Avatar Press is known in the comics world for pushing the envelope. They are increasingly able to attract some of comics top talent because they encourage creators to tell powerful uncompromised stories.
In September Avatar launched “God is Dead” from Jonathan Hickman, Mike Costa, and Di Amorim. Pitched as a modern day “Clash of the Titans” the comic looks at what happens to the world when all the mythological Gods of old arrive and divvy up the world as they see fit.
The planet falls into disarray almost immediately. Worldwide chaos breaks out and science begins to die. The narrative follows humanity’s last bastion of scientists and the Gods at the center of the conflict. The scientists try desperately to find a solution to this God problem but wildly different ideologies cause characters to clash. It’s comic book storytelling at its finest. The story embraces the full potential of the medium. Insane earth shattering battles, larger than life locales, and powerful thought provoking themes are regular fare in “God is Dead.”
With the upcoming issue 7 of the series the book is going bi-weekly and co-writer Mike Costa is taking over the reigns of the series. So he took some time to chat with Bloody-Disgusting about the nature of Gods, creation myths, and the freedom of working for Avatar Press.
Bloody-Disgusting: How did you and Jonathan come up for the concept for the book? And did the title have anything to do with it?
Mike Costa: Jonathan (Hickman) came up with it on his own. I came onto the project later. The secret history of how it came together was that Jonathan brought the concept to William Christensen the publisher at Avatar some time ago. They agreed to do it, and Jonathan designed a six issue mini series. In the time that the art was being finished, he went Marvel exclusive. After the art was all done, Jonathan was going to script over it like the old Marvel method. He had written full scripts with dialogue, but it was all temp stuff.
So he was going to rescript everything, but now he couldn’t. That’s when he asked me to come on and finish the project for him. He sent me all the original scripts and we talked about his intentions with the idea.
I think I agree with you, it probably came out of the title, but I don’t know that for sure.
BD: I wanted to talk a little about the title itself, because it’s the antithesis of the book.
MC: You’re absolutely right. It’s more like Gods are alive. I will tell you that the title makes a lot more sense in issue seven. That’s all I can say, but you’ll soon understand.
BD: There is a lot of talk about creation myths in the book, and how they are ones of destruction. With everything that is happening in the book thus far it seems you’re aiming to create a new creation myth.
MC: I’m actually very impressed. You’re very shrewd. Yes, at this point I’ve written very far ahead. When I came on to take over scripting duties even though it wasn’t guaranteed that it wasn’t going to go past issue six, I planned as if it were. I seeded a lot of those ideas in early issues and one of them is absolutely that. What we’re essentially seeing is a kind of a creation myth. Starting with issue seven you can look back and see the creation story.
BD: What’s it like playing God in a world of Gods?
MC: It’s really fun. What appeals to me about the God characters is that they all represent something. They’re all are the God of something. This book portrays all of them in very unflattering light. They’re all greedy, horrible, bloodthirsty people. So interpreting what they are supposed to be about through this lens of narcissism and greediness is one of the fun things about the book.
BD: How much research goes into writing the book? How do you go about putting these Gods into a world of science where they’re not really supposed to exist?
MC: I did a lot of research. When I was a kid I was a huge fan of mythology. I really wanted to get as familiar as I could with the cultures that created these Gods. Particularly ones that are less known in pop culture. Like the Aztec culture the Nahua. Their relationship with their gods is very different than the western model. One of the foundations of their pantheon is one of extreme gratefulness. Everything comes from the Gods and therefore we owe everything to them. The idea of human sacrifice wasn’t this crazy concept because you already owe your life to the Gods. So in sacrifice you’re just giving it back to them.
Obviously “God is Dead” is a book about Gods going to war with one another and its supposed to be really fun but I did really try to find the cultural touchstones for where these ideas came from. I tried to remain true to that while still telling a very entertaining action story.
MC: That was absolutely part of Hickman’s original architecture. It’s no accident that the Norse broke the armistice that they agreed on. They were reavers or conquistadors before such a thing existed. They came to other people’s land, destroyed them, and took what they wanted. It’s Odin who is greedy when he breaks the truce and the rest of the Gods follow suit.
Ultimately you can look at any God as being greedy because they want worship. There is no God in any pantheon that I can think of that’s cool with people not caring. They all want their homage, they all want worship, and they all want credit. That’s a very greedy thing. I think all these totemic figures have that in them but the Norse more so. So that’s why they overreach first.
BD: What is a God to the universe of the comic you’re writing?
MC: These Gods are obviously incredibly powerful supernatural entities within the reality of the comic. They clearly influenced and existed with mankind at some point, and for reasons we’ll learn later in the story they chose to leave Earth. They turned their backs on humanity and left the mortal plane. They became legend. People didn’t think they were ever real. Then they all come back for unclear reasons.
We’re not going to explain away these beings as aliens. In comics ideas can be a little more abstract. So they’re absolutely supernatural beings that could exist on a different plane but make no mistake everything that our mythology said about them, that is what they are.
BD: What’s it like to work at Avatar Press?
MC: Avatar Press is the only place that this comic could exist. William Christensen who is the publisher of Avatar is a really enthusiastic fan of comics. Publishers the size of Avatar tend to want to create properties that they can sell to movie studios. They don’t really believe in the comic book model enough to make money with just the medium. They can’t find the best way to market what they have. So a lot of small publishers come and go.
William is a smart enough business guy and a big enough lover of comics that he doesn’t need every book that he publishes or really any book that he publishes to be a really safe, easily digestible, high concept pitch for a movie. Instead he wants to make comics. Comics that he likes, that he responds to, and that do things that no movie or television show could ever do.
That’s why he’s able to court writers like Jonathan Hickman, Garth Ennis, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, and Max Brooks. These guys who could go to any publisher but they work for him because he believes in this stuff. He loves comics; he’s got it figured out.
BD: Avatar seems incredibly lenient. Was there ever a point where you turned in a script and they told you that you’ve gone too far?
MC: Never. Certainly they’ll be a conversation. Where is the story going, what’s best for the story? I’ve never got a note like that. William trusts his creators and he tends to hire people who are good at what they do. Not people who are going to do something for empty shock value because that is just as bad as a totally banal harmless story with no compelling elements. Everything you do in a story has to serve some sort of purpose for the story or else you’re just making pornography.
I’ve definitely written the most extreme scenes of any comic I’ve ever written in this book. I’ve been afforded that freedom and I’m allowed to tell a story that goes there. Whether it goes there for thematic purposes or for dark comedy those are the conversations we have. The conversation is never about not showing something, it’s about what we’re trying to do and if it works.
BD: The nativity story is widely discussed in issue four. How is that going to come into play in the future?
MC: In the very next issue the cabal of scientists is approaching this God problem. Airic is approaching it from a very different perspective. Doctor Rhodes and Doctor Mims are looking at it from a purely physical phenomenon. They want to understand the actual material experience of these things and how they exist in space and time. Airic is the one voice of metaphysics. He wants to look at them as living stories.
I took great inspiration from guys like Terrance Mckenna, Grant Morrison, and Alan Moore who have larger metaphysical approaches to their stories. The idea that stories can be just as real and powerful as actual events that happened to you. Everyone has had a book they read or a movie they saw influence their life as much any single event that happened to them.
Stories are real. They influence us. Gods are real and they influence us. They’re not like Superman who gets his powers through Earth’s yellow sun. They are fed through power, belief, and storytelling. That’s Airic’s perspective, and that will be addressed very dramatically in the next issue.
BD: The scientific perspective of these Gods is something entirely new that this book brings.
MC: I’m not going to speak like I’m some scientist. I did my best to talk to people like that. I tried to approach this destructive God problem from their perspective. Getting down to basic principles if they exist in the world and they can punch something and it explodes. They are physical matter. Therefore there must be a way to interact with these beings on a physical level. This physical approach is as crucial to this scientific reasoning as Airic’s metaphysical approach.
I wanted to show a divide among the scientists. They are thinking about this from as many different perspectives as possible. That’s one of the great things about science it’s all problem solving. No interpretation is out and out wrong from the beginning. It’s only through experimentation that we discover what’s wrong.
MC: You can look at these first six issues as a creation myth. There is a very dramatic change starting in issue seven. There are a lot of characters that don’t survive and the ones that do are very radically changed. We introduce new characters in issue seven who wrestle with these new changes. I don’t want to give too much away, because this is a huge turning point.
BD: Is this where the book goes bi-weekly?
MC: Yes. Issue six and seven ship in February.
BD: Do you have an endgame in mind or is it bi-weekly as long as you can do it?
MC: As long as I can survive the schedule but that’s really up to William. The bi-weekly idea was his because I’m not suicidal. I would never suggest something like that. It’s a lot of work but we stay ahead of it.
They’ll be a lot of backup stories. They will augment and change the main narrative. There is a tremendous amount of story coming your way in February.
BD: We haven’t seen the population at large. How has the world changed since the events of the first issue?
MC: The events we’ve seen so far take place over the course of a year. In that time we see the news fall apart into enlightened abstract prophecies. The world essentially turns away from science. So we’re going to deal with the consequences of that. In the upcoming issues the world regresses into a medieval theocracy. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
“God is Dead” # 5 hits shelves on January 29th. Issue six on February 12th wraps up the first arc and Costa takes over with February 26th’s issue 7.
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