Described over the years as a sci-fi comic series about a dynasty of perfect warriors known as Metabarons, the mythology of the characters created by writer Alejandro Jodorowsky and artist Mœbius continues to grow. After the first Metabaron's appearance in 1981 in the Incal series, several books have been published chronicling the character.
Mild spoilers ahead: The latest instalment, titled The Metabaron Book 1: The Techno-Admiral & The Anti-Baron, opens right after a cataclysmic battle. A re-set button of sorts is pushed, seeing the titular character ditch all the trappings of his power, after the aforementioned battle, in which he had brought the evil Techno-Techno Empire crashing down. However, in the chaos, a new regime has crawled out from the ashes and seized control of the galaxy's most precious fuel, Epiphyte.
As the story continues, the tyrannical new force learns that the Metabaron is still alive and heading towards the world called Marmola, the only source of Epiphyte and it unleashes the invulnerable, cruel-beyond-words Techno-Admiral called Wilhelm-100. The battle that eventually happens will have the reader wondering whether this is the bald anti-hero's final adventure.
A scene where the Metabaron lands in Marmola, the land of his ancestors, was an emotional one for the character, and as it turns out for me too. Long-time fans will remember all that went down there, the rape and pillaging of that world by the Techno-Techno Empire. And when our anti-hero growls to himself 'How I'd like to kill them all,' I could feel his pain. Even so, he doesn't terminate the soldiers who attack, due to a pledge to abstain from killing. But the terrestrial Epyphite affects him, pushing the story in an unexpected direction.
Wilhelm-100, the most powerful of the techno-admirals, is introduced as a much-feared warrior who's also respected by his followers. Said to love war more than life itself, even his followers are afraid of his sudden, violent tantrums. Like when a trio of mutant enemies survived a battle and surrendered, and Wilhelm-100 orders they are taken away because they are 'degenerate mutants' and 'sub-humans'. Strange, being that this is a character with a great deal of his body enhanced, much in the way cyborgs are but with a dash more outlandishness. The mutants, it turns out, are quartered but left alive and advised to submit themselves to cauterization. The gore and the pain combine to, of all things, arouse the villain. I had to remind myself that it is, after all, a Metabarons book.
But in all the blissful carnage, we must not forget the excellently mad translators, who I suspect are behind such theatrical character names as 'Tetanus'. The part where Wilhelm-100 exclaims 'That shot is just what I needed, Tetanus' is so deadpan, so well-placed, that I found myself smiling. But what else do you expect from a book whose best attempt at pillow talk goes 'We're going to die, aren't we?'
Still on Tetanus, while he's a supporting character, his presence haunts the whole book, as he is responsible for Wilhelm-100's murderous rages, and strength, through injections of Epiphyte, the big bad's, ahem, Red Bull. Tetanus, also, created the techno-admiral's prostheses (wrongly spelled 'protheses' on page 21), so he cautions on stretching to the limits. But the boss threatens his resident scientific genius, introducing a delicious dynamic that will play out later in the story.
Now venturing into major spoiler territory: The second part of the book reveals the cloning of the Metabaron, using caked blood on a sword with which he was once injured. Of course Tetanus has the unenviable task, one which he carries out perfectly. Until, that is, Wilhelm-100 tears the barely-developed foetus out of the human carrying it, placing it within a bull, its development speeded. Soon, a mindless version of the Metabaron is ripped out, named Khonrad, after Wilhem-100's dad, the first man the Techno-Admiral ever killed. In a matter of days, the clone is taught to walk, run, speak eat, fight and experience desire, soon becoming an unstoppable killing machine dubbed the titular Anti-Baron.
The Anti-Baron's development as a character is intriguing, leading into a confrontation that needs to be seen to be believed. Massive set pieces are showcased and spectacular battles ensue. New characters are introduced, and old ones get added depth and complexity. The sheer amount of intricately-woven plots against the backdrop of one of the most well-realised worlds in sci-fi is dazzling.
Jodorowsky, of course a master at his craft, is credited with the story on this book, joined by writer Jerry Frissen. The pairing proves effective, as it is 100% a Metabarons story. Some of the story, as is the case most times, is framed by the cold but strangely witty musings and narration of Tonto, that most faithful, robotic servant of our favorite bloodthirsty intergalactic warrior caste.
The art, by Valentin Secher, is gorgeously atmospheric. While it is suitably epic for a story of its scope, it also scales down very well for smaller, more personal scenes. The character designs are remarkable, as are the new worlds and spacecraft. Sand cities, markets where slave-women are bought, citadels, super-advanced tech are all very well rendered here, and painted in gorgeous colour. And in the end – even with all the tension, drama, mass murder, gore and sex – this new book is a very personal one for the Metabaron. I mean, how much more personal can it get than revenge?
As is the case with all the Metabarons books, second and even third readings reveal new aspects, or even ideas, which might have slipped past at first read. It's quite simply that layered, like the structure of the Techno-Vatican, and more additions to their own back story. The politics within the world of the Techno-Priests, too, is intricately laid out, typified by savage rivalries and brutal attacks. Kind of like U.S politics right now.
While there was some initial confusion within fandom that this book reprints old stuff, it turns out that it is actually a brand-new sequel, a canonical addition to the mythos and an advancement in the saga of the Metabarons. What would be great to have, however, is a kind of checklist or cheat-sheet or whatever to explain or clarify. At the end of this, book 1, we are reminded that the story continues in Book 2: The Techno-Cardinal & The Transhuman, and I'm already pining away for it. After all, this is only the best space opera of them all. Period.
The Metabaron Book 1: The Techno-Admiral & The Anti-Baron is out now.
Abdulkareem Baba Aminu is a newspaper editor and award-winning journalist based in Nigeria. He has reviewed comics, novels, movies and music for a variety of platforms and is currently the Editor of the Saturday edition of the Daily Trust, one of the most influential newspapers in his country. You can follow him on Twitter: @KareemReal