Son of the Gun
By Alexandro Jodorowsky and George Bess, translated by Justin Kelly
Son of the Gun is an onerous work to decipher and just as often, difficult to get through. It is unquestionably well crafted, guided by the same enthusiasm and assaulting creativity that is uniquely Alexandro Jodorowsky, but unlike the bacchanalian sci-fi love explosion that is The Incal and its kin, Son of the Gun is Jodorowsky by way of Scarface, The Bible, Grand Theft Auto and Sophocles as filmed by Quentin Tarantino. It is a barbaric, testosterone-fueled examination of redemption on its surface and a spiritual, if not philosophical, exploration of the natural order of humanity, running underneath. And, thanks to immeasurable talents of George Bess, it is an absolute joy to look at, even when you might feel compelled to turn away. Son of the Gun takes an infant from the literal trash heap of this world, bloodily builds him up to epicurean heights, only to see him, rightfully, fall and devolve to pitiful lows. Perhaps the most tragic aspect to this work is that it isn’t a tragedy by definition, or if it is, Jodorowsky believes it is humanity’s tragedy to bear. Complex, richly influenced and confounding gratifying, Son of the Gun will demand the reader to sup at the nipple of violence and bear all consequences with each turn of the page.
Framed by the crucifixion of our protaga….err, lead character, the story is a death-cross confessional of the sinful life and martyrdom of Juan Solo. Found in a trashcan atop a mountain of garbage, moments from being devoured by a pack of wild dogs, newborn Juan is found by a cross-dressing prostitute dwarf named (wait for it) Half-Pint, who was content to end his brief miserable existence if not for noticing his prehensile tail. Yes, you read that right. In lieu of a breast and its life-assuring milk, Juan is offered the barrel of a gun to sate him before being able to nurse on the teat of Half-Pint’s dog. Don’t worry, things starting getting dark after this. Raping, thieving, betraying and debauching himself into a position of power as a local politician’s bodyguard (i.e. Mafioso thug) Juan develops himself into a maestro of destruction, carrying with him and employing to great effect, the same gun that nursed him that fateful night. Continuing along this path ultimately and unsurprisingly brings him to his knees, to the point of becoming a town drunkard forced to dance bedside as his own mother turn tricks until finally culminating in the quasi-redemption the reader opened to on page one. It is not so much dizzying as it is forceful. Jodorowsky treats the tale as if he was a butcher who decided to carefully carve the finest cuts to serve alongside and atop all the gory inedibles normally dispatched.
Here’s the problem: Jodorowsky has proven himself as a bastion of raw, creative and intelligent storytelling every time his pen touches paper, so surely Son of the Gun is nestling away more poignant and insightful commentary than is imminently available. And yet, it is almost a Sisyphean task to unearth them from the detritus of carnal revelry found throughout most of Juan’s life story. It manages to incorporate an Oedipal plot into the Judeo-Christian paradigm, but it all hinges on a thinly veiled metaphor. Heck, it’s not even thinly veiled; it’s in the damn title. A societal reject literally fed by an instrument of death. Jodorowsky is too smart to simply shoehorn the narrative into these predetermined themes; instead he allows it to develop slowly and intentionally makes the reader squirm through Juan’s iniquity. The object of his deformation, his tail, may very well be a nod to the classical Chinese Journey to the West, but beyond granting Juan a Son Goku level aptitude for ass-kicking, any other connections are hard to make other than the plot contrivance. Everything about the story is perfectly well paced, and the movement from Part A to Part B makes perfect sense, but that doesn’t make watching it any easier. In order to properly tear him down into a man that forsakes everything he’s ever been, everything he’s ever thought, Jodorowsky must depict every horrible act befouled by Juan. Structurally, it works. It just doesn’t make it any easier to watch unfold. The reader knows from the onset that this character has a hell of a cross to bear, and that it will be his undoing, but it still seems to revel just a little too long in the twisted glory of these actions. But despite constantly wondering whether the ends justify the means, whether there was something much larger at play that Jodorowsky was hinting at as you squint your eyes and utter “yikes”, the story is almost inexplicably engrossing. You will find yourself turning the page not out of naïve excitement, but perhaps from some sort of dark, abashed curiosity as to what will happen next. It is raw, and perhaps not as clever as it wants to be, but it will entice some part of you to question why we are the way we are. If things feel contrived (the Oedipus-turn, for instance) or if the raw grotesque-eroticism of the actions sounds like a turn off, then at least the art will have you captivated throughout the depravity. Because this thing is a damn masterpiece for your eyes.
George Bess makes ugly look gorgeous. Alternating between boundless desert landscapes and tight, gangster-riddled urban minutiae, he consistently sculpts pages that are a Mondrian delight of panel storytelling. While his figure work is pitch perfect and use of shadow is a lesson in chiaroscuro, it is his colors that are by far the most striking. Modern equivalents to the myriad of water-colored infused emotions found within would be Daytripper or Tale of Sand. The desert landscapes with their multitude of purples and reds convey the inescapable heat and majesty of nature, while the washed out pallor the urban settings, and the horrific acts performed therein, make the reader equally anxious for a cool relief. It is a magnificent array of technique that could easily be viewed without any dialogue and be just as affecting. Bess effortlessly switches between intense character close-ups and sprawling barren landscapes, each finely and skillfully detailed with a thin line and an array of warm color. Each page is soaked in passion, every panel indispensably brutal. If anyone could make Hell look inviting, it’s George Bess.
Son of the Gun is essentially predicated on this examination of nature versus nurture, which one can choose to wholly dismiss as an inherent male power-fantasy or embrace as the ultimate example of the spiritual recognition of man’s debased condition. Either way, it is a work worthy of your consideration and one that is a marvel of visual storytelling. It is certainly a troubling work, one that revels just a tad too long in its depravity, but for all it’s bizarre ego and religious symbology, there is clearly more at work than just a celebration of wanton barbarism. Pick it up, load it, close your eyes and pull the trigger.