the Hydra is a tangle of limbs pulling at each other, but there’s a definite sense of flow from panel to panel, almost to the extent that Raney could be choreographing a fluid dance were it not for the bloodletting in every panel.Continued below
The set design here is nearly as solid as the action. Immediately, we’re thrown into the post-apocalyptic ‘real world’ and it’s a fun mashup of Victorian steampunk and futuristic cyberpunk aesthetic. The city is crowded and dirty, filled with scavenging denizens that sport layers of tattered modern day clothing, topped occasionally with goggles. It’s a surprisingly original take on that type of setting, and is one of the most creative parts of the issue. The God’s setting is interesting, but like most of that scene falls into archetypes that don’t give it much more than its surface value. It’s a typical Grecian town, with temple spires, golden weather and bold architecture, so it’s still pretty, but a little boring. Considering the setting of the bookends, you’d think there would be something unique to this, so it’s something of a letdown that there’s not.
The action scenes overall are beautifully rendered, but are hindered every now and then by some strange decisions. The one that has stuck with me is the transformation scene Zeus undergoes to grow two more arms. In theory, having the scene play out with this grotesque bodily transformation suits well with the post-apocalyptic setting, but the first figure of Zeus transforming has the arms growing out of his back like strange, baby-like limbs. I understand the inclusion of it, but it’s so unnervingly silly-looking that it killed that scene for me. There’s another scene in the book which reuses the panel before it, but simply zooms in for dramatic effect – it’s not an uncommon occurrence in the industry, but the panels are different enough that it seems like an odd place for it to occur.
Nanjan Jamberi excels in this issue when most everyone else sits just above average. His contrast is stunning between the ‘real world’ and the God world. Jamberi uses a more textured, muted palette for the depressing post-apocalyptic setting, which is pure eye candy to take in. In contrast, Jamberi makes the God world shimmer and glow with vibrant primary colors. Zeus and his cohorts wear golden, metallic armour, while the sun beams golden through the temple’s pews. It takes the setting to its logical extreme, which fits so well with the 90’s influence on the comic. This also gives it a very cinematic sheen, making it perfect for a modern audience.
“Dread Gods” #1 remains a fun debut issue, don’t misunderstand me on that. The idea of mutant-esque gods fighting it out is a hard one to mess up. But it doesn’t push far beyond that. While Marz might be saving his best ideas for the long game, it makes the opening issue disorienting and cliché. Hopefully the team can regain its footing, but the debut from Ominous Press is a shaky one at best.
Final Verdict: 5.9 – Fans of 90’s style comics will get a kick out of this, but “Dread Gods” #1 does little to impress beyond that factor.