Thursday, April 10, 2014

What I'm Reading: Roundup

Back again with another round-up of some of the graphic novels and things I've read lately!

Prophet: Brothers:  A few months ago I had a mini-review of the first volume of this series, and here we are with the second.  Still following John Prophet in the far distant future and across the galaxy as he continues a sort of vaguely defined mission that I believe will ultimately involve him waking up the long-dormant human empire.  By this time, he's assembled a team of non-anthropomorphic alien friends to help him.

The plot is fairly obscure and the characters are thin, but that's hardly the point here.  The point is seriously weird space opera, and Prophet delivers.  I think what I like most about this is the sheer scale: we meet civilizations that rise and fall, wholly contained in the massive corpse of an eons-dead war giant; or sentient tree aliens that have lived for thousands of years.  It really gives the feel of a galaxy so huge and strange it couldn't possibly be fully explored or understood in a single human lifetime.

In the first book, and even more so here, I also notice a definite slant in future technology towards the biological.  For instance, when the characters leave the ship, they pass through a living membrane that covers their bodies and acts as a spacesuit.  Or, at one point when John is nearly starved to death, his tree creature friend grows a fruit out of his own body and feeds it to John to keep him alive.  This biological vibe gives many scenes sexual or excremental overtones.  I think those overtones also contribute to the feeling of immense scale.  It makes the characters seem like tiny parasites feeding on and living in creatures vastly greater than they, and operating according to motives as incomprehensible to them as our lives are to an amoeba.

The Incal: I was very interested to read this, a famous underground science-fiction comic from the 1980s written by surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky and drawn by legendary French comic artist Moebius.  This work has been cited as an influence on countless movies and comics since it came out, to the point that Jodorowsky and Moebius (unsuccessfully) sued the producers of the movie The Fifth Element for ripping their ideas off.

Alas, I wasn't as impressed by this as I'd hoped.  It follows John DiFool and his pet Deepo, a seagull made of concrete, on a quasi-mystical adventure to save humanity from a series of escalating threats in the distant future.  Strange to say it, but I think the main problem I have with it is that it's too coherent and straight-forward.  I mean, the trappings are all science-fiction surrealism, but there's none of that dream-like logic that normally infuses this sort of thing.

I also felt that it never quite committed to what it wanted to be.  There were hints it wanted to be a science fiction political intrigue (and Jodorowsky's quest to film the book Dune is well-known), but the scenes of political maneuvering in a multi-species, multi-planet parliament never amounted to more than "people in politics are on different sides."  There simply wasn't enough detail or background provided for us to know why one faction was important or what positions they held.

Similarly, there's a fair amount of nudity, sex, and violence, but it's all fairly tame, more than is strictly necessary to the plot but not enough to be truly lurid.  There's a lot of religious imagery and plotting, but as with the politics, not enough detail for us to really care.  I feel the story would have been better served if Jodorowsky had not tried to stuff everything into it.  If he'd picked a direction (say, straightforward space opera, or futuristic politics, or Heavy Metal-style erotic SF fantasy, or whatever) and stayed with it, it would have turned out better.

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