My initial thought regarding Jesse Moynihan’s Forming was one of disappointment. Prior to reading it but knowing roughly what it was about, I was disappointed that he was moving away from the personal, challenging, and surreal cartooning of Follow Me and The Backwards Folding Mirror in favor of something flashier and less complex. I needn’t have worried, because Forming is a success on so many different levels. First of all, it’s simply a beautiful art object filled with page after page of brightly colored and bizarre images. That’s a tribute to both Moynihan’s design sense as well as Nobrow’s commitment to providing the best possible packaging for its artists, bringing to life the vividness of Moynihan’s original webcomics in book form. Second, the plot is genuinely complex and even byzantine at times, with multiple betrayals, long cons, and elaborate plans all right below the surface. Third, the surface appeal of the book–fights between assorted gods and monsters and pottymouth, schoolyard dialogue regarding same–is incredibly well-executed, thanks to Moynihan’s total commitment to demystifying the motivations and actions of godlike figures. Because it’s well-executed, there’s essentially a laugh on every single page. It’s certainly the most hilarious cosmogony I’ve ever read.
Moynihan provides a helpful family tree at the beginning of the book but otherwise plunges the reader square into the mining operation begun on earth by the alien “god” named Mithras in 10,000 BC. Moynihan has a way of quickly catching the reader up on what they need to know through character interactions, but just when the reader seems to have a clear handle on what’s going on, he throws in another new character who further complicates matters. Mithras winds up bedding an earth woman named Gaia who bears a special mark and spawns a number of strange and threatening children. After she defends them by saying things like “they just need more attention” and “they’re sensitive,” Mithras thinks, “These Earth mothers are mentally deranged when it comes to their kids!” That line slew me.
Moynihan connects alien mythology (the aliens in the book are from the planet Dogon, as in the alien conspiracy theory), Greek mythology (in the form of the Titans), and Judeo-Christian theology (Noah as a hilariously sleazy slacker), in the form of the “angels” who come from space but go native under the leadership of trans angel/assassin Serapis—not to mention the presence of Lucifer at the center of the earth. Every one of these origin stories is “true” in the sense that they overlap and influence each other. In between crazy fight scenes, lurid sex scenes, and hilarious dialogue, Moynihan actually explores a number of philosophical ideas. Foremost is Moynihan’s take on language. The humans in the story initially communicate by a form of pictorial thought-projection before the aliens give them the “gift” of language, and it’s clear that their former means of communication is far more in tune with their environment.
Other themes involve free will vs divine destiny, the will of the individual vs one’s place in the greater whole (which is personified in a debate between Lucifer and the young titan Arges in which Lucifer says, “You’re all high and mighty now, but wait ’till you experience real death. You’ll change your tune then. That shit will rock your ass.”), and the tension between progress and conservation. Many of these topics are debated in almost Socratic fashion, but written entirely in Moynihan’s hilarious modern lingo. Throughout, the further any race tries to interfere on earth, the more resistance they receive in the form of the “Great Beasts” and mysterious forces in earth determined to oppose them.
Midway through the book, the second-rate assassin Atys is introduced to kill the rebellious Serapis, and this musclebound blowhard is by far the funniest character in the book. Intensely jealous of Serapis, there’s an unforgettable scene where he’s psyching himself up in the mirror prior to his mission to earth where he masturbates and covers himself in jism, paradoxically uttering hate-filled epithets regarding Serapis’s status as a transsexual while promising to rape him/her (“RIGHT IN YOUR FUCKING STAR FRUIT, SERAPIS! GET IT MOIST FOR ME!”). Of course, Atys gets his ass kicked and sent packing, tries it again and his dreams of Forced Dry Anal are forced off earth once again. At the climax of this volume, Atys goes through a journey with master assassin Marduk (one of many Babylonian mythological namesakes in this book) and actually has Serapis on the ropes before a mysterious creature in charge of the rebellious beasts announces itself and turns Atys into a rock.
The volume ends with Serapsis’ crazy son Cain finding the power buried in Atys and threatening to become a dangerous new wild card in the various petty conflicts at play. That’s the takeaway from this first volume of the rise and potential fall of Atlantis: that all of the machinations of the “gods” are nothing more than a series of cynical power plays to get at earth’s precious mining resources. When in doubt, follow the money. The book takes an interesting turn when forces present in and on earth are more than willing to take on the gods, though they mostly work behind the scenes in the first volume. Forming may be more accessible and less personal than Follow Me, but it’s a project worthy of his talent and ambition.