The Acid Dreams of Samuel Beckett
Okay, I'll admit it. I'm not perfect. I'm human just like everyone else. But I've tried to be open, understanding and liberal my entire life. I don't consider myself a racist or a sexist or really any other "ist" for that matter. Most of my favorite comic book writers are British, Scottish, or Irish, so I think I'm fairly open when it comes to my reading material. When it comes to European comics though, there is a black mark on my soul.
I've tried bits and pieces of European graphic literature over the years, mostly books from Germany, France and Spain. There has been only one common denominator that I've found over too many years of forcing myself to read these books. I loathe European comics with a dark, seething passion that one should only reserve for child molesters or rapists. Mind you, there are exceptions, but I'd be hard pressed to tell you about them. I can't stand Judge Dredd or 2000 A.D. I've never understood why Moebius is held up as a national treasure in both France and the United States. I love science fiction, but for years I've tried to make it through either a whole issue of METAL HURLANT or its American sister HEAVY METAL. The work just leaves me cold. I've tried reading these stories many times and I've always been left with a hard, burning chill that makes me want to light these mags on fire and dance like an aborigine on their crumbling ashes. I never understood why, and it always bothered me to my core.
I'm better now. Basing my decision solely on the recommendation of Warren Ellis (I don't know him personally, he recommended it through his forum or mailing list), I gave THE METABARONS a try. Now, I understand the beauty and complexity that can come from someone not working within the confines of my homeland. THE METABARONS changed everything for me.
Ostensibly the history of a clan of uber warriors, The Metabarons is a science fiction epic on the literary scale of Frank Herbert's DUNE, or Isaac Asimov's FOUNDATION. The series creators are masters of plot and pacing. The art and story work with perfect synergy, as every bizarre plot twist and seemingly insignificant sub plot combines perfectly into an epic saga that spans generations of humanity. Alexandro Jodorowsky and Juan Gimenez have crafted a grand and decadent culture on an intergalactic scale. They have created a paradigm of human society, occupied by people so far advanced into the future that even the simplest of human emotions seems complex and alien. The sublime irony is that the central framing sequence is played out by two robots that seem closer to our current model of mankind than any of the story's human characters.
Borrowing just a bit from Waiting for Godot, the aforementioned robots narrate the first graphic novel, Path of the Warrior, as they wait for their master. The initial tale is primarily the story of Baron Othon Von Salza, the first Metabaron. It follows him from his early days as a marble miner on one of the most inhospitable planets ever created, through the series of tragedies and betrayals that result in his metamorphosis into the galaxy's most feared warrior and assassin. During the track of the story, we are made privy to the events of Von Salza's life that become Metabaron traditions in the second novel, and later in the comic book series. We are shown Von Salza's maiming, which results in the Metabaron tradition of replacing organic body parts with technology, as well as many other seminal events that give us a better understanding of things that happen later in the second graphic novel.
The second book, Blood and Steel, traces the bloodline through to the current (in continuity) Metabaron. Once again, the two robotic narrators take us back in time while they wait for a master who never shows. As the story of each successive Metabaron unfurls, we are given snapshots of the key moments in each of their lives. How the Metabaron traditions bind and shape each character's life, makes for one seriously mind-blowing exercise in plot, as well as a dynamic, enthralling read. Blood and Steel culminates with several Shakespearean level betrayals and a massive space battle that sets up the fifth Metabaron as the greatest warrior in the line.
Juan Gimenez may be one of the greatest artists of his generation. His page layouts are deceptively simple, preferring six and seven panel spreads. He rarely resorts to breaking panel borders, or moving beyond the even pacing of his standard layout. When he does, the effect is a visceral punch that jars the senses. You can smell the antiseptic reek of the imperial city. You can hear the explosions and feel the spatter of blood and alien ichor. There are no sound effects to be found anywhere within these pages. Gimenez' art would render them impotent. The detail of Gimenez' line work would give George Perez eyestrain. He also brings an organic esthetic to the page, sorely lacking in most of Perez' cannon. His use of color radiates an amazing feeling of reality that blends fluidly with his pencils. Throughout the entire series, Gimenez gives us a dramatic, sensual assault, that is, at times gut wrenching, but always beautiful.
The character of the Metabaron was originally introduced in Jodorowsky's other series, The Incal. After chewing through the two METABARONS graphic novels, I tracked down most of the Incal series. It works great as a primer to who and what the Metabarons are, but it's completely unnecessary to enjoy these two books. Warren Ellis' simple statement, "There is literally a new and mad idea on every page," is absolutely true. Jodorowsky and Gimenez throw away enough ideas on background details to fill a series that would make Robert Jordan jealous. They take us on a magical journey filled with fire, viscera, and blood, but leavened by equal parts courage, honor and love.
I never thought it was possible for me to enjoy a European comic series. Somewhere along the line, I think THE METABARONS flipped a switch in my head. Through this stunning work by Jodorowsky and Gimenez, I've garnered a deeper understanding and a greater appreciation of European creators as a whole. The more I read, the more I finally understand what the European artists and writers have accomplished by bringing their different cultural sensibilities to the crafting of sequential works of art. I've started giving other European comics a try, and on the whole, I've been well pleased. I've yet to make it through an entire issue of HEAVY METAL, but I'm taking baby steps. I have a lot of years worth of prejudice issues to deal with.