I am very happy to be writing this review – one that has been six years in the offing. Jodorowsky’s Metabarons saga, published by Les Humanoïdes Associés (English language site), is a triumph of mind-bending science fiction. Juan Gimenez’s incredibly detailed galactic vistas and grotesque villains adds just the right amount of grandeur to an epic tale of one family’s history, descended from the sole survivor of the Castaka tribe. The story of how this comic book came to be written is almost as fascinating as the tale itself, one that began long before the character known as The Metabaron first appeared in a previous Jodorowsky book, called L’Incal.
Several years ago DC Comics, in partnership with Les Humanoïdes, began publishing English language editions of the many French titles. This was how I first discovered the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky, who is also an artist and film director (his Tarot-inspired Western El Topo .famously earned him the patronage of John Lennon). Unfortunately the bean counters at DC decided the translated reprints were not profitable enough and discontinued the line. Only now has Humanoids resurfaced as a English language publisher, with the final volume of The Metabarons series – Aghora & The Last Metabaron – released last month. Over the years I became so desperate I made trips to Brussels to pick up original copies of the various Jodoverse titles (including the Incal and Technopriests). Now thanks to the rejuvenated Humanoids imprint I can share the entire run with my English speaking friends. For more information on Jodorowsky’s career, have a gander at Tom Lennon’s excellent overview of his work.
The Metabaron is a title given to the sole survivor of the Castaka tribe, who were wiped out due to a planetary invasion by the Imperial Army. The title is handed down from father to son, following strict rituals designed to prove the worthiness of the child to becoming a Metabaron. Firstly the child is mutilated in some fashion by their parent. Then after years of training, the two duel, with the surviving victor winning the honour of becoming the Metabaron. This is to ensure that the Castaka family will forever be known as the most dangerous and ruthless warriors in the galaxy, called upon by the Galactic Empire itself in times of need (and at great cost to its citizens).
The two dominant themes of the series are body fetishism, particularly with regard to cybernetics and prosthetic limbs and a satirical undercurrent of Freudian theories of sexuality. Almost every Jodorowsky work makes reference to the granddaddy of psychoanalysis’ theory of the Oedipus complex. Seeing as each volume of The Metabarons series contains an inversion of the trope – the son must kill the father – each Metabaron is bound by competing impulses, be the greatest warrior in the galaxy, while also raising and training their nemesis.
This is also the story of two robots, Tonto and Lothar, who serve the nameless last Metabaron. Throughout the series Tonto has served as narrator to the increasingly excitable Lothar. He also insists on abusing and humiliating his faithful audience, until events take a startling turn in the last book. Without giving anything away, Jodorowsky has not merely introduced a novel framing device to poke fun at the ever-present C-3P0 and R2D2 from the Star Wars series. The question of who and what Tonto and Lothar are becomes the central mystery of the entire saga.
There is a fascinating documentary called La constellation Jodorowsky where the mercurial creator discusses his failed attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s Dune for the silver screen (I love his description of it as a ‘wonderful failure’). There is more information on the unrealized cinema adaptation here. I find myself agreeing with Jodorowsky that his work on the film should not be considered a failure, as it gave us two great things. Firstly as a member of Jodorowsky’s Paris-based crew of creative types, it lead to Dan O’Bannon’s script for Alien. Furthermore another colleague of O’Bannon’s on Dune was H.R. Giger, the man who would design the Freudian nightmare that was the titular xenomorph. Secondly, Jodorowsky himself left the production with a universe of unrealized ideas, which in collaboration with Moebius led to L’Incal and later the Metabarons series. So hardly a failure all things considered.
I would urge all science fiction fans to hunt this series down. Packed with mad ideas and incredible visuals, it is a classic.