By Alexandro Jodorowsky and Juan Gimenez
Othon begat Aghnar; and Aghnar begat Steelhead; and Steelhead who would become Melmoth, who would again become Steelhead, begat Aghora; and Aghora begat No-Name. So it was written. This is the lineage of the universe’s most brutal and invincible warrior nobility and it is a wonder to behold. The Metabarons is an examination of the anima and animus, by way of space opera samurai through the lens of Greek tragedy that could only be borne from the mad mind of Alexandro Jodorowsky. With art that is appropriately epic in scale by Juan Gimenez, The Metabarons is far more than just a prequel to the classic The Incal; it stands tall, proud and worthy of its literary ancestry as a masterpiece all its own.
At nearly 550 pages this collection is nothing short of a tome, and the eight chapters found within are framed by a historical retelling of the Metabaron line from one robot to another.This dual narration serves a few purposes, not the least of which is to accentuate the idea of this clan’s legacy being preserved through an oral tradition; that so great are their exploits, that generation to generation will pass along the ever-growing myth of the Metabarons. Now, granted, these are two robotic servants relaying a mythical history and not a tribal people sitting around a fire, but the effect is similar and adds a much-needed gravitas to the idea that these warriors’ feats transcend mere recorded footnotes and instead are more akin to epic fantasy recited like a fairy tale. Thus, we have Tonto, the loyal C3PO-like droid relaying the Metabaron chronicles to Lothar, the bumbling and consistently overwhelmed droid, to move the reader through each era of the Metabaron saga taking breaks to distress over a fried diode or wax poetic or complain about being interrupted yet again. Do these two characters’ vignettes get tiresome from their repetitive nature? Absolutely, but there’s more to this framing device than initially appears and the two robotic servants slowly entwine themselves into an even larger story at play. The Metabarons is infinitely easier to read than The Incal due largely in part to a more straightforward narrative that follows from one heir to another through time until arriving at the already established present-day Metabaron, whom is the one featured in The Incal. The reader knows, at least roughly, where we’re ending up and the structure by which we’ll get there unlike the more fever-dream driven sequences of The Incal. Don’t misunderstand, The Metabarons is equally unbridled in its imaginative creations (each page seems determined to outdo its predecessor’s ideas) it is just given the additional linear structure that behooves a generational epic and is therefore a vastly more accessible work. Even if it does prominently feature a character whose head was exploded shortly after birth and replaced with a cybernetic one. It’s still Jodorowsky, after all.
Thematically, The Metabarons is ostensibly a warrior’s tale of honor, tradition and noble savagery, but Jodorowsky absolutely riddles this work with Oedipal complexes and Jungian conceptions. Other Jodorowsky works have felt overtly and knowingly male (Son of the Gun a prime example) and here he lets this masculinity run rampant via the Metabarons’ dedicated repression of anything even remotely traditionally feminine: mercy and nurture are to be wholly expunged from their beings, they are only capable of spawning sons, their greatest moments of weakness arrive with any glimmer of compassion (such as a single tear being shed for the loss of a companion), etc. The repressed anima of each these pseudo-kings is uniquely contrasted with the outwardly expressed animus in their partners such as the powerful warrior-priestess Honorata, the resilient Princess Doña Vicenta and then of course, in the epitome of androgynous perfection, the Metabaron Aghora. Throughout this saga, Jodorowsky portrays the idea of androgyny as the perfect marriage of spirits through the depiction of the galaxy’s emperor/ess (as previously seen in The Incal) and the constant efforts of the Shabda-Oud to find a legendary hermaphrodite to rule over all. In Aghora, we have a male brain deposited into the body of a female who eventually decides that giving life would be the ultimate victory as opposed to taking life. So, by taking the cells from her stillborn male twin (the origin of her male brain) she impregnates herself via her own inherent maleness. It is…bizarrely poetic, as is virtually every panel on every page of this work.
The Oedipal conception of Steelhead (who will go on to become one of the most prominent characters) is the result of the Metabaron Aghnar’s mother spiritually bonding with his lover. The very conceit of having to triumph one’s father in order to earn the title of Metabaron already reeks of Freud, but given the mythical nature of their genealogy there’s also a great incorporation of the Uranus, Cronus and Zeus cycle. In all, to say that The Metabarons is deeply interested in examining the largest of daddy-issues would be a tremendous understatement. And it is compelling as hell in how it is explored and merged with familiar epics such as the Poetic Edda, samurai bushido, Star Wars and, appropriately, Dune.
Matching and exceeding the thematic stakes of Jodorowsky’s script is Juan Gimenez, whose painterly touch instills a visceral connection to the impossibilities found at every turn. Textured doesn’t even begin to describe Gimenez’s work here and through his mastery of chiaroscuro, The Metabarons is virtually an organic being that transcends mere detail pictures. Every moment of anguish and immense pleasures comes via bulging eyeballs and spittle-laden teeth, and every world and creature is terrifyingly alive with deeply textured skins that shimmer with slime or rot with diseased decay. Gimenez gives every detail equal attention, be it the folds of a priestess’ gown or the mechanical ridges of one spacecraft in the midst of hundreds engaged in intense interstellar combat. The word “epic” has been used here already and it is perhaps one of our culture’s most overused terms, but what Gimenez puts on display in this work is nothing short of just that. He may not have the same line as Moebius (honestly, who does?) but its his painting techniques that sets him apart and instills a realism to a wholly unreal universe. This is Frazetta on acid but with a mindfulness towards softness wherever possible in a highly detailed jumble of emotion and war and dreams. His work here should be praised as the perfect vehicle to deliver the grandeur that this modern-day legend deserves.
With The Metabarons, Jodorowsky and Gimenez do so much more than merely flesh out The Incal universe, though it certainly accomplishes that. Instead it effortlessly provides a thematic cocktail that reads like it’s an artifact from the future. Gender, heritage, compassion, brutality and triumph are steeped in the pores of each chapter as the entirety of the universe and other universes are constantly besieged with the threat of their own annihilation time and time again. There are no greater stakes than this until Jodorowsky and Gimenez remind you that the blood in one warrior’s veins and its passing on to the next are just as grand in scope. The dual narrative, while consistently trying, does interweave itself into a surprising aspect and culminates with something The Incal expresses full-bore; love and hope. It’s not nearly as corny as that sounds, promise. The Metabarons is a blisteringly assertive and psychologically complex work that should appeal to any who have always wanted to see Game of Thrones performed in outer-space with a classical Greek bent. There is so much more at play here than the mere passing along of a title and genes, instead it examines what it means to be whole. The answer is more than just a gender, more than just a code, more than just a name, more than just an honorific. It is all of those working in harmonious concert and shedding away the past while still embracing the truth of its existence. The Metabarons is a magnum opus of unadorned emotion and one that will surprise you in its thoughtfulness and craft.