Review – God Country

Wander Through a World of Grieving and Healing

God Country cover


Synopsis When Emmett Quinlan comes into possession of a mystic sword, he's given a second chance to reconnect with his family... an opportunity threatened by a host of powerful gods.

Author Donny Cates

Artist Geoff Shaw
Publisher Image Comics
Genre Fantasy

Length 168 pages

Release Date January - June 2017

In 2010, I interviewed my grandfather for a high school assignment. One Sunday evening, I sat in his living room with the rest of my family as he pulled us through his past: his childhood in Oklahoma, his time as an army medic stationed in Korea shortly after the war ended, and his jobs with NBC and ABC. He passed away about a year after our conversation, and I had the privilege of reading an abridged version of the essay I wrote from that interview at his funeral.

My dad’s eulogy for his father that day was powerful, running the gamut of memories and selecting stories that incorporated my grandfather’s children and grandchildren. Fond anecdotes of sports events, weekly visits, home movies, and vacations. Decades of living unpacked in the span of minutes, anchored to memories which will live on in future generations.

Were Roy Quinlan to describe his own father, he may use different words. Emmett Quinlan hasn’t quite been himself the last few years. Losing his wife took its understandable emotional toll, but Emmett also has Alzheimer’s… and a temper that gets him in trouble. He’s had a few run-ins with the police. He can’t remember his granddaughter’s name. Roy doesn’t know what to do with his dad, but he knows he can’t just leave the older man on his own.

Emmett may still be alive, but he certainly isn’t living. And that’s when a magic sword falls from the sky and offers Emmett the second chance at life he doesn’t know he needs.

Older white man with no shirt holds a glowing staff while boards float around him
Better watch out when Emmett Quinlan lumbers by

Content Guide

Violence: A storm devastates a town, seemingly wiping it off the map. Demons and zombies are slashed and hacked by a magical sword. Someone is bitten. Someone else’s throat is slit. A monster is punched; another is shot. A god is beaten to death. Characters are stabbed. A battle tosses combatants across a field. Someone’s jaw is broken. We’re told a god snuffed out a sun and doomed the planets orbiting it.

Sexual Content: None.

Drug/Alcohol Use: A character, already drinking, offers another character a drink. A man smokes.

Spiritual Content: Several characters claim to be gods — a god of war, a god of death, a high god king — and claim to come from an extended pantheon. The sword itself is a god and is connected to several mythological weapons, such as Excalibur. Characters fight demons and zombies and visit realms equivalent to heaven and hell. References are made to the book of Revelation and Jesus. The nature of prayer is briefly debated.

Language/Crude Humor: Several uses of God and Jesus’ names in vain, plus multiple uses of d***, h***, and f***. A few uses of s*** and b**** bubble up. A female character is referred to as a w****. We’re told someone curses in their own language.

Other Negative Content: Tensions rise over how best to handle an older parent with an illness.

Positive Content: Characters support, defend, and protect one another at great bodily risk to themselves. The gods are not portrayed as aloof or cruel but as having a moral code of their own which differs from humanity. They mourn lost loved ones and (generally) treat (most) humans with dignity. A grandfather is given the chance to play with his granddaughter.

Emmett fights god with sword
“My precious”–Emmett Quinlan


When Emmett gets a hold of Valofax — the magic sword, because why shouldn’t a magic sword have a name? — he first obliterates a demon about to kill his son. But then he stops… and he remembers. Valofax’s magic has halted his Alzheimer’s. The sword can’t heal him completely, but it can offer him a peace Emmett hasn’t felt since his wife died.

And so he remembers. He remembers his son Roy, his son’s wife Janey, his son’s daughter… Emmett’s granddaughter! Deena, that’s her name.

Donny Cates, along with artist Geoff Shaw, remarkably unpacks the ripples of Emmett’s new lease on life. Emmett’s mind is, for the first time in a long time, clear. He can articulate his emotions without flying into a rage; his granddaughter hugs him instead of fearfully avoiding him. He has a chance to love his family in a way his illness previously confined. Quite a change from the man who earlier threatened to kill anyone who entered his home.

Deena sees her grandfather's rage
In the eyes of the Dee-beholder…
Cutting to the Chase

As astounding as Emmett’s revival is, his newfound health and purpose also come with struggles, both practical and cosmic. Roy is given another chance to say what’s been on his mind about his father and not all of his thoughts are pleasant. Emmett, too, has the opportunity to counter his son’s somewhat misguided perspective on a few points, rationalizing and speaking in a way he couldn’t previously. With healing comes pain… and through pain comes catharsis between the two men.

It’s easy enough to say Cates and Shaw’s intended readership are those who have lost loved ones, specifically parents or grandparents… and, even more pointedly, readers who feel they had unfinished business, unspoken words, or unmended hurts with those who have passed. The series strikes a deeper cord when you witness how it strives to appeal to anyone whose loved ones suffer or suffered from a debilitating illness and wish the healthy version of that person could return. God Country feels like a buoy for anyone lying adrift at night, whispering “If only,” and delivers a fantastical glimpse into what sort of encounter that may be like were a second chance offered.

Emmett and Roy share a tender moment
A touching moment between father and son

God Country also reminds us of the ripple effect I referenced above: grief sends shuddering shockwaves throughout our homes, affecting those around us in ways which heal or wound, and in ways we may not anticipate. Though the series primarily focuses on Emmett and Roy’s relationship, it never forgets Janey and Deena. Before Emmett possesses Valofax, Janey is torn between her father-in-law’s constant needs and her and Roy’s burgeoning family. She’s not represented as a bitter in-law but as a wife who sees the emotional stresses weighing Roy down and the time he sacrifices to care for an old man who, most likely, could use professional help. Deena is initially frightened by Emmett, who doesn’t fit the friendly, grizzled stereotype of a grandfather, her fears allayed after Valofax allows Emmett the capability of showing her genuine love. 

The impact of Emmett’s illness may not be as widely applied to both characters, but again, readers who have watched a parent, father- or mother-in-law, or grandparent suffer through or succumb to disease knows the toll of not only struggling through difficult emotions but watching your family toil with their own roiling reactions. Each person in God Country processes grief differently, allowing a variety of relatable characters and emotions for readers to connect with. Anger, fear, even joy all mingle in this space.

Deena runs to her grandfather Emmett
Family: the double-edged sword
Of Gods and Grandparents

The cosmic carousel Emmett and his family find themselves tossed on is more than window dressing for the series. Here, too, a story of fathers and sons is intricately woven, intended to mirror Emmett and Roy’s conflicts as they work through their estrangement. Cates and Shaw invent a new mythology with new gods, though some may find parallels between these deities and other mythological stories of fathers and sons. Though this new pantheon plays second fiddle to the story surrounding the Quinlans, their inclusion is important; not only do they drive the plot, they serve as analogues for the central characters.

Cates and Shaw’s gods feels less cynical than, say, Neil Gaiman’s Celestials or Jason Aaron’s complex Norse deities. They’re separate from humanity yet don’t wish to beat upon the world or hinder mortal achievement. These gods are human-esque in their portrayal — they wish, they rage, they mourn. Their emotions spill out explosively, but they are governed by the same leashes that tug at human hearts. They are capable of growth and change, learning through example. Like Emmett, they, too, face challenges and regrets from the past… and wonder about the legacies they leave for those they love.

The god Balegrim reflects
What does an immortal leave behind?

The summer my grandfather passed away, we cleaned out his house, throwing out approximately 20 tons of memories, not including what we donated or kept for ourselves. That was a fragment of the legacy he left us, a lingering problem we inherited. But my parents’ parents each, in their own ways, left a long-lasting loving imprint on us. I remember vacations to Florida to visit my mom’s parents, Christmases spent with both sides of the family, Thanksgiving mornings spent with my mom’s family before gathering with my dad’s for dinner. Meals out, conversations, parties, games… themes and memories fill out my perspective of their lives. The scale is weighed heavily towards the good side.

All four of my grandparents passed away in hospice beds, their bodies beyond medical saving. We, in our real, often broken world, are left to grieve the dying. I remember visiting two of my grandparents shortly before they passed; they weren’t themselves, delirious with pain-numbing drugs, hooked up to tubes…so far removed from the vibrant, kind, selfless people I remembered. It would be wrong for me to say I can read this story about a grandfather physically redeemed and not think about them. Emmett upends what’s natural. He gets an opportunity no one with his condition receives.

Emmett realizes he has a granddaughter
Valofax helps sharpen Emmett

If you want that fantastical glimpse into what a second chance with a dying loved one could hypothetically look like, given miraculous circumstances, take it. Embrace the fantasy of God Country. Grieve and rejoice alongside Roy, Emmett, Janey, and Deena. Remember those you love who left and those you love who remain. It may hurt. Our “if only”s may not be answered here… but God Country can remind you of the good of what was even while you wander through what could have been.


- Relatable characters
- Unique pantheon of fictional deities
- Creative, moving spotlight on illness


- Frequent strong language

The Bottom Line

Cates and Shaw develop a series that extends beyond the confines of the page, touching readers who will know doubt find relatable characters and situations within the narrative.


Story/Plot 8.5

Writing 8.5

Editing 8.5

Art 8.5


Nathan Kiehn

Nathan has loved comic books and graphic novels for as long as he can remember, ever since his father handed him a digest sized volume of "Marvel Age: Spider-Man." He's dedicated a lot of time and effort to exploring the far reaches of the Spider-Verse, but he's also been known to dive into other corners of the Marvel Universe and maybe even stuck his nose in a Batman story arc or two (just don't tell Spidey).

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