‘God Hates Astronauts’ #1 Is One Of The Weirdest, Most Fun Comics Of The Year [Review]
Comics are weird. I mean, that’s part of their charm, right? And it makes sense that they would be. You take a medium that allows people to put whatever they want to on the page, have it defined by the offspring of pulp heroes and sci-fi and let it marinate for a few years, and you’re going to get weird stuff like Superman with a lion head and the backstory of any given member of the Summers family. With the debut issue of God Hates Astronauts from Image, though, Ryan Browne has taken weirdness to an entirely new level.
Seriously, this is without question one of the top five weirdest comics that I’ve read in my life, and other than being held together with two staples and having the words in more or less the right order, it’s weird in every way, with something freshly bizarre on every single page. And it’s also one of the most fun comics of the year.
For those of you who may not be familiar with it, this particular issue of God Hates Astronauts is actually the start of the second volume of the series. The first was made up of four issues that Browne self-published both in print and on the web before collecting them in a Kickstarter-funded hardcover and eventually winding up at Image, and until this issue came out, that was probably one of the weirdest superhero comics I’d ever read. It was, after all, a super-powered marital drama about two star-themed heroes whose infidelity caused one of them to suffer an unfortunate case of massive cranial explosion and have his head replaced with the spectral head of a dead talking cow, before ending in what I can only describe as comics’ most complicated Die Hard/Family Matters reference. It’s pretty great.
That said, if you haven’t read it — which you should — don’t let that stop you from jumping on this one. There’s a recap of the first story in there hosted by a cheerful ghost named the 3D Cowboy that’ll get you up to speed if that last paragraph didn’t do it, but to be honest, even that’s not strictly necessary. All you really need to know to pick up God Hates Astronauts #1 is that this is how it opens:
That’s page one, and it pretty much just goes from there. And let’s be real here, if “Admiral Tiger Eating a Cheeseburger” doesn’t get make you curious enough to at least flip through this thing when you’re at the shop or browsing on ComiXology, then nothing I’m about to write is going to do it either.
As a long-time fan of what Browne’s been doing with this book, the one thing that really grabbed me about the relaunch is that it’s actually delivering on the premise of the title, something that I don’t think has really been done that much in the book up to this point. In talking with Browne at conventions and for interviews, I’ve heard him talk about how it’s a reference to how the Power Persons Five were formed to stop rednecks and hillbillies from building homemade rocketships and blasting out into space. I believe it’s mentioned a few times in the original story, but here, it’s front and center, and it’s amazing.
Given that so much of the weirdness is front-loaded into the comic and how much focus is on bizarre back-and-forth banter and characters with names like King Tiger Eating A Cheeseburger, it’s tempting to think that God Hates Astronauts succeeds solely because of how over-the-top goofy it is. To be honest, that’s a huge part of it, and in a lot of ways it reads like a superhero story as imagined by the Farrelly Brothers in their prime, just one increasingly ridiculous gag after another. But while that’s the main thing that’s going on here, it’s not the only thing.
It’s not that there’s a deeper, more cerebral story going on under the weirdness or anything. In my experience as a pretty huge fan of his books, Browne’s work hasn’t exactly had a lot of subtlety to it. But even with the gags firmly planted on the surface of a book that’s pretty up front with the reader about what they’re getting into, there’s a level of craftsmanship at work here that’s almost impossible to ignore.
Browne’s greatest strength, the thing that really shows through in God Hates Astronauts #1, isn’t as a writer, or even as a guy who can create a dozen zany concepts and throw them all into a single comic book. It’s that he’s a cartoonist, someone who has the ability to take those zany concepts and translate to them to the page in a way that’s every bit as weird and engaging as they are in his head. He has the ability to take this stuff and put it on paper in a way that has so much energy that it’s hard to not just get swept up in what’s happening.
That’s what makes all the weird punchlines and concepts work — at least in part. I mean, the big part of it is that they’re all legitimately funny and presented with an amazing kack for phrasing and a comedic timing that’s incredibly difficult to pull off in comics, yes, but what it really comes down to is commitment. There’s never a page of this book where you doubt that Browne (along with colorist Jordan Boyd and letterer Chris Crank) are completely, thoroughly committed to what they’re doing, putting every ounce of effort that they have into telling the best damn story they can about a cosmically powered superhero with the ghost of a cow for a head and his army of gun-toting bears fighting hillbilly spaceships. And that makes it hilarious.
It’s worth noting that this version of God Hates Astronauts is an ongoing series, and while I can’t even begin to imagine what they’re going to do to top this issue — although it’s obviously going to involve an invasion of crab-men from the Crab Nebula — I also have no doubt in my mind that they’re actually going to do it, either. If there was ever a point where I did, this issue would’ve put that to rest by page two.