Thursday, July 12, 2012

Minutemen & Metabarons: Now this is more like it!

The marquee title in the Before Watchmen relaunch is MINUTEMEN. Before it was announced that there was going to be an entire imprint dedicated to WATCHMEN prequels, I became aware that Darwyn Cooke was working on a back story for the Pre-Keene Act adventures of the first generation of costumed crime fighters from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' alternate universe. Of any possible or inevitable attempts at cashing in on the success of the recent film, this made the most sense and Cooke's award-winning NEW FRONTIER made him a natural choice.

The first issue had the unenviable task of encapsulating the known history and adding a bit of flavor to characters absent from comicdom for two and a half decades. I argued then and I'll mention now that 22 pages is not enough space to establish a story, but Cooke has certainly made the most of the allotted page count in the second issue. MINUTEMEN #2 is exactly what I hoped it would be and re-established some of the faith lost in the last three weeks of Before Watchmen titles. 

It is worth noting that thus far, the only two titles that have enriched rather than detracted from the original WATCHMEN series (the jury is still out on J. Michael Straczynski's NITE OWL) have been penned by Darwyn Cooke. His framework of using the publishing date for Hollis Mason's autobiography, "Under The Hood" as a springboard to travel back in time to tell the tabloid reality of the entire first generation of heroes works splendidly. The intersecting eras are not only separated by narrative cues, but by songs, poems and attention to pop culture detail.

Darwyn Cooke
is a real professional, as good (some might argue) as Alan Moore. And that's the calibre of talent necessary for pulling off a rewrite of the greatest superhero story ever told. As fine as the other Before Watchmen writers are, I don't think any of them are in that same league. They really needed to enlist people like Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, and Peter Milligan –and while I'm sure they probably approached one or two of them, what benefit to any of them would this project be? The Brits have probably all crossed paths with Northampton's patron curmudgeon and thought better to steer clear of this particular, potential fiasco. Morrison was denied a shot at MARVELMAN when it was still being published in WARRIOR, and Gaiman's final chapter to that hero's story is still yet to be published, so the track record for people looking to follow in Moore's footsteps is there and it's not encouraging. While I'm a bit offput by the first issue of COMEDIAN, I'm still very much looking forward to Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo's RORSCHACH, though I hope they lay off the "Hurm." I have to admit that I'm more excited than I had initially anticipated for the J.Michael Straczynski & Adam Hughes take on  DR. MANHATTAN, possibly because there is far less chance of being let down by a character in which I'm least invested. The preview art I've seen thus far is awesome, and I've been hoping that someday, somebody would team Adam with a writer worthy of his talent. I'll have to wait and see...

Definitely NOT a letdown is the Humanoids Publishing omnibus of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Juan Gimenez's THE METABARONS. This slipcased, complete hardcover edition is limited to 999 numbered copies. Regrettably they are not signed, but having been involved with a Jodorowsky project or two, I can attest that getting him to do menial things like signing books could have taken a mythic eternity. And signed or not, readers are treated to one of the most epic sci-fi tales in the history of sequential storytelling, presented on deluxe paper in a tome worthy of the hefty price tag ($129.95).

By the time Jodo and Moebius brought their masterpiece L'INCAL to print in 1981, the director's dream project, DUNE, had been taken away from him after spending close to a decade in development. Jodorowsky's DUNE would have featured Salvador Dali as the emperor and introduced Swiss Surrealist H.R. Giger to film production design. So long was the project on hold that elements of what was to become Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon were originally planned to be the film's score. Pregnant with ideas for a film that was no longer under his creative control, Alejandro wrote the first parts of a grand space opera in the tradition of Frank Herbert that would introduce sci-fi fans to private investigator John DiFool and bounty hunter The Metabaron. Hugely successful in Europe, these tales were originally serialized in English in Marvel's EPIC Magazine. They've since been acquired by DC's Humanoids imprint, and from 1992 to 2003, Jodo & Gimenez's prequel, the SAGA OF THE METABARONS, was released via a series of graphic novels, bound together here for the first time in THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION.

The plot revolves around a tribal, nanotech, warrior civilization and covers heavy metaphysical themes using symbols of Tarot and The Zohar and to address progressive ideas about governance and sexuality. It's deep sci-fi from one of the greatest plotters in the history of either cinema or comics, and this omnibus offers a great, jumping-off point for would-be Jodorowsky fans. Cinephiles who lament the director's brief output of transgressive films would do right by delving into his first love, comic books. Previous to Alejandro's career in film, he wrote and drew a comic strip, ANIBAL 5, which predates all of his feature films, and is eclipsed only by his mime and theater work. Always plagued by budget restrictions, in comics he is allowed to dream big on paper. His concepts are often freely adapted by American and British writers, and some of Grant Morrison's chaos magick influenced comics like THE FILTH or THE INVISIBLES are less groundbreaking to those familiar with Alejandro Jodorowsky's bandes dessinées.

It's unfortunate that many of the greatly talented European comic artists go unnoticed by American audiences for their refusal to work in the superhero medium. They are so well-treated and well-paid in Europe that there is really no need to schlep on American strips, or cave into editorial pressures against nudity, violence or unpopular political thought. In the past two years since I've completed the first Pop Sequentialism exhibition and overseen publication of the first show catalog, my appreciation for French comic books has reached a near fever pitch, and this week I'll be nailing down the specifics for the first Pop Sequentialism exhibition in France. I tip my hat to the folks at Humanoids who have been single-handedly carrying the torch for European comics here in the states. The editions are beautiful, their title selection impeccable, and courage exemplary. I'm looking forward to the omnibus edition of TECHNOPRIESTS, which tells another aspect of the Jodoverse L'INCAL. I'll probably have to wait a few years, but if this volume is any indication, it'll be well worth the wait.

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