All posts by John Anderson

Review: Metabarons: The Ultimate Collection

The Metabarons: Ultimate Collection
Story: Alexandro Jodorowsky
Art: Juan Giménez
Publisher: Humanoids

Reviewed by John Anderson

“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.”

Warren Ellis wrote that, and I don’t know if I can put it any better. The Metabarons is completely mad. I know I say that a lot about Jodorowsky, but it’s The Metabarons, more than any other book, where he shows off his talent for crazy ideas and surprising twists to best effect. After a newborn baby is decapitated, his parents give him a cybernetic head. The fate of two galaxies will be decided by a single combat – father against son. Every chapter has a new surprise, a new twist, a new way to raise the stakes. The Metabarons: Ultimate Collection is a new, regular-sized hardcover collecting the first cycle in the saga (in other words, it includes everything except Weapons of the Metabaron).

The Metabarons is a science fiction multi-generational saga about a family of warriors that lives by a strict code of honour. The story covers five generations, from the beginning of the clan to the latest Metabaron, who you’ve met if you’ve read The Incal. The narrative is framed as a story being told by the latest Metabaron’s two servant robots, Tonto and Lothar. What makes this so engaging is that Lothar is not a good listener, and is often interrupting for clarification, or simply because he doesn’t believe the story. Occasionally he will fry a diode trying to figure out what will happen next. Tonto doesn’t have a lot of patience, and is always chiding Lothar for his stupid questions. For two supposedly emotionless robots they are extremely entertaining. These two little robots hold the book together and are two of the best characters Jodorowsky has created.

The other characters, the Metabarons and their lovers, are mythic, larger than life heroes. Characters like Aghora, whose body is female and whose brain is male, and who manages, impossibly, to impregnate herself, and who gives birth during battle. Honorata, a Shabda-Oud witch and lover of the first Metabaron, who instigates a crazy decades-long plan to continue the caste. And Steelhead, the warrior with the cybernetic head, who decides he needs to learn about love, and who searches out the last poet – who exists only as a head. So of course they join together, the head of the poet on the body of the warrior. But it isn’t long before this union produces tragic results.

All this is made even better by Giménez’s intense, realistic art. His characters are always in the throes of an intense emotion. From the agony of a son killing his father, to mindbending extradimensional space battles, his art is always as spectacular as it can be, and his effort shows in every panel.

Superhero fans take note: this edition has an introduction by Matt Fraction. This is appropriate, since The Metabarons might be the closest thing Europe has to a superhero comic. Grant Morrison talked about superhero stories “where the world is threatened every five minutes and godlike beings clash in the skies like fireworks”. He wasn’t talking about The Metabarons, but this quote sums up The Metabarons perfectly. It’s an intense roller-coaster ride through the moments of tragedy and victory (but mostly tragedy) of these driven, intensely passionate, sometimes insane, larger-than-life superheroes.

The Metabarons: The Ultimate Collection will be in-store on Wednesday, October 31st.

Review: Flex Mentalo, by John Anderson

Flex Mentallo
Words: Grant Morrison
Art: Frank Quitely
Publisher: Vertigo
Deluxe Hardcover, $22.99, Available Now

“Clap your hands if you believe in superheroes!”

The secret origin of Flex Mentallo was revealed in Doom Patrol #42 when a skinny geek was transformed into a Golden Age body-builder by using the power of muscle mystery. Flex was selfless, naive, and pure – anything could be overcome simply by flexing his muscles.

The cover of the first issue of the Flex Mentallo mini-series, three years after Morrison’s Doom Patrol ended, featured Flex reaching out toward to reader, commanding them “YOU! BUY THIS COMIC NOW OR THE EARTH IS DOOMED!” This was not the Mentallo of Doom Patrol. It was something much weirder and much more wonderful. Flex Mentallo is the entirety of The Invisibles condensed into four issues. It’s more than just a comic book; it’s a fantastic book about comic books. It’s an attempt to make first contact with this absurd and magical thing we call superhero comics.

As Flex tries to track down his missing teammate The Fact, he travels from the Golden Age to the Modern Age, discovers the seedy underside of superheroes where rejected sidekicks roam the back streets like droogs, and where adult superheroes go to indulge their super fantasies, and at the end he discovers the secret origin of everything. He is helped by the hard-boiled police lieutenant who doesn’t believe in superheroes any more, and my favourite character, a supervillain called the Hoaxer. The Hoaxer sports one of those silly but somehow archetypal question mark logos, and his greatest hoax just might be reality itself.

Mentallo’s story is being told by a dying musician in an alley – Wallace Sage, a version of Grant Morrison from an alternate Earth where he remained a musician instead of becoming a comic book superstar. Sage created Mentallo when he was a kid. Sage’s altered-state rants about comics coincide with the adventure Flex is going through. Sometimes Sage is telling Flex’s story, and sometimes their narratives are happening in the same world.

And then there are the superheroes themselves, like Lord Limbo and G-Whiz, Nanoman and Minimiss, larger than life archetypal ideals who have formed the mighty Legion of Legions. But the polyverse is being threatened by the ultimate destroyer called the Absolute. The Legion of Legions has a last-minute solution: to make themselves fictional in a new kind of reality. And when superheroes make themselves fictional, where do they go? That’s right – they go into comics. Our comic books are attempts to remember and transcribe the reality of the gods.

This book is a trip from beginning to end. The detail in Quitely’s art is incredible. His full-page panels of hordes of caped figures swooping out of the sky give me shivers. There’s an eerie sequence of superbeings floating through space toward a terrified astronaut. There’s a sequence where the Legion of Legions appears to have set up headquarters inside someone’s brain. On every page he draws something either completely impossible or so intricately detailed he must have spent days on it. The story and art work together so that, fractal-like, new details are revealed on each rereading.

Flex Mentallo is one of Morrison’s best works and one of the best comic books ever. But what do I know – I love superheroes.

REVIEW: Madwoman of the Sacred Heart

Madwoman of the Sacred Heart
Writer: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Artist: Moebius
Publisher: Humanoids

Review by John Anderson

“Insanity, divine madness, is the only way to salvation.”

I guess I’ve been reviewing a lot of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s books lately. There’s a reason for this: Humanoids has been releasing a lot of them, and they’re wonderful. The latest is the softcover edition of Madwoman of the Sacred Heart.

Alan Mangel is a successful and popular philosophy professor whose students treat him like a rock star: female students wear purple, his favourite colour, to show how much they admire him. Anyway, things start to go wrong for Alan when his wife divorces him on his birthday. Then one of his female students, Elisabeth, announces that they will have a child together, a second John the Baptist who will lead the world to a new saviour. Although he thinks Elisabeth is mad, Alan lets his animal instincts take over and is drawn into her insanity. Soon Elisabeth is pregnant, and she takes Alan on a quest to find Joseph and Mary – who turn out to be nothing like Alan expects. But by then it’s too late to turn back. Alan keeps trying to appeal to reason, but reason becomes less and less useful in this world of prophets and mystical revelations.

Madwoman has some interesting similarities with Jodorowsky’s and Moebius’s most famous work, The Incal: in both stories the protagonist keeps getting drawn into faith, but his cowardice or skepticism keeps preventing him from taking part fully. This book is much more mundane in setting than Incal: it’s set in France, not outer space, after all. But the earthly setting lets Moebius concentrate on the characters. This book shows off Moebius’s fantastic talent for depicting the characters’ inner lives. In every panel, Alan looks different – frustrated, angry, joyful, doubtful – rarely have I seen such an incredibly wide and constantly changing range of emotions expressed in comic art.

There are changes in the artwork over the course of the story. The detailed dark reds and purples in the first volume are replaced by a looser, more cartoony style and bright yellows and golds in the second volume, as the characters move to sunny southern France. The leisurely pace of the first two volumes gives way to the hectic, crammed pace of the third, with many small panels crammed into each page, as the story moves to South America and gets weirder and weirder. The end of the last volume draws on Moebius’s interest in Native American art and iconography.

In terms of the plot, Madwoman, like Incal, is completely mad. Mad as in constantly surprising the reader with dramatic changes in plot and character. By the end of the story all of the characters have changed utterly, both physically and spiritually. Some readers will like how Alan looks a lot like Jodorowsky himself, and how Alan’s journey echoes so many of Jodorowsky’s spiritual interests. If you’re of a more skeptical bent, you’ll like the story for Jodorowsky’s constant mad ideas.

Madwoman of the Sacred Heart is what comics should be: unapologetically outrageous and beautiful.

Review: Solanin

Title: Solanin
Writer: Inio Asano
Artist: Inio Asano
Publisher: VIZ Media
Published: 2008

Review by Derek Halliday

What is it about?

A close knit group of friends deal with the awkward transition from their carefree highschool life into responsible adulthood in Tokyo, experiencing the triumph, tragedy, and compromise of growing up.

Why is it good?

The one aspect of manga that I’ve always struggled with is its accessiblity. A lot of manga requires a bit of cultural shorthand or being ‘in the know’ as it were, and this is fine; in fact it’s part of the mystique and allure of manga, but to the uninitiated it can be daunting, and as a retailer trying to sell a potential new reader on an unfamiliar medium, it’s sometimes a tough sell.

The strength of Solanin is that it’s a recognizable and univeral story that deals with that awkward transition twenty somethings go through as the world pressures them to grow up; even moreso in Japan, were the expectations are even greater, and the pressure to get a job and start contributing to society immense. There is precious little time to pursue a dream before coming to the sad conclusion that you may have missed your chance.

Solanin, coming in at a hefty 425 pages (which is big even for manga), follows a close knit group of friends as they make a last ditch effort to ‘make it’ before finally giving up on their dreams of Rock and Roll stardom. The pressure mounts as a self-imposed deadline looms; the point at which their money runs out and adulthood becomes a necessity that can no longer be put off.

Gorgeously illustrated, loose, lively, characters dance through uncommonly lush, detailed, backgrounds and widescreen, cinematic, storytelling that inspires awe and tugs at the heartstrings, it is not an exaggeration to call Solanin an impressive first work from Asano-Sensei, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite mangaka. His humor ranges from wry to absurd, and he knows how to provoke an emotional response, making you swell with his characters triumphes, and weep at their tragedies.

An impressive and accessible standalone work, I’d recommend Solanin to anyone that hasn’t read manga before as a good introduction.

You can find Solanin in store at The Beguiling, or you can buy it online at

Review: Thor: Son of Asgard

Title: Thor: Son of Asgard Ultimate Collection
Writer: Akira Yoshida
Artist: Greg Tocchini
Publisher: Marvel
Published: 2010

Review by Derek Halliday

What is it About?

In the distant past, a young Thor struggles with being an Asgardian teenager, living in the shadow of his powerful Father, Odin, and his legacy. Along with his friends, the tomboyish Sif, and the cunning and brave Balder, Thor sets out on a journey to learn how to what it means to be ‘worthy.’

Why is it Good?

Son of Asgard was done during Marvel’s first big push to create a line of Young Adult books back around 2006 or so, and was probably one of the more successful… in concept and execution, if not in sales. With solid art and solid writing, Son of Asgard is, in execution, pretty close to the Shonen Manga paradigm (probably due to the influence of its Japanese writer). It features a young, unsure, protagonist who sets on the Hero’s Journey. Each issues features the small cast of characters working together to overcome a trial, and learning a lesson in the doing, while progressing the overall arc, which sees them apply what they’ve learned to a larger crisis, growing as characters and heroes as they do. The two story arcs contained in this collection encompass the entirety of the run, and ties the narrative up neatly with Thor growing to become the hero we know from Marvel proper. Greg Tocchini’s art is lively, loose, and expressive, with lush, detailed, backgrounds that help set the grand, epic, scale of the mythological world in which the story takes place. Unlike a some artists, he’s quite skilled at drawing believable teenagers, who are fit, young, and attractive looking, rather than muscular midgets, something that’s always bothered me a lot in comics featuring teenage protagonists. Akira Yoshida’s writing is tightly scripted, clever, and engaging, and more character than plot driven. Young Thor goes through growing pains, struggling with the expectations placed upon him; young and cocky, with a youthful swagger, he rushes recklessly into action, while Balder and Sif preach restraint and thinking before he acts. Young Thor and Sif slowly develop an awkward relationship as they move from being friends and sparring partners to potential love interests… a particularly favorite issue of mine involves Thor falling under the spell of a young Enchantress, which forces Sif to confront her own feelings towards Thor, and how he might feel towards her.

Thor: Son of Asgard was a sadly overlooked, and in my mind, successful, attempt at doing a Young Adult book using a mainstream Marvel character, that has broad appeal to both new readers and older fans of the character. I’m glad that it was put back in print in this full sized format (it was originally collected in two digest sized trades), and in its entirety.

You can find Thor: Son of Asgard in store at The Beguiling, or you can buy it online at