Well, someone on this project didn't carry the one in estimating his free time...

*But it was a way to get the month flying past me.

--Désastre Hurlant: An April Fancy--

I wrote:

Part 14 (Enki Bilal's Townscapes and The Beast Trilogy: Chapters 1 & 2 - The Dormant Beast/December 32nd)

Tucker wrote:

Part 13 (Bilal's The Nikopol Trilogy)

Part 15 (Mark Malès' Different Ugliness, Different Madness)

Part 17 (Geoff Johns', Kris Grimminger's & Butch Guice's Olympus; funny names for a bunch of French guys)

Naturally, you're wondering "where's Part 16?" Or possibly "when's this fucking thing going to end?" Very simple on both counts: (1) I'm not done writing it, sorry; and (2) when I am done writing it, which will be soon, it'll be the last segment published on this site, leaving only the grand finale of Part 18, a climactic Savage Critics extravaganza in which Tucker and I join forces to lead humankind down the gemstone path into a new age of peace. Coming... with the May!!

*One last batch of new things too -


Angst: The Best of Norwegian Comics Vol. 2: Jesus, Diamond's just getting this through? I bought it at MoCCA 2008. Hmm. Anyhow, this is a $15.00 sampler of works from the nation in the title, a joint publishing effort by Jippi Comics, No Comprendo Press and Dongery Forlag, hell-bent on smacking you around with 128 glossy color and b&w pages of stuff. Lots of variety in style and subject matter - personal favorites include an excerpt from Pushwagner's teeming mark-making metropolis Soft City and a lovely little coming of age thing by Tor Ærlig. Tucker Stone also had some thoughts. Back in June, 2008. Search this out, though!

Second Thoughts: Also in this week's Nordic comics (yeah, that felt like something to type) is an 80-page book from Swedish artist Niklas Asker, a meditation on storytelling wherein fiction and fiction-within-fiction blends around a writer and a photographer and their chance meeting. Lots of shadow and ink; sharp forms. From Top Shelf, a $9.95 softcover perfect for today's troubled world economy. Preview here; way more preview here.

The Collected Doug Wright: Canada's Master Cartoonist Vol. 1 (of 2): The New York Times loves the manga? Bah! Drawn and Quarterly will never rest, and this week it's all-Canada, all-heroes. How about a $39.95 hardcover monster -- 240 pages, 9" x 14" -- devoted wholly to the development of the beloved creator of Nipper? Features art, strips, pictures, letters, journals, a biographical essay by Brad Mackay, an introduction by Lynn Johnston (of For Better or For Worse) and design by Seth. The latter years will follow. Samples.

Path of the Assassin Vol. 15 (of 15): One Who Rules the Dark: And speaking of endings! I think this may be where English-language readers bid their fond farewell to artist Goseki Kojima, at least as far as weathered samurai action goes, beaten as cliffs under waves and sharp like tall grass; Dark Horse has more, newer samurai books from writer Kazuo Koike coming up, but it won't be the same without the late master, no no. Still $9.95 for 304 pages. One last look?

Little Lulu Vol. 19: The Alamo and Other Stories: The Golden Age of Reprints always shines brightest on the 19th volume, or so said Paul to the Romans. Wait... the Alamo? Wasn't that the last volume of Preacher? Ah ha, your ur-text is discovered, Garth Ennis! Collecting another 200 color pages of John Stanley & Irving Tripp delights for $14.95; preview.

Thorgal Vol. 5: Land of Qâ: New from Cinebook (well, new to North America from Cinebook via Diamond), it's another $19.95 collection of two albums from the Jean Van Hamme/Grzegorz Rosiński Eurocomics fantasy mainstay, 1986's The Land of Qâ and The Eyes of Tanatloc (T10, 11), which I think start a big storyline for the titular viking-raised adventure guy. Sample pages here. Note that this week also brings a new edition of vol. 1 in Little, Brown's The Adventures of Tintin series of three-in-one wee hardcovers, but I'm pretty sure it's just a fresh ($18.99) printing of the same Tintin in America, Cigars of the Pharaoh & The Blue Lotus arrangement. TINTIN NEVER WENT TO THE CONGO, FUCK YOU.

Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed: Being a 256-page softcover collection/expansion of Comics Should Be Good power master Brian Cronin's popular column, on the case since 2005. Featuring much new material, plus expanded versions of all your favorite excavations of industry lore; congrats to Brian! From Plume, priced at $14.00.

Sherlock Holmes #1: Dynamite may have a lot of comics based on the popular literature of yesteryear, but do they have... mystery? So here are writers Leah Moore & John Reppion and artist Aaron Campbell, and now there's Sherlock Holmes comics out there, which seems right, huh? Look look; $3.50.

Garth Ennis' Battlefields: The Tankies #1 (of 3): Also from Dynamite, a new Ennis-scripted war story, this time following a lost British tank in the struggles following D-Day, and reuniting the writer with his frequent collaborator, Carlos Ezquerra. Gaze. And if your tastes run toward the 2000 A.D. side of the Ezquerra oeuvre, Rebellion should have a new $17.99, 160-page edition of ABC Warriors: The Shadow Warriors, teaming the artist with writer Pat Mills and co-artist Henry Flint.

Phonogram 2: The Singles Club #2 (of 7): Getting back to this full-color, Image-published music-as-magic follow-up from writer Kieron Gillen & artist Jamie McKelvie - each issue is set in the same club, remember. Also remember: two guest artists on back-up stories, Emma Viecelli and Daniel Heard. It's $3.50 for 32 color pages; 'lil look here.

Dark Reign: The Cabal #1: Marvel's got a lot of mini-anthologies or whatnot out this week -- I think the $9.95 Marvel Comics 70th Anniversary Celebration is a 100-or-so-page compendium of beloved plot points and famous pages with a dash of 'full' reprints too, and consider yourself on notice that Marvel Assistant-Sized Spectacular #2 (of 2) features a piece by Adam Warren -- but I think this look at supervillain plans is most worth a peek, if only for the writing crew of Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction, Rick Remender, Kieron Gillen and Peter Milligan. Full details and preview here; $3.99 as you like it, etc.

The Muppet Show #2 (of 4): Lots of diverse pamphlets this week; I like a colorful mix. This is the Fozzie issue. From Roger Langridge and Boom! Studios; $2.99. Preview.

Madman Atomic Comics #15: Allred, yes.

RASL #4: Jeff Smith, yes yes, although I've gotta say - that damn pretty oversized collection of the first three issues is gonna be on my mind while flipping through this pamphlet, because that really is the ideal format for this kinda airy action stuff. Still: new Jeff Smith, $3.50. Peep.

Absolute Superman: For Tomorrow: I think I read something about Brian Azzarello recently; there was some stuff on this, the writer's much-maligned 2004-05 take on the Man of Steel with penciller Jim Lee. It did a little for casting the thing as less a calamity of ill-advised assignment than a strange, gloomy, flawed look at the potential for alien detatchment in the Super part of the formula. And if that caught your attention, well... you're still not likely to drop $75.00 on this oversized fancy-pants edition (with a new two-page origin sequence!!!!), but seeing its blocky presence around might prompt you to page through the trades, maybe.

MAD Magazine #500: Yeah, that's something. At the very least, Sergio Aragonés is slated to present his 500 favorite margin drawings as a special feature, so there's a flip right there. I was a little kid in the '80s, the fucking 1980s, and my mom still thought MAD would rot my head if I read it. That's a magazine, man, that's something.



Désastre Hurlant (T14): Earthraiser & the God of Forgotten Triumph

And so we come to ponder the mysteries of Enki Bilal one final time. Born in Belgrade, raised in Paris, filmmaker and comics artist - a man of unique qualities.

Oh, he's a bestselling comics guy, yeah; he might seem a bit like your Moebius or Jodorowsky at first, at least in terms of sheer praise and international recognition; artists as seemingly far removed as Taiyō Matsumoto have cited him as influential, once you poke around.

But Bilal is also quite different from the 'major' artists published by Humanoids in North America -- the multi-book artists, I mean, who got the hard sell by name -- in that he entered the French comics scene in 1972, breaking into Pilote just as a major contingent of the magazine's artists departed to found L'Écho des Savanes. His talent blossomed as Humanoïdes was formed in France, two years later. He was a comics artist first (though he would later direct movies), and among the first of the Franco-Belgians to know from the start an environment capable of supporting many works that needn't always keep children in mind as a pertinent faction of the audience; his growth, thus, was concurrent with that of the scene.

There's also something that sets him apart from the rest of the Humanoids crew in North America. Moebius, for example, is the kind of artist that most English-reading comics enthusiasts have at least heard of, if maybe not quite read. Jodorowsky may not be as well known as a comics writer, but his has a film career to feed his name recognition. Both of them could be presented to North America with some easy confidence.

(Our Man, with alien and wife, from Memories)

Bilal, on the other hand, is the kind of European comics artist that gets what I like to call a "perennial effort" in English environs - a series of 'pushes' by various publishers, every few years, with each instance resulting in a number of works being published and a number of admirers getting branded, but nothing quite sticking, and then everything fades, until the next attempt (typically by a different publisher), by which time many potential readers seem to have forgotten who the artist is. Jacques Tardi is perhaps the ultimate "perennial effort" artist, having gone from the earliest days of Heavy Metal to issue #1 of RAW through Graphic Story Monthly, Cheval Noir, Drawn and Quarterly, and all the way down to Fantagraphics' upcoming slew of releases; and just as I'd prepared to check my watch!

So it went for Bilal, albeit to a lesser extent. The first press came in the late '70s/early '80s, when Heavy Metal printed a number of his short stories and serialized a few early albums. Flying Buttress Publications also published a collection of shorts titled The Call of the Stars in 1979. This was the underground 'bridge' period, from which came the first push of Humanoïdes material into English-reading North America, although not all of the Bilal content released originated with Humanoïdes.

The second period (1986-90) arrived by way of Catalan Communications, which did a very impressive job of anticipating virtually every move DC/Humanoids would make over a decade later. Seriously: one of the books contained in the DC/Humanoids omnibus Memories was published as Outer States; one of the three albums making up the DC/Humanoids Townscapes appeared as The Town that Didn't Exist; both component parts of the DC/Humanoids The Chaos Effect popped up separately as The Hunting Party and The Ranks of the Black Order; and the first two parts of The Nikopol Trilogy emerged as Gods in Chaos and The Woman Trap. That's four out of five DC/Humanoids releases accounted for, and Bilal hadn't started drawing the fifth one.

Humanoids kicked off the third period in 2000 by bringing out their very first trade paperback, an edition of Bilal's then-new(ish) The Dormant Beast. A number of oversized hardcover volumes of earlier work followed, including a newly re-colored edition of the Jean-Pierre Dionnet-written Exterminator 17, which takes the triple crown for showing up in all three periods of Bilal's North American presence (Heavy Metal, 1978-79; Catalan, 1986; Humanoids, 2002) while also somehow managing to be the only one of Bilal's works to not get reprinted under the DC/Humanoids deal, despite a sequel series drawn by Igor Baranko (of The Horde) starting up in prime 2003 placement. Perhaps they were waiting for future chapters?

In any case, don't expect the next effort to come from the present DDP/Humanoids partnership; even as the DC deal started coughing up blood in North America, Bilal picked up his entire French catalog and moved it over to the large publisher Casterman, which just released the artist's latest book last month, a self-contained futuristic eco-western titled Animal'z. The Bilal Library still can be of some use, though, as its completism-unto-redundancy offers an able enough peek at the life 'n times, from the lingering youth focus of the '70s to the auteur advancement of just before the last time it all ended.


And god, how didn't this catch on? I guess North American audiences just weren't ready for a comics series detailing the adventures of a streetwise, trenchcoat-clad magician with a violent past and a thing for left-leaning causes. Bit of a lady-killing bastard too; lots of hard politics behind the stories. That shit never plays. At least he doesn't smoke!

Ah, but while the man on the cover might as well be John Constantine's older cousin, his series isn't much like Hellblazer at all. It's also a bit different from the rest of the Bilal Library, in that Bilal isn't the original creator of the work - that would be writer Pierre Christin, best known for the popular all-ages sci-fi series Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent, drawn by Jean-Claude Mézières.

Christin started Légendes d'aujourd'hui (roughly, Legends of Today) in Pilote in 1972 -- the same year Bilal entered comics, via the same magazine -- with the story Rumeurs sur le Rouergue, drawn by no less than the aforementioned Jacques Tardi, whose contributions do not appear to have been widely reprinted, or even acknowledged. Literally the most said of Tardi in Townscapes is through a single art detail included as part of an 'in-story' comics-format introduction to the series, which picks up as the young Bilal appears for the series' second storyline, first collected in 1975. The artist would remain with the series for the rest of its run, ending at three post-Tardi albums in total. The contemporary default appears to frame the series as a purely Bilal-Christin work.

That makes publishing sense, I suppose; the pair went on to work on several additional projects, including the two albums collected in The Chaos Effect, as well as the as-of-yet untranslated likes of 1984's faux-documentary comic L'étoile oubliée de Laurie Bloom: Los Angeles, 1984 (The Fallen Star of Laurie Bloom: Los Angeles, 1984), 2001's postcard-type art showcase Les correspondances de Pierre Christin: Le Sarcophage (The Correspondences of Pierre Christin: The Sarcophagus), 2005's Coeurs sanglants et autres faits divers (Bloody Hearts and Other Various Events), which I believe is a collection of assorted short works, and Bilal's 1989 film Bunker Palace Hôtel, which Christin co-wrote.

Yet the stories of Townscapes seem set apart from the rest of Bilal's works, even those written by Christin. Most obviously, it is early work by Bilal, visually, and separated from the fantastical scenery and overt surrealism that marked so much of the short works collected in Memories. It's still quite nice to look at, granted, and spiked with a fondness for physical comedy that wouldn't appear in his 'mature' works.

Of course, that immediately leads us into yet another confrontation with Humanoids' alterations to the material, a re-coloring job by Dan Brown. Once again, though, the situation is a little different than what we saw with Moebius, in that Bilal eventually became his own colorist -- indeed, an innovator in 'direct coloring' in French comics altogether -- with such a distinctive style that really any of his art that doesn't sport his particular approach seems to be somehow incomplete. Think early Mike Mignola, or any Mike Allred comic not colored by a member of his immediate family - it's like they're different people, so powerful is 'their' coloring, even if they're not personally applying it, as Bilal does.

As a result, even the original colors of these works don't seem entirely 'right,' although I do still prefer the older style. Take this bit with a chapel breaking free from the earth:

(from Heavy Metal Vol. 6 No. 5, August 1982)

Now, there's no denying the fact that the 'before' sample has been slightly blown up for publication in comparison, but I still like the primal force of the harsh white rock thrusting against a stormy blue sky - it creates a movement of its own, in contrast with the more naturalistic style of the DC/Humanoids 'after' image, all 'realistic' earth tones and (fitting!) drabness that nonetheless seems to coax Bilal's work into stillness, despite the action being depicted.

That seems to have been the guiding principle behind most of Humanoids' coloring choices: realism, when gloom and grit couldn't make things serious. Note too the more poetic intent of the Heavy Metal translation - I don't have access to the French text so as to verify the fidelity of either example, but the earlier example does seem oddly responsive to its searing colors, while the Humanoids stuff is as matter-of-fact as those muddy hues.


Granted, the early Heavy Metal did have a tendency for wordiness, to sometimes clunky effect (that last balloon must've been hungry, since it ate that dude's hand). And the Humanoids rendition here does seem to fit the dialogue in a very literal manner, although I still like the disconcerting cheer of those limited greens and blues

(from Heavy Metal Vol. 6 No. 7, Oct. 1982)

It all comes down to blood-red mystery fluids vs. sweat-on-scales, I guess. Surely the re-coloring here isn't nearly as awful as that on The Incal; sometimes it even intensifies the lived-in nature of the community scenes Bilal puts together, even as it strips away an added layer of the fantastic, which maybe helped offset the callowness of Christin's concept.

You see, Townscapes isn't just the adventures of a tough, dark magician-of-the-people. I haven't even mentioned his name since, er, Christin doesn't give him one, at least not beyond the various aliases presented in the introduction. It doesn't matter - he has no personality at all, really, and typically doesn't interact with the characters of any given storyline beyond what is necessary to facilitate the magic of each plot. Christin himself admits as much in that introduction (wherein he and Bilal appear as characters), dubbing his protagonist:

"A nothing, a non-hero, one product among many of the society where he belongs... just an extra, a represenentative from the historical future, the expression of societal forces in the midst of struggle, class struggle of course, in which the dominant ideology is ridiculed by the..."

At which point he's cut off by frothing, sunglasses-wearing military General with a crew cut, who will later be thrown down a burning pit into the sewers, which is about the tone struck by the rest of the work as well.

Townscapes, you see, is a political book. A wildly simplistic, reductive, arguably reactionary political book, held together by a "non-hero" that essentially advocates an active divorce from modern society. For kids! And pay attention to the Légendes in the original French title; these are really political fables, its characters poised in the manner of archetypes of virtue and wickedness so as to charge their writer's views with the snap of classical wisdom, no doubt to get the message across clearer to Pilote's youth-skewing readership.

Hey, 1972 wasn't that far off from the Paris student riots of '68, which sparked a radical sentiment in a lot of artists. One suspects this stuff is coming mostly from the heart, albeit pumping with enough experience to know that revolution itself is unlikely to happen, since all three of these stories deal with escape: The Cruise of Lost Souls deals with a village that temporarily floats away from its rapidly industrailizing surroundings; Ship of Stone sees another village dismantled brick by brick by magical forces and reassembled far away from resort development; and The Town That Didn't Exist presents the erection of a walled-off, classless utopia in the midst of urban labor struggles.

As mentioned before, Christin's nameless non-hero is a catalyst rather than a personality. He typically shows up out of nowhere, holding the key to mastering some esoteric technology or magical persuasion, or sometimes having merely convinced someone with better resources than him to do something. He always works to aid the People, whom Christin typically presents as a collective, with individual personalities mostly allowing for jokes or smoother conversation. But they are always the Workers, the Farmers, the Fishermen, and always meanaced by unfailingly wicked or buffoonish developers, captains of industry, various bourgeois or worse - heaven knows anyone wearing a military uniform in these comics is at best a poor fool under the control of malevolence, if not overtly malevolent themselves. Our Veterans are accorded some respect, though, to the extent that they (always) return to a cruel place that exploits them!

And I assure you, as fascinating as these comics can be for the purposes of studying political diatribe in children's comics, they really are as tinny and uncomplicated as I'm making them out to be. The Cruise of Lost Souls in particular is loaded with facile metaphor for empowerment as the town floats above various stunned people's heads, all while the military goons who were trying to master the floating technology for warfare find themselves mutating into literal monsters. There's a nod toward dissent in the form of the town's sputtering conservative deputy mayor (not a real leader, tee hee), who's heroically threatened with death when the time comes to negotiate with the twisted military forces, thus evoking the timeless political theme of No Snitches.

Ship of Stone goes even deeper, when resort development in Brittany pisses off a local sorcerer, the sacred power of the land, if you will, prompting Our Non-Hero and the obligatory villagers to witness a parade of all of the dead from the long history of the region -- including some obviously alien pre-human settlers -- rising up to load the friendly old fishing town on a big ship to set sail for another, unspoiled place - and who's going to argue with the force of history, all of which happen to agree with Pierre Christin's politics of the '70s?

Indeed, the 'radical' stance Christin presents in his legends is really an affirmation of tradition, and a broadside against the industry and militarization that threatens the sacred soil of bucolic France and all that. All of these unwitting (but happy!) revolutionaries are against the modern world, primed to escape to a place where good people work the land and technology knows its place, and neighbors help one another and all kinds of truly fantastic notions about a probably-more-legendary-than-these-legends past. It's nostalgic, even in its evocation of gothic fantasy tropes as the stuff of magic, which will lead us away from this caricature of society that is post-industrialization.

Amusingly, if you take a good look, Christin is apparently also more than willing to turn back the clock on social politics to accomplish the greater good. He may have created one of the most beloved female characters in the history of French comics with his sci-fi Laureline, but the women presented here are either firmly planted in traditional mothering nurturer roles or unthinkingly obeying the commands of wise males so as to accomplish anything.

I presume Our Non-Hero's propensity for sleeping with one pretty lady per storyline is there to keep the audience's eyes open, but his uncaring abandonment of his lovers after they've carried out his revolutionary orders (and they always take orders, even as the nominal heroines of the stories) smacks of teaching women their place in the revolution; wouldn't want to upset the classical virtues of the land or anything!

This is definitely a radical vision that does away with those messy women's issues of the time, and you might as well forget about gay rights - the only hint of alternative sexuality in the book comes from a gross, sweating realtor who's (eeeeew!) into transvestites. Christin kinda tries to cover for this by having one of his 'establishment' characters comment on how gross it is, but there's no hiding his characterization of queerness as primarily a derangement of the upper class, absent from the good earth, where men are men, you know!

And the funny thing is, I like a lot of red meat, macho man leftist comics from the likes of Pat Mills or Howard Chaykin, but they're dealing in characters, while Christin is dealing in icons. His concept for the series makes it so that his non-hero's abandonment of his women (let's say) isn't a Constantine-like character flaw but the forces of politics and magic itself making some ineffable decision. It's all just the way of the world, sorry! And too bad these political opponents of mine are against the world, as my evocation of the fable suggests! But these are complicated issues, and Christin's treatment of them as players in a struggle as simple as little kids against hungry witches is utterly ridiculous, unless you're so firmly on the writer's side you're willing to roll your eyes and then roll further with the punches.

Yet there's even a limit for Christin himself, it seems. The Town That Didn't Exist devotes most of its space to tracking the construction of a utopia in the midst of striking workers and cold industry types, all of it orchestrated by the sensitive young female heir to a fortune, acting under the suggestion of Our Non-Hero, naturally. Soon, a mightly bubble city with fanciful, Winsor McCay costumes and spires appears, a true utopia. Then, Christin shows the need to post guards to keep the outside world at bay, and the lingering gaze of the place's creator as a sort of dictatorship. Soon, some citizens are dissatisfied (although we're assured that most people love it very much, thank you!), and the magician leads them away, since he's in the midst of beating feet now that his latest implied conquest has more of a totalitarian aura in the morning.

It's not exactly complex, but at least it shows some understanding that the rhetoric of revolution doesn't lead to results as predestined as the prince waking the princess with a kiss, if even then it sort of lands as an apologia for big ideas that got nasty - hey, lots of people in totalitarian regimes are happy, you know! Right?! Oh, how Our Non-Hero gazes back at the city, his ideal, Christin's fiction, yes, the Town That Didn't, Couldn't Exist. God, at least there weren't any queers!

The Beast Trilogy: Chapters 1 & 2 - The Dormant Beast/December 32nd

So, fast-forward to 1998. Bilal is as established as a cartoonist can be, a writer/artist with a style entirely his own and a readership willing to move 400,000 copies of his albums in Europe. He's made movies, he's won the Grand Prix de la ville d'Angoulême -- hell, he won that in '87, and that's for an artist's entire body of work! -- he's received countless plaudits and he really doesn't have much left to prove. The Beast Trilogy began there, and would eventually become his biggest latter-day work.

You wouldn't quite know that from the DC/Humanoids release, which scoops up Humanoids' prior softcover release of vol. 1 (of 3): The Dormant Beast and pairs it with 2003's vol. 2 (of 3): December 32nd. Only after the DC/Humanoids deal fell apart would Bilal complete the work with 2006's vol. 3 (of 3): Rendezvous in Paris and 2007's vol. 4 (of 3): Four?

Don't say the man doesn't have a sense of humor about himself. These days, the work is better known as the Beast Tetralogy, or sometimes the Hatzfeld Tetralogy, in keeping with the Nikopol Trilogy's naming scheme, since the 'main' character of the series is one Nike Hatzfeld, an orphan named for the shoes of his dead father and the (actual) French journalist that discovered him, Jean Hatzfeld. And Nike, of course, is the goddess of victory, but nobody won the war Bilal's talking about.

Put plainly, the Beast Trilogy is 'about' the psychic fallout of the conflicts that afflicted the former Yugoslavia in the twilight of the 20th century. Titles aside, there's actually three main characters: Nike, Amir and Leyla, all of them born in 1993 during the Siege of Sarajevo. It probbaly wouldn't be too much to read the trio as symbolic of the three ethnicities of the area -- the Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats -- particularly since there's the added problem of Amir's sniper father having shot down Nike's dad with the boy still in his arms. Nike knows this, because he's been blessed/cursed with perfect (if delayed) memory, and is slowly reaching the point where he can remember the very day of his birth as the story proper begins in 2026.

None of the grown characters particularly identify with fixed ethnic groups, though - this is in keeping with Bilal's own attitudes toward his background as the child of a Bosnian father and a Slovak mother. Additionally, the world of 2026 doesn't particularly identify as a viable society of less than three decades away - this is also in keeping with Bilal's attitudes toward science fiction, a genre he uses mostly to evoke a global vision and allow for metaphorical comment on painful issues of the present day. Expect no explanation for the flying cars, but do expect to read into the presence of a monolithic consortium of extremist religious types with three leaders that can't possibly agree on who's the best, although all of the are out to tear down reason and science.

It's silly to expect radical Christians, Muslims and Jews to hang out for a supervillain team-up, naturally, but that's kind of the disbelief you have to suspend for Bilal's work to hit you. He doesn't sweat the worldbuilding, preferring for free-floating metaphors to gel into a world that evokes the one we're living in. So, the Obscurantis Order is a phantom of religious extremism, capable of rounding up otherwise well-intentioned folks like Amir and his girlfriend Sacha, while struggling against advancements that might threaten the viability of monotheism, like the odd radio broadcasts coming from the Eagle Nebula, which Leyla is helping to analyze.

For his part, Nike has just finished working with a Central Bank of World Memory, and would really like to track down Amir and Leyla, to put adult personalities to the infant memories that have given him a deep feeling of connection to them; amusingly, his own lover, Pamela, looks almost exactly like Leyla, as if Nike could sense what she'd be like as an adult.

But there are a hundred threats to even a perfect memory, like artificial clone bodies that can be inhabited by discreet users (a la Ghost in the Shell) or left to their own devices - these are the tools of the wicked Dr. Warhole, a scientist who heads up religious forces for the sake of power, then later becomes an artist in the medium of 'compressed death,' a wormy black cloud that rains corrosive tears on the faces of art critics and witnesses, melting them down for merely watching the horror.

All of this off-the-cuff association responds well to Bilal's own art, which at this point can best be described as supremely confident. Gone is much of the overt caricature and most of the hard lines of his early work, replaced by a delicate touch that seems to coax forms straight from charcoal sketching, 'realistic' and vividly designed but never stiff. There's a powdery gentleness to his colors too, the very antithesis of the heavy digital work Humanoids often employed as re-coloring stock, soft hues that evoke an odd nostalgia, despite the work's future setting - one of Bilal's favorite themes is memory, and his colors do seem to hint at hazy dream, like all of his works are plucked right from his dreamy recollections.

Another popular Bilal theme is multiculturalism, which is also reflected in his visuals. Of all the 'great' French comics artists of his generation, Bilal is almost certainly the most manga-influenced among them (at least by this point in his career), from his spikey-haired women to his propensity for breaking up the visual narrative with text set against blank panels. When Dr. Warhole debuts a model body to replace his fat old prior self, the resulting character design looks like it just stepped out of shōjo manga central casting, even existing in (mostly) black & white while everyone else continues to live in good European color.

There's maybe subtext to that, a whiff of the same panic over the authority of foreign comics on the French scene that marked works like Albert Uderzo's 2005 Asterix and the Falling Sky; Dr. Warhole is a villain so far, after all, if of the 'show humanity the cost of the wars they wage' persuasion. But Bilal's application of foreign influence is too deep for that; even on a basic level, his art seems global, unwilling to remove any influence from the table, ready to live on the page as how the characters there learn to be, a universe inclined toward community.

This, inevitably, is how the first half of the Beast, er, Hatzfeld... Thingy goes. There's a subplot in December 32nd that pays extensive homage to Peyo's & Yvan Delporte's 1963 kids' comic classic The Black Smurfs, a rather icongraphically questionable piece about a Smurf that gets bitten by a fly and becomes black-skinned and angry and aggressive, biting other Smurfs so as to infect them with the black disease.

Bilal understands the possibility for queasy social readings of this work -- which must have been among the first comics he encountered in Paris when he was a child -- and stretches the image of the black fly across the whole series as a symbol for the despair and aggression that might overtake any persion, invading a man's body and laying eggs in his spine, or bending lovers to the destruction of violent religious extremism. Sacha, the lover of Amir, becomes too close to a fly and winds up with her skin turning black, but Bilal's take on the concept is different - her aggression becomes focused, and Amir loves her regardless, and gradually she usurps the 'masculine' protector role from him, which he finds to be wonderful.

Amir is also associated with the fish symbol, which stands in contrast to the fly across the work. As Nike falls deeper and deeper into the secrets of the Eagle transmissions and Warhole's shadowy plan for the world, red fishes begin to surround his head, which only he can see. It's still obscure as to what their purpose might be, but they seem to be devouring his vaunted memory, in the way flies might too be eaten. Again, there is a double effect - the fish both eat his secred hatred for Amir, the son of the man who killed his father, as flaunted by the various clones of him that start running around (yep, it's that kind of sci-fi), but also obliterates the connection he has to his friends - if the structure of The Dormant Beast is based on Nike slowly regaining his memories, going back to the date of his birth, than December 32nd is dedicated to tearing down all that seemed so certain.

This is the state of Bilal's world - nothing is totally good or evil, and even the most liberal cross-cultural mind can become trapped in ethnic-religious conflicts that date back to well before his or her birth. If this is a reflection on its author's identity -- nationally, racially -- it's one deeply conflicted by the new history constantly cropping up in the places he thought he'd departed from, yet can't really leave.

All of this is told in Bilal's swerving, possibly improvised storytelling style, which all but assures that each chapter will have a slightly different character than the last, and that the action inside each chapter won't necessarily rise or fall with expected action/sci-fi storytelling pacing.

Apparently someone got upset somewhere along the line, since the version of December 32nd presented here sports an annoying little guide in the margins to which character the current scene is following; I don't know if this is present in the French editions, or if it's only the latest in Humanoids' many, many attempts to please the North American audiences that stacked the deck against them since the days where Bilal was young, the politics were hot and the metal was heavy enough to just launch around.

There's concilations made on Bilal's part too, if to his audience or his own predilections. You'll certainly get used to his thing for women with pastel-colored nipples to match their hair or eyeliner across his body of work, and his habit for sneaking in naked breasts gets to be faintly embarrassing in a way that never happens with, say, Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose universe of excess and ultra-broad storytelling seems complimentary to that kind of stuff.

With ruminating, poetic Bilal, it's a bit like Andrei Tarkovsky dropping fanservice nudity into the middle of Stalker; hell, he actually did pull off some surprise nudity in the middle of Andrei Rublev, but at least there it served the work's theme. Bilal, in contrast, has Leyla rocking a see-thru top in the midst of an outer space research mission, which serves no apparent point other than to offer some boyish thrills to the (very large) comics-reading audience. It's not that I don't like sex in a comic like this -- it's a part of any good reflection on life! -- but a lot of the sexualization only seems to be present to appeal to a very juvenile aspect of the comics readership, which it appears is something the French scene cannot shrug off in spite of its history as well.

Bilal may only be interested in grasping the whole of history, though, the bad with the good, his reality-as-sci-fi matching up the sci-fi-powered freedom promised by the birth of Humanoïdes so soon after the birth of his career in comics. He is like a patient zero of the '70s stretch of comics evolution in France, eventually taking on aspects of other growing comics traditions and the interaction of comics and cinema. All of this, while retaining a personal outlook; you'll never mistake anyone else of Enki Bilal; no title was needed for the library. But he's good to study, compact and telling - we have our chance, or had it. Until the effort again renews.



Setting it mostly straight.

*This French comics thing is gonna have to end, folks. It's been a blast, but it's also been the better part of a month, and I totally did not help things at all by hopping on the French album production schedule for my last post.

Expect final words on Bilal by both Tucker and myself tomorrow night. And we're just gonna keep pouring it out, like DC and Humanoids did; this weekend's the end of it. Keep your eyes peeled.


--Désastre Hurlant: Just One More Week to Go, Thank God--

I wrote:

Part 10 (concerning The Metabarons and polishing off Jodorowsky week only a week or so later than anticipated)

Tucker wrote:

Part 11 (Bilal's Memories)

Part 12 (Bilal's The Chaos Effect)


The Spirit (my review of the 2008 Frank Miller film)

At comiXology.

*There's always -


Tales Designed to Thrizzle #5: Ain't nothing better than the latest from Michael Kupperman; nothing else to say. Only $4.50 for 32 pages of pamphlet-format mirth; preview here, slideshow here. And don't you dare fail to log the May 10th, 12:45 AM debut of the Snake 'n Bacon Adult Swim television program into your Outlook calendar - if we can't have pamphlets, we can have 12-minute hits of video. Almost the same.

The Beats: A Graphic History: A new Hill & Wang project laying out the art of a time, written primarily by Harvey Pekar (with Joyce Brabner & Trina Robbins, among others) and featuring art by Ed Piskor, Jay Kinney, Peter Kuper, Mary Fleener, Gary Dumm and others. It's $22.00 for 208 pages. Review by Chris Mautner here.

Stonecutter: Oh... huh. This appears to be getting itself marketed as one of those inspirational books about potential and stuff you give to someone graduating from school, except it's an adaptation of a Chinese folktale and drawn by Jon J. Muth. Illustrated prose (by John Kuramoto), I think. Muth's always worth a flip. From Fiewel & Friends; $14.99 for 136 b&w pages.

Viking #1: A new Image series from writer Ivan Brandon and artist Nik Klein, blending a little crime comics style in with the 9th century sword-swinging. It's 24 pages, and thus $2.99. Looks really slick.

Gurren Lagann Vol. 1: I don't have much of any time for anime these days, but I've totally liked all that I've seen of Gurren Lagann, a wonderfully strange, energetic and funny 2007 television project from director Hiroyuki Imaishi (of Dead Leaves) and studio Gainax (Neon Genesis Evangelion, FLCL, etc.); it's sort of a tour of the history of giant robots in anime, with different portions of the show reflecting the progression of the genre, but in the form of an original, continuing story. So, the giving way of Go Nagai-inspired fun and macho frolic into the deathly politicking of Yoshiyuki Tomino sees characters in the story assume different roles, but presented in the context of their maturing into wizened people, maybe cynical, maybe broken, but always struggling forward. Enormously well-done; it's one of the only shows I can think of that does rampant fan-service and (sometimes) self-serious grim 'n gritty robot stuff right, while always returning to a core of crazy love for anime bullshit, very infectiously so, to the point where I doubt you need to 'get' any of the subtext to enjoy the hell out of it.

Anyway, this is the official tie-in manga, brought to English by Bandai Entertainment. On one hand, anime tie-in manga are completely awful 19 out of 20 times. On the other hand, Gainax did commission Hajime Ueda's spectacularly odd FLCL manga, so maybe there's a chance for something? Kotaro Mori is the artist, last seen in English circa 2006-07 via a cute girl fantasy manga DrMaster put out under the title of Stray Little Devil; it looks like a cute girl fantasy manga. I think the Gurren Lagann manga might still be ongoing in Japan too, so don't get married to your hopes of conclusion. Rent the show instead, if you've got time.

Detective Comics #853: The second half of that Neil Gaiman/Andy Kubert/Scott Williams thing, which I'll cop to not really getting into last time; it was a cute (very cute) tour of alternate Batmen gone wrong as a means of peering into different eras of Bat-history, a nice enough little thing but oddly similar to Grant Morrison's most recent Batman thing (i.e. the two-part Final Crisis tie-in). Maybe a play of contrasts? All that really stuck out for me is how thoroughly Scott Williams can convert someone's pencils into something Jim Lee-ish, given his long history of inking the man (and, no doubt, the fact that some of the rarely-solo Lee's flourish is probably more exactly Williams'). 'Tis 48 pages for $3.99. The title will be taking May off, after which the Greg Rucka/J.H. Williams III Batwoman story starts up.

Hellblazer #254: First half of a new two-parter from writer Peter Milligan, now joined by artists Goran Sudzuka & Rodney Ramos. I enoyed the first Milligan storyline, and it looks like he's sticking around for a while.

I Am Legion #3 (of 6): Hey, it's the DDP/Humanoids deal! How about it? This is where we start getting into the heretofore untranslated portions of this WWII-set horror-espionage thriller thing from writer Fabian Nury and artist John Cassaday.

Kick-Ass #6 (of 8): This is still eight issues, right? I know there's supposed to be additional series to come anyway, but I'm pretty sure eight is the number they settled on for the initial storyline. Entrails are likely to materialize; Mark Millar writes, John Romita, Jr. draws.

No Hero #5 (of 7): Being the latest chapter of this Warren Ellis-written, Juan Jose Ryp-drawn 'superhero' comic, which is actually a darkly comedic body horror gut-churner stuffed into a secret origin mold and sprinkled with political intrigue. I mean:

Seriously, nearly 1/3 of issue #3 was double-page splashes of the dude above tripping balls on superpower drugs and gurgling in a puddle. Every other scene is arranged specifically to facilitate Ryp's drawings of gross and/or funny shit. It's way better than Black Summer. Do note that this week also brings Avatar's second softcover collection of Ellis' FreakAngels webcomic with artist Paul Duffield, plus issue #2 (of 5) of Ellis' Ignition City with artist Gianluca Pagliarani.

Frank Frazetta's Neanderthal: And speaking of gross stuff, one night while I was relaxing in my study a bat broke through my window and I swore to mention every comic drawn by Tim Vigil in my Monday upcoming releases posts on the internet. The neverending battle (against not mentioning such comics) continues now. Written by IDW's Chris Ryall, published by Image. Preview.


There is nothing European about this. For the first three paragraphs.

*Oh yes: review of Frank Miller's The Spirit.

Personally, I thought it was way better than the Watchmen adaptation and more interesting than the Sin City or 300 movies, which I know isn't saying a lot, and actually doesn't make the Spirit a good picture or anything, but it's the best of a generally bad bunch by my estimate. In case you hadn't noticed, it also made the least money by far and lots of people really hated it, especially mainline film critics.

In retrospect, I don't think that's very surprising. The Spirit, for its flaws, is maybe the most successful translation of a comics artist's style to the screen, but it's absolutely Miller's contemporary, post-The Dark Knight Strikes Again style, with all due bob & swing between the operatic and the parodic; that stuff gets divisive easily, and Miller-the-director no doubt compounded matters by executing the whole thing in a willfully artificial manner that favors, say, shadowplay of characters vigorously pantomiming fights over anything resembling the slam-bang summer blockbuster visual formula that's powered the success of so many superhero pictures. It's an alien-feeling thing, even compared to the Sin City adaptation, which for its stylization lacked almost any sense of play.

Lots of curious, auteur-ish touches too, as if Miller senses he probably won't get to do any of this ever again, so he's gonna pack it all in. Several plain ol' bad choices too, and a few glaring limitations - the acting in this thing is all over the place, even by digital backlot standards, with performances ranging from the tics-turned-to-11 of Samuel L. Jackson to the faintly lost somnambulance of Scarlett Johansson to a profoundly bizarre turn by one Stana Katic as a rookie cop that seems blinked in from a parallel dimension's silver screen adaptation of Chantal Montellier's 1996:

I think Miller's lack of control does hurt it in the end. He actually has a few clever (if rather eccentric) spins on Will Eisner's original going on, chief among them the notion that the Spirit has such purity of purpose that he genuinely hurts people who love him, emotionally, and that kind of pain just doesn't register with him. He's truly amoral in that way, particularly with women, all of whom he falls in love with and none of which he'll ever devote himself to, save for his city, his mother, lover, etc.

The problem is, Miller doesn't keep his tone level enough to sell the sort of whisper of adult melancholy over happy costumed adventuring he seems to be shooting for - if anything, the movie comes off as a celebration of the Spirit's rather cruel treatment of Ellen Dolan (in particular), raising a glass to acting the heartbreaker, the only worthwhile woman one you can loom over paternalistically and scoop up like a faithful cat and protect like a man. Hey, maybe I'm giving Frank Miller too much credit and that was absolutely 100% his intended point, but I dunno... I think a good movie would have presented itself with more care.

Huh, this did turn into a sub-review, didn't it? Um, the main review is even bigger! Hope you like it!



Désastre Hurlant (T10): Psychomagic

"When you are linked to everyone, there are no enemies."

- Alejandro Jodorowsky, on the destination of the Fool's journey


The Metabarons

Let's face it: this is one everybody knows about. The one Warren Ellis and Matt Fraction praised to the sky. So nice, Humanoids printed it thrice. If you go up to someone who was around and sort of paying attention to the DC deal as it went down (and down, and down the drain) and you ask them about the projects that resulted, more often than not it'll be this one they cite. Humanoids pushed it good and hard, and for good reason - it's pretty easily the best of the Alejandro Jodorowsky series they managed to release.

As you probably know, The Metabarons is a spin-off of Jodorowsky's & Moebius' The Incal; the Metabaron himself was a leather-clad tough guy figure and all-star hired gun coerced into hunting down hapless protagonist John DiFool in exchange for the life of his beloved adopted child, Sunmoon. As was typical for the series, the Metabaron eventually inverted his attitude and promptly got lost in the din of supporting characters-as-tarot-symbols.

Everyone loves a tough guy, though, and Jodorowsky couldn't leave his burgeoning, new-ideas-on-every-page universe in stasis. First came the 1988 debut of Avant l'Incal, an official prequel series, drawn by Zoran Janjetov. Jodorowsky then opted to broaden his scope beyond the life and times of John DiFool with a new project tracking the secret history of the Metabaron's clan of killers; the first volume arrived in 1992, to be joined by a sibling series, The Technopriests, in 1998. The following year blessed us with Megalex, which I've read is also somehow tied in with things, although I couldn't tell you how off hand.

The Metabarons would continue until 2004, running for eight volumes in total; Humanoïdes' current all-in-one intégral edition box set weighs in at a formidable 528 pages. It was popular in Europe, and apparently deemed to have enough potential to hit in English-speaking environs that Humanoids elected to make it the center of its initial North American release effort, even though the series was still incomplete at that time.

As such, the Metabarons saw release in 2000 as Humanoids' very first pamphlet-format series, to be followed by "The Incal" (actually Avant l'Incal) in 2001 and the revived Métal Hurlant in 2002. All nudity was edited out, so as to cover the bases for Direct Market access. The release schedule was somewhat irregular, later contorting to accommodate the 2002 release of the French vol. 7, which brought the pamphlet series up to a total of 17 issues.

Four trade paperback collections of the (edited) pamphlet material were also released, bizarrely set up to factor in X number of pamphlets rather than individual storylines; as a result, Path of the Warrior (vol. 1) compiles the first two French volumes and 20 or so pages of the third, Blood and Steel (vol. 2) covers the remainder of the third French book with all of the fourth and part of the fifth, and Poet and Killer (vol. 3) tackles the rest of the fifth and all of the sixth. Only Immaculate Conception (vol. 4) conforms exactly to the original storylines, matching the French vol. 7 page-for-page, albeit in edited-for-content form. One might presume Humanoids was attempting to fit itself as firmly as possible into North American comic book culture, treating pamphlets as pamphlets, and X number to a trade, no matter how the storylines settled; it would be the oddest of all their compromises of the time.

The DC deal began several months after the concluding French vol. 8 was published. In spite of all packaging eccentricities, the prior run(s) of the material had picked up some favorable attention -- such as from the aforementioned Mssrs. Ellis & Fraction -- so a new run of DC/Humanoids softcovers was planned. This time the work was presented unedited, and neatly arranged at two French volumes per DC/Humanoids trade. And then the deal fell through before the concluding vol. 4 could show up, depriving English readers of the French vol. 8 (or a less-clothed vol. 7) to this very day.

But don't worry too much - the current DDP/Humanoids deal is slated to return to the material somehow, someday. That much seemed inevitable as soon as a new publishing arrangement was secured.

Why all the excitement, though? Well, surely one good reason is the presence of Argentine artist Juan Giménez, whose participation marked a crucial break from the Moebius-derived visuals of DiFool's journey. No longer were the lines clean and the colors flat; Giménez's universe is a dim, leather and chrome field of conflict, and while it'd be a mistake to label it 'realistic' -- there's actually a lot of rather vivid cartooning going on under the artist's painterly glaze -- every humanoid face seems nonetheless flush with anxiety and desire and hot fucking anger, in a way that makes the compositions of Moebius seem perpetually restrained.

Plus: lots of big guns, sharp blades and gore-spattered action as you like it, True Believers. That's not to say Moebius couldn't put together some nice action pages, teeming with activity and woozy in scope, but Giménez has a visceral edge in addition to a firm grasp on spectacle; when his characters get hurt, fluid oozes everywhere and expressions twist and snarl impossibly.
His style may lack the pure design chops and mystic, dreamy quality of Moebius' best work, but it's admirably expressive for such a lacquered approach, and, to give the devil his due, probably more in line with what North American readers have come to expect from an expansive action comic. The tale is told in message board posts concerning the lameness of Moebius' work on the Halo Graphic Novel, or letters to those old The Airtight Garage-related pamphlets from Epic regarding the insufficiencies of the art in Silver Surfer: Parable, a debate immortalized by Quentin Tarantino's script additions to Crimson Tide.

Nobody writes scenes like that about Giménez's work - indeed, his characters' broad frames, flowing hair and obsessively detailed costumes suggest an alternate take on the Image Revolution just heating up in the U.S. in '92, and a more appealing one at that. Moreover, his approach is very much in tune with Jodorowsky's modifications to the epic tone of the Incal; subsequent offshoots would flaunt their own individual styles, from the digital sheen of the Technopriests to the edgeless 3D of Megalex, setting each area of the 'Jodoverse' apart as unique in focus, if united in broad concern.

And the Metabarons is certainly its parent's child. It's a sprawling, intergalactic opus -- the all-in-one French intégral box set weighs in at 528 pages -- compressed into small bursts of ideas and action that are hurled against the wall, one after another, over and over.

There's a magical subtext, touches of satire and a distinctly 'soft' approach to sci-fi devices; every starship in here is powered primarily by imagination, with a backup tank of allusion. The most alien entity around is subtlety - you'll know a tragedy has occurred when a father is out tracking thieves who've stolen his beloved, crippled son's horse (the only one in the entire universe, mind you), and he presumes the boy could never catch up with the villains so he throws his spear into the fog to lance the last one, but alas, he in fact murders his own son! And then the final, injured thief rises up behind him with his final breath and shoots his groin off with a laser cannon. For punctuation.

Yet it's is also a more refined work than the Incal, which often seemed unconcerned with any narrative development more complex than a steadily broadening scope. The Metabarons, in contrast, is keenly self-aware as to its status as a ballooning 'tale' of sorts - most of the story is narrated by Tonto, one of the robot servants of the 'present' Metabaron (i.e. the one from the Incal) to Lothar, a larger, more childlike robot, as they teem around the Metabunker hoping their adored master to acknowledge them, but mostly getting bored or sitting around, or contemplating suicide.

But while surely theater director Jodorowsky didn't happen upon this mild Waiting for Godot quality by accident, the effect is mostly utilitarian, patching up any gaps in the story's patchwork by zipping back to the robots every three to six pages or so, always to over-the-top praise for the story's thrill power:

"Such a profoundly human tragedy! Just the thought of Honorata's body disintegrating into a torrent of flesh has fried four more of my diodes! Ooooooooo!"

"Ohmy-ohmy-ohmy! Tonto, how can he possibly defeat all those witches single-handed? Yipes! I wish I had one of those rubbery organs that humans call a bladder so I could piss myself in fear! Keep going, keep going!"

"My system started going haywire at the thought of a lusty bio-male slipping his reproductive shaft into Aghora's forbidden cavern!"

And so on, going farther and farther over the top until the French vol. 7 has Lothar literally ripping Tonto's limbs off to force his deliverance of each new development.

Yet there's also a secondary utility to the robots' presence; they're the chorus, the 'common' folk that deliver a Greek tragedy's exposition to the audience and behave in a manner that the heroes or gods cannot. In the 'present' of Jodorowsky's story -- initially positioned somewhere between the Incal and its prequel, but later amended in subsequent printings as the series went on -- there are no humans to be found in the Incal's city-shaft, so it's left to automatons to marvel at the dealings of people, some of them excellent killers like the Metabarons, and all of them beneficiaries of developing technologies that make men like something unto gods. The cosmos are flat.

The stories the robots tell make up the full history of the Metabarons, which is another refinement of the Incal's structure - the action can build and build and build, but here for the purposes of keeping up with technological advancements and the development of a clan's traits and traditions. It's useful to look at the series' French title, La Caste des Méta-Barons, because that's what the series truly is: the caste of the Metabarons, the succession that maintains the organization, parent to child.

Sometimes the series is also called the Saga of the Metabarons, which carries its own connotation - it's a saga in the classical sense, an epic telling of the feats of great 'heroes' and 'barons' (orally, from Tonto to Lothar), muscular and fair-haired like romantic Vikings or godly kings, although Jodorowsky is uninterested in keeping things set on any one culture's tradition.

Many have described the Metabarons as especially Greek and tragic in its telling, but while its writer does indeed take the opportunity to work through such beloved fan favorites as the Oedipus complex -- yep, one dude definitely has sex with his mom, if through biblical treachery, and a woman rips her eyes out in reaction to her father's lust for her -- there's also touches of Japanese samurai ethos, 20th century American pulp fiction (included an extended homage to Tarzan) and contemporary political struggles, reflecting Jodorowsky's attitude that diverse cultures' stories are united by common mythemes, which develop through interpretation into unique traditions.

This is the ambition of the Metabarons, the grandest of Jodorowsky's work in comics - to strike at variations on shared primal memes so as to express a new human story, one spanning six generations of vastly developed, yet sometimes devolved culture, all in popular space opera terms that might analogize to classical depictions of feats. All of the writer's themes are present -- it feels almost like a farewell work, it's so full of summary -- with spiritual evolution and familial strife chief among them. Indeed, here they are essentially the same thing.

In Louis Mouchet's 1994 French television documentary La constellation Jodorowsky (available online or as a supplement to the R1 dvd release of Fando y Lis), much time is devoted to the writer's activities as a lecturer and a personal-spiritual guide. Crucial to the portrayal is Jodorowsky's concept of 'psychomagic' (or 'psychogenealogy'), based on his notion that personal neurosis is inevitably, often subconsciously steeped in familial struggle, sometimes set back generations.

It's all perfectly related to Jodorowsky's comics concerns. All the myth and psychology, the Jung and opera, and all the damaging mothers from all of Jodorowsky's works -- Mouchet's film is where Jodorowsky notes his own strained relationship with his mother, whom he did not know for much of his adult life -- join with the Incal's idea of the tarot as a structure to form a theory of the family tree as its own temple, to be viewed and interpreted like cards, so as to isolate the root of your problems, and prescribe a specific act that might release the compression on your subconscious. Not unlike like a visit to your therapist, Dr. Jodorowsky, as a magical ritual.

Moebius is essentially Jodorowsky's co-star in the film, and he speaks of participating in just such a ritual, many of which appear to start by the patient instinctively selecting people from a crowd to role-play as his or her ancestors of varying degree. The patient arranges the selected players (the drawn cards, maybe) in a manner so as to spatially indicate proper familial dynamics. Jodorowsky talks the patient through, urging them to communicate with important ancestors, the applicable player answering automatically. Amazingly, Moebius tells of arranging his players into the body of a starship, in almost exact replication of a sequence he drew in the Incal as symbolic of the arrangement of Jodorowsky's characters-as-tarot-cards, without apparently knowing what was happening. They all blasted off, to somewhere.

Director Mouchet also winds up participating in the act at the film's conclusion, selecting Moebius to play his father, who was a poet. It's strange and compelling to watch, all of it taking place before a large crowd, Jodorowsky pacing and barking commands, like a director himself. I haven't liked all of Jodorowsky's comics (or movies, for that matter), but as I mentioned regarding the Incal, I never get the impression that he is even insincere, or that any of his works aren't some expression of a deeply held concern of his. Seeing his live reading of humans, his direction of actor-selected players, his construct of genealogy like his construct of the tarot like his metaphorical charge to his Moebius comic, I was struck by how fully his art seems to have become his life, how he is united in himself.

But Mouchet burns a volume of his father's poetry in the end. On camera. That was the magical act, the release from his adult troubles. There are limitations to art, it seems, and individual union can never only pertain to the individual. Mouchet knows, as does Jodorowsky.

The Metabarons is an extended psychomagic ritual, climactic to Jodorowsky's comics work. Where the Incal only shuffled and flipped characters-as-cards over its rising action, the very structure of the Metabarons presents an image of the Metabaron family tree - it's what the comic is, the story being told by Tonto to Lothar. We can observe the dignity of Baron Berard, patriarch of the Castaka clan, whose daughter married the space pirate Othon, who was saved from death by his own son in an act of compassion that sparked a battle that obliterated the family, birthing the Metabarons.

It is not a staid saga Jodorowsky is relating; it is criticism. The Metabarons are mighty heroes, but also killers, and always ruined in the end by the duties of 'honor' imposed on children by parents, and the children always grow to be as awful as their parents. That's the tragedy, and it seems to free Jodorowsky's powers of characterization - where so many of his personages are archetypical, the Metabarons cast is unique as shaded and complex, developing convincingly into terrible, sad people of great renown.

Honorata, a witch and spy who fell into pure love with Othon, and used magic to bear him a son, Aghnar, born in mid-air and thus weighed down with metal, and likewise weighed by the duties of battle and succession demanded by his cruel, mad father and his too-determined mother, who took the place of his dead bride and bore him a child, Steelhead, whose skull was blown off by his father's repulsion though technology can cure that, and so he destroyed his father by exploiting his ruined but real love for his mother-grandmother, and later fell in love with a space Marxist, Doña Vicenta, who drove him to graft the head of a poet onto him to become sensitive but she ripped her eyes out over her own father's lust for her, prompted unknowingly by Steelhead, and then only the metal part of him loved her and she bore him a son and a daughter and only one could be saved, so the son't brain went into the daughter, Aghora, who ruined Steelhead by ruining her mother, and was emotionally dead, and had a child with herself, because by then the technology had gotten to eliminate the need for mutuality in reproduction, a lonely science for lonely people, a lonely story for a lonely humanity, a lonely hero, and her son had no name, because his battles would be him, and he was the Metabaron.

And if we can see all of this, and we can isolate the most crucial pain points of this shared human myth, we can arrive at the biggest of Jodorowsky's big conclusions - the defeat of the human anxiety. A mirror of the conclusion to the Incal, but fleshy and tearful, tactile and willfully messy with emotion, a postscript duality for a work loaded with them already. Sharper. Deeper. Everyone. Everywhere. Everything. Everything. Everything.

True, the story rises and falls with Jodorowsky's momentary ideas - space vampires from beyond perception, parent-child squabbles as a proxy war between civilizations, etc. The DC/Humanoids run ended with the birth of Aghora, whose story (the French vol. 7) does start to show some wear on the concept; once you've got a hero(ine) who's almost totally emotionally desolate and capable of reproducing with herself, there's not a lot to work with beyond huge fights. Can the Metabaron defeat all opponents... while nine months pregnant?!

Fatigue seems to be setting in by then, although the stuff that came before is often wildly compelling, provided you're not allergic to unabashed planet-hopping space opera chock-full of traditional or semi-traditional gender roles; funny how the only female Metabaron is a total wreck due in part to being a guy stuck in a woman's body; very Freudian, even while Jodorowsky positions androgyny as a powerful goal for the union of the male and female aspect, a role filled in the Incal by Sunmoon, the adopted child of the present Metabaron. There's a nice bit toward the end of the Incal where the Metabaron is writhing around in a nightmare, struggling with the mutilation Aghora gave him, one of several accidents that we observe becoming traditions over the course of the Metabarons series - maybe time heals all wounds, as much as they hurt.

I haven't read the eighth and final French volume, although Wikipedia suggests it might pack a whopper of a plot twist, joining the Tonto and Lothar plot to the story they're telling/hearing and directly addressing the history of pain in the Metabarons line, as in 'among the story's characters.' That'd be nice; it'd be a shame if Jodorowsky didn't nail the landing. For now, it's a story without end for English readers.

Or even French readers, sort of. Since almost the beginning of the Humanoids deal, a Metabarons sidestory project had been hyped, something titled The Dreamshifters, to be written by Jodorowsky and illustrated by Travis Charest, the most stately son of the Image Revolution (see? told ya it was connected). Eventually the concept pivoted to become a series of self-contained albums focused on the origins of the current Metabarons's weapons; a small story was included in a 2002 odds 'n ends book titled The Metabarons: Alpha/Omega. A good while passed, until the first book finally hit France in 2008 under the title Les armes du Méta-Baron, with Charest joined on the art by Zoran Janjetov.

I'm under the impression the series is not to continue beyond that done-in-one book, which I'm certain the DDP/Humanoids partnership will be bringing to English eventually, along with the rest of the saga proper - fourth time's the charm. Jodorowsky is currently busy working on a new Metabarons prequel -- a prequel to a spin-off, sure -- Castika, with Das Pastoras of Wolverine: Switchback and the DC/Humanoids book Deicide. The first of three volumes was released in 2007. Expect that too, whenever it's done, if we're all still around.

He can probably go back forever. Like, back to the present, then forward from the past, a la Tezuka's Phoenix. No, physically he can't -- Jodorowsky's an 80-year old man, after all -- but mentally, I'm sure. That's the potential of a life's work, one premised on charting the pain of life. The art of Moebius was the Incal, the spirit, the broad, the tarot. The art of Giménez was the Metabarons, the body, the personal, the psychomagical. All corridors in the mansion of the self, one with eyes turned to the stars, one with eyes down on the body. I liked the second one more, although maybe it's just better from plain developed chops.

Jodorowsky's only human, you know.



Land of Learning

*As you can tell, the holiday weekend wound up bumping our poor Eurocomics series around a bit - T10 (concerning The Metabarons) will conclude our Jodorowsky coverage on Tuesday/early Wednesday at this site, after which Tucker Stone will raise the issue of Enki Bilal at his site on Wednesday evening.

As for what's gone before...


--Désastre Hurlant: We Really Are Only a Few Days Behind Schedule, I Swear--

I wrote:

Part 6 (a closer look at The Incal)

Part 9 (Bouncer, Megalex and the brief revival of Métal Hurlant)

Tucker wrote:

Part 5 (Jodo's Son of the Gun)

Part 7 (Jodo's The White Lama)

Part 8 (Jodo's The Technopriests)

And I didn't really write much else.

*Drama Dept: But who needs essays when you've got acting? A while ago I wrote a little appreciation of Starstruck, a very fine work of supercompressed sci-fi world-building created by Elaine Lee & Michael Wm. Kaluta, which I cited as one of the few comics I could think of that started out as a stage production, written by Lee, Susan Norfleet Lee & Dale Place (I also came up with James Vance's Kings in Disguise and Rich Johnston's Rich Johnston's Holed Up, while Johnny Bacardi suggested First Comics' Warp, from the play by Stuart Gordon & Bury St. Edmund). I eventually went so far as to track down a copy of the May 1983 issue Heavy Metal (Vol. 7 No. 2) for its photo-illustrated visit to one of the play's stagings.

Well it may not be the '80s anymore, but all of my left coast readers will want to sear August 15, 2009 into their minds, because the original Starstruck play is coming back to life, in support of comics artist Gene Colan. It'll be a live reading-styled event at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, CA, with sound effects and the like, in anticipation of a later studio recording(!) of the work, with a subsequent radio series(!!) planned.

And my oh my, and what's going on at the bottom of the press release?

"On the cusp of the benefit reading, an equally exciting announcement is to come regarding the “StarStruck” comic series’ return to print. Truly, 2009 is the year of the Female Freedom Fighters! Up the Brigades!"

More on that as it develops.

*We've got an emphasis on education going on -


Adventures in Cartooning: How to Turn Your Doodles Into Comics: Being First Second's latest entry in the 'how-to' genre, following 2008's Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, a classroom-ready text 'n pictures book-as-semester. This one looks to take a opposing approach, as a comics-format educational guide for children. The authors are noteworthy: cartoonist and Center for Cartoon Studies director James Sturm and CCS alumni Alexis Frederick-Frost & Andrew Arnold (not the former comics critic for Times.com). CCS also "presents" the landscape-format tome, which is $12.95 for 112 color pages. Fat excerpt here.

The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA: Uh-huh. This certainly does appear to be a comics-format guide to the history and science of genetics, written by no less than Mark Schultz of Xenozoic Tales and the Prince Valiant newspaper comic! And the artists are Zander Cannon & Kevin Cannon from Big Time Attic - very interesting team. An asexual alien travels to Earth to fill us in on the basics of DNA and organic evolution, with the fate of its people on the line; do I sense some metaphor in my textbook? From Hill & Wang, $14.95 for 160 b&w pages; preview slideshow here, animated promo cartoon here.

The Best of Simon & Kirby: I don't know if this one'll be educational or not, but it's certainly a 240-page, $39.95 Titan Books publication that's uninterested in mincing words, at least when it comes to titles. Although I guess it's also eager to get to the good stuff, seeing how it's apparently the start of a complete collaborative works project. Contains over two dozen complete stories, hand-selected by Joe Simon himself and "fully restored to their original vibrancy." Authorized by the Kirby estate; introductions by Simon and Mark Evanier.

Alex Toth Goes Hollywood: But some days, you just wish you had 160 b&w pages' worth of Alex Toth drawing comics based on movies and television shows. Pure Imagination (of The Alex Toth Reader and various Steve Ditko collections) is here to serve, with this new $25.00 softcover.

The Dylan Dog Case Files: Or, since this is the Golden Age of Reprints and all, you can always elect a 680-page b&w brick of Italian suspense-horror comics, which Dark Horse has thoughtfully priced at a low $24.95. This Tiziano Sclavi-created series (which kinda-sorta inspired the 1994 film Cemetery Man) has been ongoing since 1986 under various creative contributors, many of which will doubtlessly be found underneath Mike Mignola's cover art. Join dirt-poor occult investigator Dylan on his many (many, many) cases, spiked with surrealism and class commentary. A movie adaptation, Dead of Night, is coming soon from TMNT director Kevin Munroe. Have a look.

Essential Dazzler Vol. 2: Paul Chadwick totally pencils five issues of this! And then he wrote that one story in Dark Horse Presents #1 based on his experiences. Good times in the 1980s.

100%: Aah, this should be nice - a new deluxe Vertigo hardcover for my personal favorite Paul Pope comic, in which the essence of his Smoke Navigator manga joined with floating ideas for the European-flavored Escapo and expanded madly into an emotionally delicate, visually engorged tour of young (and no-longer-quite-so-young) people longing for fulfillment, romantic and otherwise, in an impersonally carnal near-future NYC. Really fine stuff, heady with the big ideas but sensitive in its human observation. Your $39.99 gets you 256 pages, with bonus production art backmatter.

100 Bullets #100 (of 100): And in other '100' news, well - you've gotta give it up for this. I've never quite gotten into Brian Azzarello's & Eduardo Risso's monster Vertigo crime saga, but it really did strike a chord with some faithful readers, who will no doubt be thrilled to savor these last 32 pages. Expect up-to-the-minute Tucker Stone coverage in the days to come. No preview; nobody's spoiling nothing.

Gødland #27: Joe Casey & Tom Scioli - always a pleasure. We don't have too long anymore, but that's the story of life under and among the stars. Preview.

Incognito #3 (of 5): Further dispatches from the secret world of science villains, care of Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips. Have a look.

Rampaging Wolverine #1: You might think there's a lot of Wolverine comics out there -- moreso than usual now that the movie's out and soon to be released (yep) -- but how about an all-Logan pamphlet anthology in glorious black & white? Ha ha, they haven't tried that... wait a minute, holy shit Ted McKeever's in this! I mean, not in this, but in this. Wanna part with your $3.99 now??

Wolverine: Noir #1 (of 4): Hmm, and C.P. Smith is drawing this other Wolvie thing, one of Marvel's 'noir' versions of their popular superheroes; it does look a good deal more subdued than Smith's awesome/deranged work on The Programme, but it might be worth a peek nonetheless. Written by Stuart Moore; priced at $3.99, in the mighty Marvel manner.

Herbie Archives Vol. 3 (of 3): It is completed.


Désastre Hurlant (T9): The Good, the Bad and the Temporarily Resurrected

In 2002, Humanoids began the most ambitious project among their various pamphlet-format adventures: a revival of no less than Métal Hurlant itself, the great house magazine of Les Humanoïdes Associés, dormant since 1987. It was to be a special, distinctly international incarnation, a publishing union of Humanoids and Humanoïdes, with artists from all over the globe joined together "like a lightening bolt between two continents, from Paris to Los Angeles," as the first issue's editorial enthused.

And they kept it pretty much synced, for a while. The English-language edition ran for 14 issues, until 2004, while the French iteration saw 12 issues, in much the same format -- pamphlet-sized, initially thicker -- with similar (but not identical) content. The two series were released on a like minded schedule, and collapsed at roughly the same time; a 96-page special issue of the French edition emerged in 2006, apparently as a means of burning off some of the later stuff that appeared in only the English version, although there was some original content too.

It's fascinating to read through the stuff again today; Humanoids obviously saw the series as its bold flagship, and a forum for all sorts of promotion and personality. Editorials by publisher Fabrice Giger and managing editor Paul Benjamin are charmingly uninhibited and just a little pretentious, prone to colorful metaphors (Giger on transcontinental publishing: "the sword is heavy and hard to handle"), dramatic political exhortations (dated November 3, 2004: "in my dreams, the good guys always end up vanquishing the bad guys; I wish that in four years it would be a reality") and old-timey Team Comics fist-pumping for the good works done by Our Fellow Travelers at Fantagraphics, Image, Top Shelf, etc. - even Marvel, but don't be a superhero zombie, fanboy/girl!

There was a publicity motive at work too, naturally - the differences between the English and French editions seem to have been guided by what Humanoids wanted to promote in North America, in terms of authors, genres and formats. A Travis Charest Metabarons story would not run in the English Hurlant if it could be better sold as part of a Prestige Format one-shot like The Metabarons: Alpha/Omega. Sometimes projects would be announced, only to fade from view - did you know Humanoids planned to release Milo Manara's Giuseppe Bergman in North America (presumably 2004's The Odyssey of Giuseppe Bergman, since that's all Humanoïdes had published of the series at that time)?

I have to wonder if the imminent DC deal didn't scuttle that plan; the DC/Humanoids books may have undone the editing-for-content that went on in Humanoids' pamphlets, but I suspect DC may have been reluctant to take on such overtly sexual material.

Interestingly, Métal Hurlant never displayed the DC logo or listed DC personnel in on its masthead, even after the DC/Humanoids partnership began and the series started appearing with DC's solicitations. Perhaps something had to be left to Humanoïdes; an effort was made to preserve the new Hurlant's continuity with its ancestor, from the French edition maintaining the original issue numbering (it started with #134) to the English edition trumpeting issue #10's return of Richard Corben, surely the first great example of Hurlant's international eye. That was also the issue to announce the DC/Humanoids partnership, prompting publisher Giger to pronounce the series, four subsequent issues from evaporation, as "comics without borders."

Yet some boundaries couldn't be denied. My favorite thing in the revived Hurlant was a regular column by Humanoïdes co-founder Jean-Pierre Dionnet, who served as EiC of the old Hurlant for most of its existence and wrote a similar column in apparently every issue. Of the 'creatives' involved in the birth of Humanoïdes, Dionnet is easily the most obscure; he was a writer, but not an artist, and the only translated work of his that springs readily to mind is a 1977 Heavy Metal feature and subsequent book collection, Conquering Armies, a suite of sometimes-fantastical stories about mighty forces becoming somehow undermined, drawn in a shadowed heavy realist style by the late Jean-Claude Gal.

The guy wrote a good column, though, very much a blog-style point-by-point "what I'm reading-watching just now" kinda thing, ping-ponging from Kazuo Umezu to Lili St. Cyr to the dvd releases of Lobster Films to Avatar comics to Frédéric Coche to seemingly half of the U.S. mid-century pin-up/advertising art collections published between 2002 and 2004. Few language barriers were acknowledged, and Bud Plant was oft-toasted. At one point he mentions preparing for a project with Warren Ellis (the first and last I've heard of that) by reading through the man's complete works - an obsessive after my own heart!

But Dionnet also brought his acknowledged biases to the table, and refused to mince words. In his first column, he reflected on having difficulty coping with the story-first comics aesthetic of acclaimed works written by Alan Moore and the like, in that his own approach to comics had typically favored the promotion of splendid visuals as facilitated by script. If you're going to interface with North American comics, I think you have to acknowledge the minority status of that perspective, and only after a while can Dionnet (himself a writer, remember) understand the possible facility of visuals as supplicant to writing, even if the visuals themselves seem distinctly unexciting. And Dionnet didn't waste time puzzling over the C-list either; we're talking Steve Dillon on Preacher ("hideous") and J.H. Williams III on Promethea ("hippy art nouveau overflows"), the latter comment landing in the very same issue where Williams illustrates a Alejandro Jodorowsky short. J'accuse!

I think that kind of perspective is valuable, though, and probably not unexpected from the guy who edited Moebius & Druillet in their prime. You need only look at an early issue of Heavy Metal to see these values in full force, not that Dionnet was thrilled with what the American magazine became: "a drooling esthetic, falsely poetic and truly cheesy in a way that reminded me of black velvet paintings, with flying horses and sterile images of bimbos with perfect hairdos." It really was mostly a positive and enthusiastic column, though!

Dionnet was very enthusiastic about Jodorowsky too, and no doubt simpatico with his artist-first method of comics creation. And indeed, it's often easy to watch Jodorowsky's work rise and fall on the strength of his visual collaborators.


Bouncer: Raising Cain

For example, this book sees Jodorowsky teamed with a genuinely excellent artist, François Boucq. Like Moebius, Boucq is a notable writer/artist, although nothing of his solo work has been released in North America beyond Catalan Communications' 1989 edition of Pioneers of the Human Adventure, a fine, small collection of archly surreal social commentaries from the pages of (À Suivre). Catalan also released two of Boucq's funny, eccentric collaborations with writer Jerome Chayrin: The Magician's Wife, winner of the Best Comic Book prize at Angoulême in 1986, and Billy Budd, KGB. Boucq also won the Grand Prix de la ville d'Angoulême in 1998 for his cumulative body of work, so he has no lack of respect on the French scene.

For our purposes here, I'll also concede that Boucq strikes me as the ideal collaborator for Jodorowsky, even more so than Moebius. He has a wonderfully fleshy, molded approach to character art, with a keen eye for costuming and a great sense of comedy, typically pitting his soft-looking humans against disconcertingly realistic animals and detailed, evocative environments. Who better to convey the longing for sensitivity and oddball sexuality redolent in Jodorowsky's characters? Two people kissing seems like an oddly hilarious clash between the primal forces of the Earth to Boucq, which is naturally conductive to the archetype-driven action of Jodorowsky's plots - and he can do fantasy too!

Bouncer is the most recent collaboration between the two, a Western-as-in-gunfighters project begun in 2001 and currently up to vol. 6 in France; this sole DC/Humanoids book collects the first two French volumes, which appear to complete the series' initial storyline.

It's a good work, likely just the thing Kim Thompson had in mind when he cited the French comics industry for its 'crap': "that bulwark of solid, unpretentious, accessible genre fiction - a more or less undistinguished mass of okay-to-good comics that might catch your eye and give you a thrill, that loyal fans would buy out of habit, and anyone else might just pick up for the hell of it." If the Western were at all a viable genre in North American comics -- and, by and large, it's not -- this wouldn't be a bad piece to employ as a model for how to get it done.

Granted, it's still chock-full of Jodorowsky's writerly concerns, particularly his constant focus on the family. A solid 1/3 or so of the book is taken up by flashbacks explaining how the titular employee of the joyous-looking Inferno Saloon became a haunted man of violence - his mother was a child of rape and an adolescent prostitute who forged herself a place in a brutally masculine society, with the eventual, brutal aid of her three sons. But her greed and ambition eventually led them to knock over a steam engine ferrying the legendary and very subtly named Eye of Cain diamond, which eventually causes them all to go bonkers while in hiding; it's definitely more Treasure of the Sierra Madre than El Topo.

Brother inevitably turns against brother - one loses an arm, one loses and eye and the third loses his steel. Mother is so horrified with this breach of the family unit that she hangs herself, but only after hiding the diamond, prompting the one-eyed brother to slice her belly open and dig through her entrails for the treasure, which I know from experience tends to cause rifts between siblings. The not-physically-maimed brother leaves to find god and father a child with an Indian woman, but the end of the Civil War brings the return of his one-eyed counterpart, now leading a faction of bandits who refuse to acknowledge the Confederacy's surrender and hungrier than ever to find that lost diamond, which could power his force for years. Hidden under the floorboards, the child is baptized in the spilled blood of his murdered parents, and sets off to find his one-armed uncle, the Bouncer.

And while none of this gives Boucq quite the best chance to show off the fleshy-surreal side of his style -- even a Peyote-powered hallucination sequence comes off as distinctly grounded -- his sun-baked colors do effectively mute the romance of blood and dust into a parched, dirty struggle between fundamentally pliable humans. Everybody is sort of wrinkled and gross, even the 'beautiful' women, which does scratch at the shared humanity suggested by Jodorowsky's backdrop of racism and political-minded brutality.

It also kind of offsets the writer's taste for cross-genre cheese, which does coexist with the period verisimilitude. For all its attempts at suggesting departures from stereotypical femininity, this is a Jodorowsky story, and thus a work of archetypes questing. There's several Garth Ennis-like reflections on fabulous killing as a defining masculine trait, capped off with an eye-rolling moment in which the Bouncer's nephew completes his training-for-revenge and takes a bath, only for a nearby woman to comment on how large his prick is. It's the kind of book where an enlightened new schoolmarm from out of town raises a ruckus with her liberal ideas about Native treatment, but still sets several pages aside for the comedy stylings of a drunken Injun sputtering pidgin English.

Let's hope you're also ready for some high melodrama, the sort that assures Our Young Hero's burgeoning romance with a young lady cannot pass without remark from the familial theme. That part seems a little more fitting, though, small as it makes the Old West seem; even the worst, most murderous villain is ultimately reduced to a child in the end, in spite of all macho activity, shouting at Mommy while longing after her forgiveness. You'll find some escape from that motif in Jodorowsky's work, but not much; even his 'small' works like this are stained with trauma, although littler stories offer less a full-scale enlightenment for their characters than a modest possibility of grace. At least the world itself seems especially responsive here.


Megalex Vol 1: The Anomaly

And on the flip side of responsiveness and (relative) modesty, we have Megalex, which Humanoids positioned as the first 'major' serial of the revived Metal Hurlant; the second was Fragile, which did not finish before Hurlant sank, although the DC/Humanoids collected edition restores all missing chapters.

'Serial' is a tricky term, of course. As far as I know, the three-volume Megalex (1999-2008) behaved as your typical direct-to-album release in Europe; it wasn't even part of the French edition of Hurlant, leading me to guess that Humanoids made an educated guess that what Direct Market readers would really like to see in a new anthology was more Jodorowsky, and, Jean-Pierre Dionnet's black velvet assertions notwithstanding, a big ol' bunch of hot hot CGI ladies with improbably enormous breasts. And since the third volume wasn't even close to finished at the time, the adventure simply stopped at the end of the French vol. 2, which is as far as the DC/Humanoids collection goes as well.

I wonder if this series had anything to do with La Guerre de Megamex (The War of Megamex), a project Jodorowsky had intended to begin with Akira creator Katsuhiro Ōtomo in the early '90s - surely Megalex's city vistas and sprawling melee action seem keyed to Ōtomo's particular East-West blend of comics maximalism. Tragically, we don't have Ōtomo on hand for this one. We have Fred Beltran.

Beltran, you'll remember, is the guy who devised the updated color scheme for the 'new' versions of The Incal and its prequels. He also worked directly with Zoran Janjetov to create the super-shiny digital look of The Technopriests. This is apparently his first work with Jodorowsky as sole artist, and he rightly seizes the opportunity to attempt the annihilation of the human trace altogether by posing 3D models inside a a wholly CGI environment - Batman: Digital Justice, eat your heart out!

And while I'll readily admit that Beltran's 3D modeling is better than average -- and do note that vol. 3 seem to pursue a different style entirely -- it still doesn't hold much appeal at all to me. Jodorowsky's plot is among his most off-the-cuff in feel, positing a future civilization where drug addiction is mandatory and labor is forbidden, and every atrocity imaginable is processed into entertainment for the lazy populace - it's basically those five or six bits in the Incal with everyone watching the action on tv, stretched well beyond the breaking point into an entire series.

Banalities and contrivances pile - a strange attack on the city leaves an assembly line police clone overgrown and awkward (nonconformity!), mandating his escape from society into the oddball confederation of (literally) underground mutant rebels who desire to topple the city with the sleeping might of nature: giant roots and talking lizards and the like. But Beltran's art is entirely unsuccessful at portraying anything 'natural' without it looking dug out from a plastic cast; while I suspect the 'off the assembly line' nature of the city's robots and cloned citizens were supposed to play to Beltran's strengths, it's nonetheless puzzling how an earth vs. tech plot like this even wound up with an all-CG artist whose talents are almost entirely predisposed toward the antagonistic 'tech' side of things.

Or maybe that's foreshadowing? I don't know, but Beltran's eventual, not-in-this-book switch in visual approach suggests otherwise.

At least Beltran does manage the perverse flourish of basing every last female character, from the obligatory cruel mother figure to all the various love interests, off of the same woman, his own wife - Jodorowsky must have appreciated that!

Likewise, some of the writer's odder ideas -- a sad, wicked princess whose longing for intimacy is always ruined by her aptitude for immolating anyone who touches her skin, a labyrinth master named Cabot-Chadday (who may be a pair of twins, or possibly just one guy and an imaginary friend) who fathered the mutants with a talking wolf he insists is a beautiful woman, a tribal contest of champions that plays out in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome piggyback battle royale fashion -- congeal into some effective distraction, but there's no salvaging the whole (er, 2/3 of a whole) from its patent disconnect of presentation and content.

Even the pacing seems spoiled by the art, with nearly all of the French vol. 1 (i.e. the first half of the U.S. book) functioning as a chase scene through Beltran's computer backgrounds, and vol. 2 (for which I expect the technology was supposed to improve) split into piles of tiny panels populated by half-expressive characters for the purpose of dumping out the necessary plot. It's a mess, but a telling one - just try and think of exactly the same content drawn by a Katsuhiro Ōtomo, and you can all but see the improvement.

It's too bad - the revived Hurlant did sport some decent-looking pieces during its short life, and the quality was generally a lot higher than that of the still-enduring Heavy Metal. Jodorowsky's short stories with the likes of J.H. Williams III and José Ladrönn were often cutesy but sometimes striking; in France they were collected into a book titled, Astéroïde Hurlant, which I suspect would have a decent shot of showing up around here under the current DDP/Humanoids deal, along with the rest of Megalex, truthfully.

But flip through those back issues. There's stuff by Chase co-creator Dan Curtis Johnson, art by Ryan Sook... and what other magazine would surrender 10 pages to Guy Davis for an extended homage to Jacques Tardi?

Transcontinental bolt of lightning indeed.