When God is All Too Human

I was given the opportunity to read a review copy of Mark Alan Miller’s book, Clive Barker’s Next Testament. I assure you, the title is correct. You see, Mark Alan Miller took a concept he and Clive Barker had tossed around and made it first into graphic novel format, now in novel.

The core idea is very simple. What if the God of the Old Testament came back? Add to that, what if He were a sociopathic bully who found his creations vile? I was hooked on the core idea for the novel before I was even offered to review it for this site since it ran closely with some of my own theological questions. Namely, why is the God from the Old Testament is the bad cop to Jesus’ good cop in the New Testament? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking in a fiction book for religious answers, but I thought it would be interesting to see what Mark Alan Miller and Clive Barker had to say on the subject.

The story starts out with Julian, who is rich, entitled, and a total egotistical asshole, searching the desert for that important missing “something”. What he finds is a pyramid buried in the sand. Inside the pyramid is Wick, or God of the Old Testament. Wick is shaped like a man, but colored wildly all over his body, hence his name The Father of Colors. Julian takes Wick back to his home and teaches him about life in the modern age. Not to mention spends a good deal of time exploring the carnal pleasures available to a human who has the divine at his disposal. At first Wick is a very willing student, but he very quickly decides that he wants to see some of these people for himself. At this point he demands Julian throw a dinner party and invite his friends.

The dinner party guest is a true rogue’s gallery. The only people there who are not selfish, rich, and all around terrible people are Tristan and Elspeth. Tristan is Julian’s mostly-estranged son, and Elspeth is his fiancee. After meeting the attendees and spending some time humiliating them publicly, Wick decides he’s had enough. What started out as a weird social gathering quickly turns into a bloodbath. I have to admit that as bad as it sounds, the dinner party is pretty funny. The insults Wick delivers and they way they are taken by the recipients is pure gold. When the murder begins, nobody is worth saving, except Tristan and Elspeth.

Tristan and Elspeth escape the dinner party and go on the lam. Although they believe in Wick’s divinity, they don’t know what else to do. They want to be as far away as possible, and as quickly as possible. Terrified out of their minds, they begin a cross-country drive hoping to find shelter and safety on the East Coast. During their journey they see many indicators of Wick’s wrath, including but certainly not limited to every plane falling out of the sky, and the entire world communications network being wiped out. No phones. No internet. No radio. No TV. All gone in the blink of an eye.

Meanwhile, Wick searches for his new Rome, where he can rule and be worshiped and adored by his loving creations. Unfortunately, Wick finds neither new Rome nor loving creations. Everywhere he goes, people are obsessed with the restoration of their technology, as well as their own self-interest. The more Wick sees, the more he decides the world just isn’t worth his time. While speaking to a crowd, a young red-haired woman named Shauna distinguishes herself, setting Julian’s world tumbling even further. Julian wants to keep Wick to himself, but faces fierce competition from Shauna. She’s smarter, more adventurous, and not self-centered like Julian. Wick takes to her immediately.

As for the rest of the story, you’ll just have to read it yourself and see what happens. Truth be told, I’m not even done with the book, but I wanted to get some thoughts down while they were still fresh.

In the spirit of giving a totally honest review, I’m going to admit that there are parts of the book that I found deeply disturbing. It’s really awkward to read about God having a frivolous sexual relationship. I wasn’t sure what to think of that, as I’m not used to viewing God in that light.

Whereas I could understand that Wick would want to kill everyone at the dinner party, the seemingly endless massacres that followed didn’t make sense. I couldn’t see a justification for murder on such a scale. For instance, at one point, Wick gets pissed and just unmakes an entire crowd of people. GONE. Because they annoyed him with what I can only describe as their humanity.

The other issue I had was the fact that I believe God is omniscient, so therefore he wouldn’t have to search for new Rome, or wonder what the world was like. Then I remembered he had been trapped in the pyramid by the other two members of the Holy Trinity. Which bothered me as well, because I always thought the Trinity was in harmony.

Last night I was reading Clive Barker’s Next Testament and really digging into the text. I surmised from the introduction pieces at the front of the book that I was missing something crucial. Instead of seeing Next Testament for the satire it was, I was butting heads with the text over my own theological beliefs. Searching for some context, I looked for articles or reviews online. I found Ron McKenzie’s blog Thoughts and Scribbles and read his post NEXT TESTAMENT: The Gospel According to Mark Alan Miller. It tells the story of how Clive Barker and Mark Alan Miller came up with the whole idea, how it stemmed from a human canvas project Barker was working on. How he painted Miller’s body and when he stepped back and saw his work, he realized he had birthed Wick. From there, Barker and Miller came up with the story. Of course, this is in the introduction to the book as well. But additional insights from Miller accompanied this story. I was intrigued and kept reading. Then, it hit me.

I’ve always heard it said that we are created in God’s image. What happens if God is created in our image? If the divine more closely resembles humanity?

It was like a stick of dynamite went off between my ears.

I was bothered by the concept of Wick because he was too human. All of the restraint I expected from God was gone. Watching Wick not only ignore the 10 Commandments, but seemingly do his level best to go against them at every turn blew my mind. What I hate the most about the human race is what I hate about Wick. The wanton destruction of lives. The petty annoyances that turn into full-blown carnage. The hubris and the self-centered attitude. It upset me to see a God that embodies the worst traits of the human race, with seemingly none of the good.

Now, it’s like reading the book with totally new eyes. The revelation that what I hated most about Wick happens to be what I hate most about the human race, the arrogance, the wanton murder sprees, has allowed me to enjoy the book as the satire that it most certainly is.

If you have thick skin religiously, or are open to different interpretations, I highly suggest Clive Barker’s Next Testament. It’s at times humorous, sad, and difficult to read. It holds up a mirror to humanity that is all too uncomfortable sometimes. If you can withstand the tide of emotions, I highly recommend picking up Clive Barker’s Next Testament.

Oz like you’ve never seen it before!

I have a confession to make. One that might make your blood run cold, shatter your childhood, and doubt my sanity.

I hate The Wizard of Oz.

In case I wasn’t clear the first time. I. Hate. The. Wizard. Of. Oz.

There. I said it. It’s always been true for me, even as a little child. Not even the knowledge that Toto was supposed to be a Boston terrier has made me give a damn about this absurd movie. As far as I’m concerned, there are only three good things that have come out of The Wizard of Oz.

  1. Memes. There are a ton, and they’re absolutely hilarious. They range from esoteric to the foul-mouthed. There’s something for everyone. The one to the right is one of my absolute favorites.
  2. Pink Floyd. When I was in high school, I heard a rumor that you could start up Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz together, and the album worked as an alternate soundtrack. My friends and I did it, clean and sober. And it was fantastic! (If you’ve never seen it, check out the link here.)
  3. Bloodstained Oz. Authors Christopher Golden and James A. Moore have created pure, graphic, nightmare-inducing genius.

Bloodstained Oz is an absolutely nasty take on the idea of The Wizard of Oz, but it’s not a retelling by any means. It takes place in Kansas in 1933. As happened in the Dust Bowl, a storm comes in. But this is no ordinary storm by any means. After the tornadoes touch down and wreak their havoc, the main characters are left to try and survive the horrors the storm brings with it.

There’s 9 year old Gayle Franklin and her parents, whose parents are trying to make it as corn farmers even though there is a severe drought. After the storm, Gayle finds little porcelain dolls scattered in the dirt. A dying Scarecrow warns her that they are not what they seem.

Stephan, his wife Elisa, and little baby Jeremiah are traveling Romani who sell elixirs. They encounter horrible winged creatures that shouldn’t be possible. Their only shelter is a wagon and the symbols of faith inside.

After the storm breaks, prisoner Hank finds a beautiful necklace in the irrigation ditch he and the other prisoners are forced to dig. He hides it in his pocket, thinking he can sell it and start his life after his prison sentence ends. All his hopes are shattered when terrifying vampires with emerald eyes attack the prison, searching for something.

Bloodstained Oz clocks in at 114 pages, but don’t let that fool you. Golden and Moore waste no time getting the reader acquainted with both the characters and the horrors they will face. I started this book at work on lunch, and I wish I hadn’t. All I wanted was to snuggle under my comforter at home and read it from beginning to end in one sitting. When I got home, I quickly made and ate dinner, and then climbed into bed to keep reading. I never wanted Bloodstained Oz to end. When I got to the end, I rolled over and snagged my advanced reader copy of Bloodstained Wonderland, which is the as-yet unreleased sequel. I fell asleep with the book hitting my face around page 61. You can bet once I’m done with this review, I’ll be returning to it!

I can’t say enough about how awesome and scary Bloodstained Oz is. It’s a genuine page-turner with solid characters and wonderfully twisted monsters. Golden and Moore borrowed from The Wizard of Oz, but make no mistake. This isn’t a retelling. They took well-loved characters such as The Tin Man and The Scarecrow and warped them into something out of a fever dream. I’m not a fan of porcelain dolls, so I’m going to say those were my favorite, but just barely. Everything in this book is fresh and terrifying.

It pains me not to say more about the plot and the fates of the characters, but the fun of Bloodstained Oz is wondering exactly what is going to happen next. I don’t want to deprive any readers of the scares and chills that come with exploring uncharted territory.

Before I curl up and get to reading Bloodstained Wonderland again, I want to add that you can get the first book for $2.99 on Kindle. At that price, you’re practically stealing from the authors and the publisher. Trust me, Bloodstained Oz and Bloodstained Wonderland are two books you’re not going to want to miss!