Jodorowsky & Gimenez's space opera comic in its most perfect form...
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Before there was the fan-favorite Heavy Metal Magazine, which began in 1977, there was the French publication Métal Hurlant. First published in 1974 by Les Humanoïdes Associés, the sci-fi and fantasy magazine's success inspired the publisher to continues to bring hard-hitting, gritty, and violent comics to the marketplace. Now, thanks to the publisher's American counterpart, Humanoids, fans of original sci-fi, fantasy, and hardcore comics can pick up a variety of graphic novels.
The Castaka Clan symbol is passed on.
Following our recent reviews of Elias the Cursed, Son of the Gun, and Metal, we're now reviewing what has to be one of the finest comic releases of 2011: The Metabarons Ultimate Collection.
The Metabaron faces overwhelming odds in battle.
Toting a gorgeous slipcase and measuring 9.25" wide, 12.3" tall, and - at nearly 550 pages long - over 2" thick, The Metabarons Ultimate Collection (top) is one of the largest comic releases I've ever come across. Exclusively limited to only 999 copies, the book is a compilation of writer Alexandro Jodorowsky and artist Juan Gimenez's brilliant multi-part, multi-generational space opera which follows the Castaka Clan as their family grows to fame as the galaxy's greatest warriors, the Metabarons.
The Metabaron tragically kills his own son, Bari.
Of course, the Metabarons' story involves so much more than the transformation of a mining family into the galaxy's most devastating and violent warriors; the story is lush with a fictional history that's encompassing and complete with characters that live, breath, love, hate, kill, and die. In this futuristic Greek tragedy-turned-sci fi opera, creators Jodorowsky and Gimenez make it impossible to predict what's next. There's no telling what can happen within the pages of The Metabarons - especially when there are parasitic alien space fish the size of planets, mind-reading priestesses that can kill with a glance, weapons that can destroy civilizations built into human bodies, and a famed warrior intent on passing his rich history, twisted traditions, and violent weapons to the next generation - from father to son and killer to killer, ensuring the Castaka Clan name and Metabaron are forever honored.
The scope of the space battles are astronomical (above/below
The Metabarons first made an appearance in Jodorowsky and artist Moebius' sci-fi graphic novel The Incal in May 1981. Since then, the Metabaron has grown in popularity and prestige, gaining his own graphic novel series which followed the generational linage of the Castaka Clan. The original, French series began in 1992 with Othon and continued in 1993 with Honorata, in 1995 with Aghnar, in 1997 with Oda, in 1998 with Steelhead, in 1999 with Doña Vicenta Gabriela de Rokha, in 2002 with Aghora, and in 2003 with Nameless, the Last Metabaron.
This original 8-part series was collected by Humanoids and published for English audiences in a limited, 17 issue comic series which was later collected in four graphic novels. It is these four graphic novels as well as two short stories ("The Crest of Castaka" and "The Incal's Dream") which are collected in the massive, over-sized The Metabarons Ultimate Collection.
Aghnar prepares to face the Metabaron ritual mutilation.
It's hard to explain to someone who's never picked up the comic what The Metabarons story entails, how truly brilliant Jodorowsky's writing is, or how amazingly beautiful Gimenez's artwork can be. Of course, some of the script can at times seem lost in translation (after all, it was translated from French to English), but that doesn't mean any of the violent action, intense drama, pulse-pounding suspense, or maddening tragedy is missing. One has only to pick up the massive The Metabarons Ultimate Collection to find all of the above. Chaotic, gorgeous, vicious, provocative, startling, and wholly foreign to most regular "superhero" comic fans, The Metabarons is truly original. As the fan-favorite comic writer Warren Ellis said, "There is nothing else like this book."
Flying spacecrafts shaped like underwater creatures and massive space lice; but two of the bizarre oddities within (above/below).
In fact, one of the reasons The Metabarons found popularity with an American audience was Ellis' commentary about the first Metabarons graphic novel - Othon & Honorata. Ellis wrote "In its vast sets, broad gestures and hysterical pitch, it is nothing less than operatic. It is astonishingly beautiful and completely mad. What keeps me going back to The Metabarons is the immense volume and speed of its innovation. There is literally a new and mad idea on every page." Bold words by a brilliant comic creator that no doubt helped attract fans to The Metabarons. And once fans began to read, they - like Ellis - found The Metabarons impossible to ignore.
Aghnar face acceptance by a tribe of floating alien beasts.
The Metabarons story features themes which are completely familiar: family, sacrifice, survival, lust, violence, and anger. However, due to the comic's unique setting and circumstances, the way in which the themes are presented can come across as somewhat alien. After all, most of us never torture our children or turn ourselves into cyborgs. However, this doesn't mean readers can't relate to the situations or characters. In fact, if anything, readers will find their own personalities reflected in the character's motivations and actions. Thankfully, Jodorowsky does a brilliant job with characterization and creates unique archetypes which are at once strangely unique and yet completely common. Later themes - such as grace, forgiveness, and love - likewise seem easy to grasp due to their less twisted and more appealing tone. While there's no doubt the characters themselves grow and the violent nature of the Metabaron sees maturation in the saga, readers also find the story revealing the writer's possible views on tradition and fundamentalism.
Melmoth, the massive mechanical warbot, exterminates a species.
As one can see by the brilliant artwork presented here, artist Juan Gimenez is a true master of the craft. As Ellis said, there are truly "new and mad ideas on every page." Be it the Metabaron's time-honored tradition of mutilating their heirs (p.121, above), the galactic violence which makes up many of the on-going conflicts (p. 132/133 and 236/237, above), the ridiculous medical procedures which lead to the weaponizing of the Metabaron's body (p. 307, below), or the graphic hand-to-hand combat (p. 37 and 297, above), each of these ideas and others which make The Metabarons unique and special in the realm of comics are brought to gorgeous visual life thanks to this talented artist.
A clone is born and a new Metabaron is made.
One of the most prominent themes throughout the cycle is the search for perfection. A time-honored tradition within the Cataka Clan, each subsequent generation of Metabaron is taught from birth to never express pain, fear, regret, or emotion of any kind. This thus takes much of the character's humanity away. It is, after all, human emotion which the Metabarons see as the ultimate weakness. And thus, each subsequent Metabaron searches for new ways to dehumanize themselves in their quest to be the galaxy's most powerful, perfect warrior. However, it is the breech of this rule and the over-abundance of emotion felt by each Metabaron which drives the story forward, causing both heart-breaking tragedy and brilliant triumph throughout. Of course, the cycle can not come full circle until Nameless, the Last Metabaron, regains his lost humanity and accomplishes something his ancestors could not (below).
Nameless reflects on his role as the last Metabaron.
For fans of incredible space opera, there's none better than The Metabarons. Likewise, there's no better way to experience this outstanding series than by picking up The Metabarons Ultimate Collection. Chock-full of vibrant, gorgeous artwork and a story that's action-packed, twisted, violent, endearing, and every type of strange imaginable, The Metabarons Ultimate Collection is undeniably one of the best comics to hit retail this year.
The Metabarons Ultimate Collection is available now wherever fine comics and books are sold for a suggested retail price of $129.95.
- review sample courtesy of Humanoids.
- Jess C. Horsley