Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Immortal Ad Vitam: The Power to Procreate with the Gods


  Having cut my teeth on 70s comics, I can say that nothing that shows up in pop culture these days surprises me. 

Any weird esoteric or occult topic you can think of was yours for a quarter (or so) at your local spinner rack. There was a great innocence to it all as well - innocence being the lack of self-consciousness that took over the comics medium once it was banished from the newsstands. 

In the 70s all of this weird stuff was fresh and new and was approached with "hey, cool" kind of mindset, not the "look at me, aren't I outrageous?" mindset the British scribes brought to the table. 

 If the Brits were navel-gazers and the Yanks were naifs, the French were simply nuts. The wizards of Metal Hurlant and Pilote (the biggest French-language sci-fi comic magazines of the time) brought a stunning level of craft that dazzled American comics fans, but also proffered a Gallic contempt for narrative clarity that bewildered them. 

By the fourth or fifth bong hit, however, narrative clarity was irrelevant and the eye candy took over. Although English-language translations were available at better comics stores, most American readers got their Franco-fix in Heavy Metal, then published by National Lampoon

In 2004, Enes "Enki" Bilal took the old Metal Hurlant aesthetic to the silver screen in a way that 1980's Heavy Metal (with its dreary soundtrack of warmed-over cock-rock) or the dire Heavy Metal 2000 failed spectacularly to do. 

At first viewing, Immortel Ad Vitam might seem like a compilation of video game cinematics (there is also an Immortel video game) but repeated viewings ease the clunkiness and reveal the occult-o-delic numinosity within.

 The story itself (based on Bilal's early 80s graphic novel triptych collected as The Carnival of Immortals) seems to resonate more today than it did in 2004, and certainly more than 1980. A giant pyramid hovers over a futuristic Manhattan (Paris in the comics), carrying Horus, Anubis and Bast. Horus has broken some godly law or another and needs to immaculately conceive a child before being put in stasis for his infractions. 

The whole aerial pyramid routine should be setting off bells and whistles to regular Secret Sun readers. Just like today, Manhattan itself is a corporate Potemkin village, only here it's controlled by a biotech firm called Eugenix. Central Park is a bizarre kind of Stargate in which EBEs shift back and forth between this planet/dimension and their own. 

A strange mutant named Jill (played by Linda Hardy) appears in one of Eugenix concentration camps and is rescued by a scientist (Charlotte Rampling), who has more than just a professional interest in the blue-haired freak. 

 Horus then rescues a Baudelaire-quoting rebel leader named Nikopol (Thomas Kretschmann) from his suspended animation prison and initiates him in an abandoned subway (shades of Captain Marvel). In a spin on the old walk-in trope, Nikopol then is possessed by Horus and sent after Jill in order to sow the god's immortal seeds with Earth's latest version of humanity (version 3.1, maybe?). 

Again, this is not a world-beater by any stretch of the imagination. But it has a rich pedigree (at least for those of us who saw Heavy Metal itself as an alien communiqué) and is ripe to bursting with Synchronistic and semio-symbolic resonators. Highly recommended for regular readers and those in orbit or near-orbit of the Synchroverse. 

Best of all, there's not a Sammy Hagar or Foghat floor-sweeping in sight; the excellent soundtrack is supplied by Goran Vejvoda and Sigur Ros. Speaking of the Synchroverse, I know Alejandro Jodorowsky's film work is admired around these/those parts (Stygian Port's done a lot of work of The Holy Mountain), but Jodorowsky's also done a lot of comics work, particularly with Jean "Moebius" Giraud. 

If you're looking for a sci-fi epic on par with Dune or Lord of the Rings, I'd recommend their landmark series, The Incal. For those of us who love Moebius' art but his storytelling not so much, The Incal is a revelation. Equally revelatory is the pair's religious psychodrama Madwoman of the Sacred Heart, which I think Ronald B. Moore and other Caprica honchos might have given a glance or two... 

Sync Log Update 3/25: The morning after this post went up, Les Humanoïdes Associés - publishers of Moebius, Jodorowsky, Bilal, et al - announces its return to US publishing.