We need rituals in our lives; for example, on the 4th of July, my rituals include the reading of the Declaration of Independence on Morning Edition, a viewing of 1776, and a reflection on what it means to be a part of this marvelous, contentious mess we call America. Each ideal we fall short of, each step backwards has (at least so far, and I hope will continue to) pushed us to try be better.
Which was pretty parallel to what I was thinking as I read the print collection of Darwin Carmichael Is Going To Hell (a review copy of which was kindly gifted to me by creators Jenn Jordan and Sophie Goldstein).
Darwin’s world is a Brooklyn where the melting pot didn’t stop with people in the human sense — gods, angels, demons, fantastic beings of all sorts have joined in the great migrations from their homelands because when the old ways stop working for you, what else are you going to do? No more labyrinth to inhabit? Patrick the minotaur is the super of Darwin’s building. Maybe the worshippers forget to provide you milk on holy days? Ganesh works at the diner down the corner. Spent the last 2000 years buddying it up with the great and notable? Skittle the manticore knows who needs a friend in life, and he latched onto Darwin early. Angels become stoners (mostly to kill time), muses latch onto conceptual artists (but I’m betting that Koons and Hirst never met one), and atheists have it tough in a world where actual gods live down the street, but they still try.
And it’s that thought that you have to still try that sits at the heart of the story. Darwin¹ was momentarily careless once, years ago, and he accidentally harmed the just-reincarnated Dalai Lama. Look, these things just happen, like the thunderstorm last night knocked a piece of my neighbor’s roof off and it hit my wife’s car. We live in a world where you deal with that by exchanging insurance information; Darwin lives a world where that completely non-intentional act has earned him a karmic debt so deep, a lifetime of good deeds won’t make up for it. Whether it’s just or not, he will suffer eternally.
So it’s understandable that he’s a bit mopey, especially considering his best friend is blessed by fortune (she inherited an immense amount of karma from her parents and so life just works out for her), his sidekick is perpetually innocent, his roommate is a complete douchebag, and the karma police arrest him regularly. But he’s trying.
The angels that won’t move out of his living room want him to pick up a soul, only the guy wants to live past his suicide attempt and Darwin takes him to the hospital; the guy lives, but the angels inform him that he disobyed the word of God, and God hates that. The Dalai Lama comes to New York and Darwin goes to apologize, but DL’s security goons (enormous monks in saffron robes with radio watches and earpieces) rough him up. Unicorns stab the hell out his butt as they race get to a virgin². He meets a young woman (made of snow) that falls for him and promptly melts from his warmth. Nothing quite works out for him no matter how hard he tries.
So when the forces of destruction (all of them, from all the religions) try to bring about the Apocalypse with Darwin as its harbinger (just after finding a girlfriend he really clicks with, naturally), you’d think he’d be willing to say screw it and bring about the end of all things. But he’s trying.
Darwin Carmichael Is Going To Hell is a complete story; there’s a beginning, and callbacks to the bits before the beginning, and the characters squabble and make up and love each other, and in the end we are well and truly caught up in learning if just trying is enough. Goldstein and Jordan have put a complex and subtle message behind a lightweight and deeply silly facade³; it’s variously cheery, melancholy, bright, dark, full of characters that you want to hang with and sometimes want to smack, and always deeply, deeply human. Darwin’s struggle against his fate is a fascinating story; squeeze into the handbasket and take the ride along with him.
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¹ And let me just note that that is the perfect name for a character that desperately wishes for a world with a little more clockwork operation and fewer supernatural realities.
² And coincidentally, we discover that unicorns are way creepy about their attraction to virgins (Check out the maidenhead on her! Man, I bet that hymen is like steel!), and will smack-talk the crap out of each other’s owners (I bet my owner’s had waaaay less temptation than her. Pssht, your girl? She’s like the wet slut double penetration queen of virgins.). Quite frankly, they’re all kind of dicks, especially the one that’s inspired by Kate Beaton’s fat pony, who is the chosen steed of the Whore of Babylon.
³ Especially when Patrick hits on a mermaid at a party, and ends up drunkenly sleeping with her sister. He was hoping for the hot redhead with enormous breasts, and wound up with the reverse mermaid: fish on top, human on the bottom. He will never be permitted to live that one down.