Finally: One of comics' greatest and most innovative series sees completion on U.S. shores! There is literally nothing quite like THE METABARONS. This is the cover to the long-awaited fourth volume, due in stores this month.

Some great news today for comics fans: THE SAGA OF THE METABARONS will finally see completion in the U.S. market!

France-based Humanoids Publishing is finally releasing a fourth volume that collects the end of the series, which ended incomplete with issue #17 many years ago. At last, the last few issues (translated from their original French) will be available to us American fans of this brilliant cosmic epic that blurred the lines between fantasy and science fiction. This final volume should be in stores by the end of June.

THE METABARONS is the brainchild of legendary writer Alejandro Jodorowsky and powerhouse Argentinian artist Juan Gimenez. When this title first hit American comic shops back at the turn of the Millennium, I was utterly blown away by its sheer scope, poetic approach, visual bravura, and mythic grandeur. The rest of this post is a reprint of a comprehensive article I first ran at THE PULSE a few years back. If you’re new to THE METABARONS, this tells you all you need to know:

 

The Glorious Cosmic Tragedy of THE METABARONS

Many people will tell you that the comic book is an art form created by Americans, one of the few gifts we gave the world (the others being Jazz and American football). That may be true, but when the comics art form reached Europe, it found fertile soil to grow in…and sprouted some wonderful fruit. The list of amazing European creators could fill this entire column, but my favorite Euro-team has to be Alexandro Jodorowsky and Juan Gimenez, creators of The Metabarons, one of the most brilliant and important comics produced in the last twenty years.

To read this saga is to see comics evolve before your eyes into a transcendent saga of love, death, pain, tragedy, heroism, sorcery, and super-science. It’s brilliant, twisted, sensational storytelling that combines Greek tragedy and space opera like nothing before. Comics just don’t get much better than this…it simply has to be read to be believed.

Originally published in France by Humanoides Associes, the series first came to my attention in late ’99 when the American version of the publisher, Humanoids Publishing, released an English translation of the first issue, “The Stonecutters.” I had no idea that this was a concept that grew out of the classic Jodorowsky/Moebius series The Incal. I had no idea who Jodorowsky or Gimenez were. This comic was a burst of pure strangeness, and I fell in love with it immediately. A few issues later, I read a column by Warren Ellis, who raved about the book. This only confirmed what I was already thinking: The Metabarons was one of the best comics being published at the beginning of the new century—in the U.S. or anywhere else.

The series tells the multi-generational saga of a line of “perfect” warriors called—you guessed it—the Metabarons. The story is a galactic epic of science fiction and fantasy combined. In fact, you can’t really tell where the sci-fi stops and the fantasy begins. Jodorowsky knows that any sufficiently developed technology will be indistinguishable from magic, and he weaves this knowledge into the fabric of his cosmic tales. His canvas is the far-future universe, and his players are a cast of scheming politicians, ruthless warriors, cyborgs, aliens, and other cosmic beings. Oh, don’t let me forget the robots…

In a master stroke of framing technique, Jodorowsky has the entire saga of The Metabarons told as a series of tales from one robot to another. The droids are Tonto (the narrator) and Lothar (his curious companion), and they live in the current Metabaron’s impregnable Metabunker. As a servant of the Metabaron himself, Lothar is naturally curious to know the history of his master’s legendary ancestors, so Tonto reluctantly tells him the story of each Metabaron in this long line of tragic heroes.

Tonto’s tales begin with the origin of the Metabaron clan, a tradition started by Othon von Salza of the planet Marmola. After a tragic series of event, Othon loses his son and his planet, affixes himself with a cybernetic implants, develops some amazing weaponry, and becomes a galactic mercenary whose skill and power is unequalled. After destroying a fleet of 10,000 pirate starships, the Galactic Emperor rewards Othon and all his descendants with the title of Metabaron, meaning “greatest warrior in the galaxy.” So begins the harsh tradition of violence, self-denial, fleshly mutilation, genetic manipulation, and cybernetic enhancements that define the Metabaron legacy.

Othon, having accidentally killed his own son, despairs of having any lasting legacy until the sorceress Honorata (his “gift” from the galactic Empress) comes to him and offers her love. Since his cybernetic pelvis prohibits fostering a new heir, Honorata uses her sorcery/science to impregnate herself with a drop of Othon’s blood. Thus, the second in the line of Metabarons, Aghnar, is born. However, it ain’t easy being the son of the galaxy’s most powerful and terrifying warrior. Due to treachery and an accident involving the anti-gravity substance called epyphite, Aghnar is born as a “lighter than air” mutant. Othon believes his poor son can never be a warrior and wants to kill him. But Honorata flees with the boy into exile, where she teaches him how to harness his vast mental powers.

Aghnar eventually returns to face his cruel father. Othon puts him through a series of grueling warrior tests, culminating in the crushing of his son’s feet and their replacement by cybernetic limbs whose weight will allow Aghnar to walk upon solid ground. Thus begins one of the fundamental traditions of the Metabarons, one that will continue through succeeding generations: bodily mutilation and cybernetic prostheses. Oh, and each Metabaron must slay his own father to gain the title. No easy thing to be the ultimate galactic warrior; nor does it bring any peace to those who carry the mantle. There is as much terror, loss, and pain as there is battle, victory, and glory. Such is the nature of war and those who master it, as Jodorowsky’s tale illustrates.

Aghnar’s adventures are as galaxy-spanning and fascinating as that of his father, perhaps even moreso. Aghnar’s son is conceived in an act of unintended incest (in order to save the life of his beloved Princess Oda, his sorceress mother Honorata secretly invests her soul into Oda’s body). Discovering this shameful secret, Aghnar attempts to murder his son with a shot to the head. However, Honorata (still possessing the body of Oda, Aghnar’s wife), immediately creates a cybernetic head for the decapitated child, and saves its life.

Yes, you read that correctly…the third Metabaron has a cybernetic head. He grows up to embrace the Metabarons tradition, becoming known as Steelhead—the most ruthless and merciless incarnation of the Metabaron lineage yet. Confused? Jodorowsky pulls it all off brilliantly, and Gimenez’s eye-popping artwork can only be described as visionary. But wait—it gets even weirder…

Steelhead rescues and marries the eyeless princess Dona Vicenta. When she gives birth to twins and the deformed male child dies, Steelhead (in a shocking act of misogynistic violence) implants the male brain into his daughter’s empty skull. This creates Aghora, the androgynous fourth Metabaron who will come to be known as “The Father/Mother.” Whew…

All of these details barely even scratch the surface of the multi-layered, action-packed, cosmos-spanning saga that comprises The Metabarons saga. I haven’t even mentioned Zaran, the 5,000-year-old living head of the galaxy’s last poet…or the gargantuan, whale-like cyborg starships…or the interstellar, brain-devouring vampires…or any of dozens of other brilliant, mind-boggling ideas that make Jodorowsky a true master. Anyone who reads this comic will be struck dumb by the sheer amount of imagination and innovative concepts he throws into the mix, not to mention the pitch-perfect painted artwork that brings it all to life.

Gimenez’s art combines the feel of the ancient world with far-future technology; there is a timeless quality evoked by his designs of costumes, technology, and world settings…just as timeless as Jodorowsky’s storytelling, which takes classic themes out of legend and myth, delivering them with a post-modern sensibility that is outrageous, beautiful, and often horrifying. And the writer seeds it with recurring bits of humor to make the gore and tragedy go down a bit easier.

Despite all the intergalactic and interdimensional bombast, the core ideas presented here are so very human. Jodorowsky never forgets that stories are about people, and his characters live and breathe in a mad universe full of tragedy, violence, and fleeting glory. As cruel and malicious as the Metabarons can sometimes be, you can’t help but feeling sorry for these ultimate warriors who have lost the heart of their own humanity. It’s poetic, ironic, and the only word to describe it would have to be “epic.”

DC Comics bought out Humanoids Publishing sometime around ’02, and then did something inexplicable. Humanoids had released a total of 17 exquisite Metabarons issues, and collected them into four trade paperbacks (with great new covers by Gimenez). Now, DC could have (and should have) kept the saga going by picking up with issue #18. A lot of readers would have been happy. But instead DC re-released all the previous Metabarons issues in new trade paperback printings bearing the DC trade dress.

Now why would someone who was reading the series, or collecting the trades, go out and re-buy them simply because they were being re-published by DC? The answer is: They wouldn’t. And DC learned that too late. They never released a single new issue of The Metabarons. Instead, their ill-conceived reprinting of all the books Humanoids had already released became a financial disaster, resulting in the immediate death of DC’s Humanoids line of books.

The Metabarons remains a breakthrough piece of comics storytelling; a magnificent leap in the evolution of the medium; a truly inspired and gorgeously rendered example of Comics At Their Best. Get your hands on the original issues #1-17, or the original trade paperbacks collecting them, while you still can.

Meanwhile, the news that prompted this post is that a fourth Humanoids volume will finally complete the series for U.S. audiences. That is terrific news for those of us who don’t know how to read French!

Humanoids has some other books on the way too. They are a company to keep an eye on, now that they have rebounded from the DC deal that put them out of the game for a few years.

Metabarons Live!

Peace,

John