This graphic novel is NOT for everyone. It was written for mature audiences. While I love the themes Jaded invokes, it does so in a way that can be offensive to some readers.
I was recently approached to review five parts of a graphic novel written by Jon Santana, called Jaded – To Whom Pray the Gods?. Part six is on Kickstarter, and was fully funded in less than 48 hours. After you read my review, please check out the campaign and contribute if you’re as interested as I am.
General Thoughts on Jaded – To Whom Pray the Gods?
In general, I don’t read graphic novels. I tend to focus a lot more on big books with lots of words and few, if any, pictures. As a result, this was a new and interesting experience. Even given that, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Jaded. Jon hired skilled artists that don’t fall into the anime style (for which I am grateful).
In short, and without giving away too much, Jaded follows four superheroes who through events in their lives become broken inside. Because of one thing and another, they go through a crisis and do something terrible. Sometimes for retribution, sometimes in search of redemption, and sometimes just because they don’t know what else to do.
Each of these heroes is roughly analogous to a popular superhero from other comics. For instance, Adam Sovereign is very clearly an alternate version of Superman, and the Kid Prodigy is a modified version of Spider Man. In fact, Jon Santana, when he first contacted me he asked, “The only thing I ask is to cut me some slack on one little thing – issues 1-2 were written pre-Afghanistan deployment. I had a different perspective on life and thought my book would be more comic book satire than real life. So there’s direct comparisons to Superman and Spider-Man etc. (Like forehead slappingly direct).” He was right, there are some of those moments, and true to his request, I’m not going to judge his book on those direct comparisons.
Jon has also indicated that he’s planning on adjusting a few of those blatant references to make the first two volumes fit a bit more smoothly with the rest of the novel as well as to make everything consistent. He said it best: “For the trade collection I’m re-lettering the whole book because the lettering is inconsistent from issue to issue. When I do that, I’m going back and changing all dialogue with direct ties to those characters. Yes, I’m George Lucasing my creation.”
Jaded: A Very Brief Synopsis
The first four issues each tell the backstory of one of the four broken heroes. The first issue sets the overall plot in motion. When Adam Sovereign snaps, he heads to his home world and apparently destroys it. Yeah, pretty awful. Then he heads back to Earth. Well, naturally humanity is going to prepare for his return and try to stop him from destroying our home world, right?
The next three tell what broke Kid Prodigy, Grady O’Connell, and Etherea, and brought them to a point where they’ve been held captive. Finally, the fifth issue brings everything together and leaves the entire novel on a cliff-hanger. The question you’re left with, at the end, is: Is this is going to be a redemption story? Or is this going to be a story about the self-destructive nature of perceived emotional invincibility?
Jaded: A Disclaimer
Jaded is a novel for mature audiences, and that is by design. If you aren’t ready to read something that drops a lot of 4-letter words, this isn’t for you. Additionally, if you are disturbed by some fairly graphic violence or very intense situations, you should pass. If you want a compelling story with interesting characters that feel real, and you can hold your nose to the rest, this is a must-read.
Jaded’s Best Points
I really enjoyed reading Jaded. I enjoyed talking about Jaded even more. The heart of this story isn’t the superpowers or the villains they fight. The heart of this story is the humanity of the heroes with the powers. The heart of this story is “What happens when a hero breaks inside?” Although I am far from a graphic novel connoisseur, it’s a perspective I’ve heard few comics approach.
Additionally, the art was well done and compelling. The writing, though not perfect, was tight and kept the plot focused. Additionally, having seen a draft of the script for the 8 page add-on story written by a friend of several years, I can see just how much work went into writing this novel. It’s not a small undertaking to do something as well as this has been done.
Superhuman, emphasis on the Human
Most of the superhero stories I have read, seen, or otherwise encountered tend to focus on the super aspects of the main characters. Sure, there are moments of vulnerability and weakness. Sometimes they might even have a “dark period”. Jaded is different in one major aspect. This isn’t a story about superhumans with human connections. It’s a story about humans who have gotten caught up with having superpowers. And when terrible realities come crashing down, they break.
It’s the most compelling thing about Jaded. These are people. Even the strongest, most physically invulnerable member of the group can suffer a crisis and suffer from depression. Even the woman who can rip someone’s heart out without leaving a mark has to deal with the aftermath of watching her father abuse her mother and sister. The emotional battles that these heroes have to go through aren’t simply manufactured. They are part of the collective human experience. Sadly, they’re often part of our individual experiences.
What a story like this does is more than just show that superheroes are human, it teaches me something about how substantially trauma can impact people we often see as invulnerable. Quite often, the strongest people you know bear some of the heaviest burdens. And similarly, the broken people you see have just been worn to the bone by circumstances and trauma I can’t imagine.
I love Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive. He takes the idea of a broken person in the opposite direction. Whereas in Sanderson’s works the broken people become the “superheroes”, in Jaded, the superheroes break. The difference is stunning. Why? Because one is a story of redemption, of becoming more than your broken pieces. The other is a story of realizing that you don’t know how to be vulnerable.
Jaded showed me that nobody is invulnerable. Thinking you are, thinking that you are somehow superhuman is a recipe for disaster. We all have cracks in our psyches waiting for the right wedge to widen them and crack us in two. I think we should learn from Jaded and stop thinking of ourselves as invincible. The sooner we do, the better chance we have to get the help we need to shore up the issues before we snap.
An Artist’s Evolution
Jaded has evolved, which is something I think is compelling and, that I may have missed out on had I not spoken with the author. Jon’s deployment to Afghanistan changed his perspective, and when you read between issues 2 and 3 you can see some of that. It’s rarely obvious, but an author and an artist’s journey through their own experiences frequently changes their work in small but significant ways.
Jaded’s Worst Points
Although Jaded has an incredibly compelling story, it has only one major flaw: it’s for mature audiences only. I’m not kidding here. Jaded deals with some really serious stuff, and even aside from the language, violence, and near nudity, it’s not something I’d want a fourteen-year old reading, let alone my five-year old. It’s part of what makes it a powerful story, but it does limit the audience.
What I would love to see is a version of Jaded built specifically for a younger audience. I think Jaded invokes a message that deserves to be shared in a way that is accessible and appropriate for teenage audiences. Why? Because too many of us suffer as children. Too much of the trauma we experience begins in childhood. Why? Because, if a kid can see that Adam Sovereign can break, maybe they’ll spend less time trying to be Superman and never show weakness. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll seek out some of the help they need to deal with the issues before they figuratively destroy their home world.
Finally, the Kickstarter has exclusives. I HATE Kickstarter exclusives. Any campaign that has exclusives automatically gets a huge thumbs down from me. Even so, if that’s in your wheelhouse, check this out.
Buy Jaded on Comixology
Fund Jaded on Kickstarter
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