Showman Killer Vol. 1: Heartless Hero
By Alejandro Jodorowsky and Nicolas Fructus
Psycho Killer. Qu’est-ce que c’est? Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-far better. Run run run run run run run away! No, seriously, this killer is borne from the deranged depths of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s indefatigable imagination, so you just know that the Showman Killer is some next level twisted business. Together with the dark, painterly stylings of Nicolas Fructus, Showman Killer: Heartless Hero is indeed an esoteric science-fiction orgy of operatic absurdity that comfortably and disturbingly fits into the Jodorowsky milieu. However, if you’ve read The Metabarons already (and you should have) there’s nothing terribly new to be found in Showman Killer as the former already capably and near-definitively tackled all the ideas and themes in play in the latter. It’s only the first installment, sure, so it would be unfair to fully categorize this as a complete re-tread of earlier work, but this phlegmatic phallic-filled work hums of the familiar while offering little in the way of momentum. If this is your first Jodorowsky work, then by all means hop in and strap yourself down for the surreal trip fantastic because it certainly delivers the delightfully crazy in spades.
Genetic engineering, perversions of nature and nurture, sexual juxtapositions on technology, continued exploration of the anima and animus…yeah, this is a Jodo joint alright. With an ambiance that is strongly reminiscent of The Incal Universe (hell, there’s little indication that it isn’t actually set there) Jodorowsky plants his own seed of destruction rife with paleo-dogs and sperm collectors and space ninjas. It’s all a bit much, but it’s categorically in his oeuvre. With Showman Killer Jodorowsky has a very similar central character to those found within the lineage of The Metabarons, but with less focus on legacy and more on the core conceits of “human” nature. Can empathy truly be drained through high-science manipulation? Would the result be a far more monstruous Frankenstein’s monster? The answers appear to be “yes” until of course they’re turned into “maybe.” As interesting as these explorations into nature versus nurture, or the omnipresent male-ness of it all, can potentially be, the actual execution is both a tinge predictable and a little flat. Okay, maybe “predictable” isn’t the most applicable word considering the conveyor belt of oddities that come flying at you over the course of 50 pages, but it’s hardly a revelation to set-up “character we think is 100% a certain way turns out to maybe not be quite so immutable.” No, what drives Showman Killer more than any artisan examination is its spectacle.
The over-the-top yet simplified exclamations, the bombast of violence, the hyper-sexuality, and the incessant need to top itself with each page; these are the hills that Showman Killer has chosen to die on. It’s tremendously fun stuff in its childlike ability to constantly up its ante from page to page. The titular killer isn’t just the deadliest assassin in the world or galaxy, but the entire universe! He can transform into anything and seemingly perform any feat! There isn’t just a king, there’s an Omnimonarch! Whole planets will fall! It’s big and it’s imaginative and it’s suggestive while still falling short of its self-proclaimed status as “operatic.” It’s grandeur wrapped in the bizarre, no doubt of that, but at this early juncture the idea of it feeling like a true epic space opera akin to (surprise) The Metabarons doesn’t quite ring true. It’s close and Jodorowsky has certainly proven himself more than capable of turning a diddy of a story into an orchestral saga, but the stakes simply aren’t well defined enough to warrant an operatic heft. It’s all show at this point, albeit an entertaining one. Whether Jodorowsky can incorporate the newer perspectives to the themes laid bare here remains to be seen, but for now Showman Killer is surprisingly shallow for all its pomp and pedigree. But there is a seal-man in a clown suit, so feel free to ignore all of the above simply on the merits of that insane awesomeness.
That’s not to say that it visually feels devoid of textures both literal and figurative. Nicolas Fructus’s work is a skilled blend of Hieronymus Bosch-like horror and the sickest painted van you ever laid eyes on. The art is rich and deep, the result of the painted application and Fructus leans heavily on chiaroscuro to set the tone early on. It’s intensely layered and thus surprisingly tactile, even if nearly every texture is unmistakably alien in origin. Fructus is most impressive with how he manages to blend these lively mounds of colors into laser-focused detailed figures and worlds. A menagerie of texture is corralled into precise, nearly invisible lines to create luridly detailed beasts and beauties alike. There’s a ghostly aura about the entire book, a disturbing sense of the familiar inside the monstrosities that Fructus crafts on each page that’s enormously successful in conveying an uneasy sense of fathomable dread. It’s as though it’s happening in dream time and that’s a bit of a mixed bag because while that aforementioned horror is the result, there’s also places where the animated objects feel unnaturally stiff. That lack of fluidity in the art does trip up the flow of the narrative as it occasionally looks as though characters are posed action figures. This is the all too common risk when working in a photo-realistic style, but the overall setting and lush universe building brought about through Fructus’s dense and imaginative landscapes more than make up for it.
Showman Killer succeeds in making you feel curiously uncomfortable throughout. It teeters on the verge of some truly terrifying psychological and sociological questions while firmly setting foot in the realm of utter magniloquence. Jodorowsky never fails to bring the insanity, but one cannot help but compare it to the far more heralded operatic works that he’s unleashed on the world already and sadly, Showman Killer at least initially falls far short of those heights. Paired with Fructus, there’s still plenty of reasons to experience this, not the least of which is the near biblical levels of extermination and leaps of absurdist plot progressions. In the end though, this psycho killer is talking a lot, but it’s not really saying anything.