Originally published in French, The Metabarons is a four-volume series by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Juan Giminez. Humanoids Publishing released all four volumes in English from 2004-2010. The first installment, Othon & Honorata, features the origin story of The Metabaron line.
To create a space opera is an extremely difficult feat. It requires a mix of varying elements, from action, to drama, to adventure and beyond. Jodorowsky and Gimenez take all of the right ingredients and put it all together for a treat in The Metabarons: Othon & Honorata. To be honest, I expected something completely different from what I got in this book. I thought I was in for a very abstract read, involving gratuitous scenes of sex and obscene violence. Boy, was I wrong.
The Metabarons introduces us to an original universe. There are some steampunk influences, Dune influences, magical influences, but ultimately it is a sci-fi story. Each planet has its own unique properties, each faction has its own look, and everyone has a story. Every character serves a purpose, however little or big, and this creates a very entertaining experience. The Metabarons are a line of warriors who follow very specific traditions. Each heir to the bloodline encounters his own troubles, and Othon & Honorata introduces what started this unique lineage. As a focal point for the story, they are an interesting clan; a mix of warrior instincts and cyborg parts, they get close to being the “superhero” of the story, although sometimes their motives may seem askew.
Now, I don’t want to spoil too much of the book, even though it is six years old; it would be like telling the story of A New Hope to someone who hasn’t seen Star Wars. Yes the ending is a bit obvious, but there are a lot of spoilers and quirks along the way. That being said, there a few things I’d like to mention. Othon von Salza, the first Metabaron, had some traumatic ordeals to live through, which were each exciting in their own way. Othon resides on the planet Marmola, where they export marble. On Marmola, the residents tend to live quite primitively in comparison to the rest of the galaxy. They rely on the strength and resolve of the person, rather than technology. They train as warriors, but hold a great secret as to how they transport the marble; it’s with a blue substance that makes objects nearly weightless, called epiphyte. After a freak accident, the secret of epiphyte is outed to the universe, and a territorial war ensues. Othon re-establishes himself on another world, and after having his crotch shot off, produces an heir through magic. Powerful and impacting stuff.
Juan Gimenez’s art throughout this story was very inspiring. What I like about The Metabarons as a whole is that no matter how outlandish the material may seem at times, it all comes off naturally. Gimenez takes this idea, commits to it, and definitely runs with it. The scenes where you see a bit of nudity aren’t forced on you, they are just there, in a very good way. Breasts aren’t unnecessarily massive, and even the prosthetic crotch of Othon didn’t totally scare me. I didn’t feel embarrassed while reading through the nude scenes because they served the plot, which is pretty rare for a comic book. Yet, this isn’t even what makes the art the art so good – it’s Gimenez’s attention to detail that is truly amazing. From every mark on a ship, to the rust on the robots, you can really tell that Gimenez gave his all on this one. Every character looked different, even the fillers. The only time I was a bit confused was in the very beginning, because the von Salza family looked so similar, but upon further reading, that problem was soon rectified. Although Gimenez’s work is so detailed, he finds balance, as he doesn’t make each and every object pop. When there is fog, or a blast from an explosion, or a panoramic view (yes, you get all of this and more), the environment and characters/buildings blend together quite well.
Alejandro Jodorowsky provides a truly provocative and entertaining story. From the get go, it was a tad confusing because I was in a brand new universe, but as soon as it was established who was telling the story (Tonto and Lothar, the robot slaves), everything re-focused, and from there on it was a heck of a ride! Jodorowsky envelops you in a very unique universe, one that is seemingly endless. Not only are you thrust into a place that seems to be developed from top to bottom, he presents characters whose values and morals are initially foreign, but you learn to respect and understand them as the book progresses. Character motives and interactions were very clear, but not obvious. When Othon seems as though he is acting unusually, a split-second later it is explained and it makes perfect sense. While Jodorowsky’s style is very unique, he has a long list of other credits. He directed and starred in El Topo (1970), The Holy Mountain (1973), and wrote Santa Sangre (1989). He has written a number of plays and created The Incal, another popular sci-fi story set in the same Metabaron universe. Many famous figures also cite him as an influence (Marilyn Manson, David Lynch).
Being a reader of more traditional sci-fi stories, there were a few moments during this book when I saw some very off-beat things. For example, the two sisters Othon uses as his sex slaves are shown at times to be using each others’ presence for a little more than just…comfort. Also, the scene when Othon explains his prosthetic genitalia to Honorata made me pause for a second. These are just a couple examples of Jodorowsky’s very honest writing, but I am not at all suggesting that these moments were unwarranted. These ‘extreme’ scenes did not feel forced at all, but were entirely integral parts of the story that actually needed to be shown to build and establish the characters. I can’t stress enough how detailed Gimenez’s work was. Usually you can tell when an artist is relaxing a bit, but Gimenez goes full throttle from start to finish.
With the honest writing and detailed artwork, I truly felt as though I was experiencing a Metabarons movie. The narrating from the robots added a comedic relief that didn’t take away from the seriousness of the story, and helped usher the reader along. I’m actually pretty pissed at myself for not having read this earlier, and would easily suggest Metabarons to any fan of sci-fi fan or just great comics in general.
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A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.