For all of Texas’s mythic qualities, its propensity for tall tales and its ample space for waging epic battles, there are surprisingly few comic books that set their stories here. There are even fewer Texas superheroes.
Other than Marvel’s borderline-offensive third-stringer Texas Twister, or that Spider-Man clone who briefly operated in Houston, the Lone Star State hasn’t seen too many do-gooder demigods call it home.
But Donny Cates is out to change all that. The Garland-bred, Austin-based comics creator is turning his limited series God Country into a god’s honest Texas superhero movie for Legendary Entertainment. Jim Mickle, showrunner of Netflix’s Sweet Tooth, is attached to direct.
Granted, God Country isn’t your usual roller coaster of capes and glowing death beams. It’s an introspective, frequently heartbreaking tale about an elderly widower, Emmett Quinlan, who’s grappling with Alzheimer’s and prone to violent outbursts. God Country is largely about the emotional toll that Emmett’s deterioration exacts on his estranged family. But it’s also about a sentient sword named Valofax that arrives inside a West Texas tornado. When Valofax restores Emmett’s mind and grants him godlike powers, Emmett must use them to fend off the intergalactic demons suddenly descending upon his town.
“It’s all about family and the abyss,” Cates told Texas Monthly’s Andy Langer last year. “It’s all about darkness and the idea that death is undefeated as a concept. And so knowing that death is undefeated, recognizing and holding onto the things that are really important is essential, because it’s all gonna fall away for sure.”
Emmett’s journey, Cates said, was inspired by his own near-death brush with acute pancreatitis in 2015. God Country is imbued with a pensive, existential tone; it’s the kind of story that starts with an epigraph from Cormac McCarthy. It evenly balances its requisite monster fights with smaller moments of pain, as when Emmett reconnects with his estranged son and finally gets to know his young granddaughter.
That’s the sort of stuff most comic-book movies would reduce to a few knowing glances before rushing to the next piece of swirling CGI. Fortunately, Cates is writing the screenplay. Director Mickle seems equally attuned to finding humanity within the fantastical. His Netflix series Sweet Tooth, another comic-book adaptation, may be set in a surreal, post-apocalyptic America, but deep down it’s just about people connecting. (Human-animal hybrids, anyway.)
And for once with these superhero things, God Country is a genuinely Texan story. Cates and artist Geoff Shaw draw on the state’s vast High Plains and barren desert scrub to create their otherworldly atmospheres. As Cates explained to Comics Alliance in 2016, “West Texas in particular has this wild, kind of alien/mystical vibe to it that felt like the perfect setting for this story … It feels like that part of the country is virtually unchanged since the dawn of time. It feels untamed and wild and supernatural.”
Somehow, that setting has been underutilized by anyone who’s not Paul Thomas Anderson, George Stevens, or the Coen brothers. Most comic-book films are content to destroy the same three major cities over and over. But God Country sends the genre into Texas’s mythical expanse, and it could finally give us a superhero movie to call our own. Maybe this is the start of a long and fruitful relationship—but seriously, Marvel, please don’t make a Texas Twister movie.