Saturday, 6 October 2012

Why Should I Read... Chronicles of Wormwood

From a very early age, I was sent to Sunday School. I learned about Christianity, God, Jesus and the Bible. I learned about genesis and revelations and everything in between. I can't remember a point where I ever believed any of it, but I enjoyed the stories. The stories were great.

Skip ahead a few years, and instead of the writings of a bunch of dusty, desert dwelling gents making up random stuff to control the masses, I'm reading the scriptures of Garth Ennis. Instead of King James, the publisher is Avatar Press... And the stories? They got upgraded.

Ennis is probably best known for Preacher, his sprawling epic centred around the Reverend Jesse Custer and his battles with God. (See "Why Should I Read... Preacher?") Chronicles of Wormwood is another take on the Christian mythology, a little more modern, with an extra juicy dollop of grown-up humour. For me, that's the first thing that grabbed me about these books. Ultimately, faith and all of it's trappings are a serious business for those that have them. If you aren't a person of faith, then the tales that others believe in can seem ridiculous. Ennis takes this premise and turns it neatly on it's head, by asking a simple question; how ridiculous would it be if this crap were real?

The answers he gives are varied and numerous. There are jokes steeped in the beautiful irony of existential life, and there are knob gags. Ennis has always worked with juxtapositions for emphasis and Chronicles of Wormwood is no exception. The story shifts from the justification of humanity as discussed by the Devil and the AntiChrist, to the relatively workaday arguments about popular television production. Oh, and there are knob gags. There are meanderings from the end of a relationship, to the end of the world. Did I mention the knob gags? There are a frankly spectacular array of knob gags.

Bringing life to phallic fun is artist Jacen Burrows. Burrows draws with a distinct if not unique style, well suited to Ennis. The two have worked together regularly since 2002, when Burrows became a house artist at Avatar Press. This extensive working partnership allows Burrows to reflect the guttural nature of Ennis's writing. When the intensity of the book increases, Burrows matches it wonderfully, creating images which are visceral, both figuratively and literally.

The most alluring thing I found in Chronicles of Wormwood was the humanisation of the AntiChrist. As the central character, the story obviously revolves around him, but almost in a double helix. As with the other juxtapositions of the book, there are two areas of Wormwood's life at constant conflict. There is his desire to step away from the ultimate responsibility laid out for him by his father; Wormwood should be the instigator of the end of the world. He believes that humanity should be left to their own devices, so views Armageddon with apathy at best. This leads to conflict with his father but this is portrayed in a a very human way, as any son would struggle to live up to the expectations of an overbearing parent.

In his more regular life, Wormwood struggles again, as his very human character frailties threaten to tear his life apart. He makes terrible choices, and regularly hurts those he cares about. As the reader, it's possible to be left wondering whether this is simply the failings of a young man, or if his parentage is creeping in. The book then appears to mimic you, as Wormwood wonderfully begins to do the same.
Chronicles of Wormwood is a very fun, but insightful look at the end of the world. It's funny because it's not true... Or is it?

Chris Boyle is glad that you get a free pass on jokes about Star Wars nerds.

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