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    Final Incal: a Book So Beautiful it Barely Needs its Legendary Writer [Review]

    By | June 18th, 2014
    Posted in Reviews | 4 Comments

    Despite what logic would dictate, Jodorowsky’s “Incal” saga feels like a hidden gem. It’s a massively successful, enduring and popular series, but its lack of availability in publishing certainly makes it one of those books that people can’t access. It’s not that its American publisher, Humanoids, doesn’t try; they certainly do, with different versions that will hopefully appeal to different kinds of readers. The issue is that the versions they do put out very quickly go out of print, and at this point it’s easier to come across The Original Writer’s vaunted “Miracleman” run than it is this comic book classic.

    But that’s the fault of the States more than anything. Overseas “the Incal” has had a continued and flourishing life, with more regular publication and even a brand new sequel, “Final Incal,” which only now is making its way to the States. As is the way, it appears that we in the States are permanently stuck in a state of catching up, as only now do we get a book as gorgeous and impressive as this.

    And with that said, it’s very easy to note that “Final Incal” is another astounding entry into this saga — but in a fashion that is pretty much the opposite of most modern comics being published today.

    So. That headline.

    Obviously everyone comes to various comics for different reasons, but what has 9 times out of 10 drawn me to various Humanoids publications is very rarely the writer. The writers that they publish are talented enough, surely, but it is almost always the artist that creates interest from me in the publication. And, true to form, when I first went out to buy a copy of “the Incal,” it wasn’t because of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s writing, his unique take on sci-fi, his appreciation for the metaphyiscal and the surreal or anything of that nature contained within “the Incal.” I sought out the book because I wanted to read and own this famed comic by Mœbius. (That the book itself was a great read is almost secondary.)

    I think that’s an important distinction to note, because it’s not often something we see or hear when talking about comics, especially American ones (or, at least in American discussions of comics). For the most part, if you ask someone why they buy a comic it’s because of a character or a writer’s revered run, something in which the artist is almost secondary to the equation. The onus of good or bad is usually placed on the written aspects of the story and the emphasis on the writer as “sole creator” — which would be potentially fair if were talking about this in a different medium. But given the visual medium this is all taking place in, it’s the art that makes or breaks everything, in a manner of speaking; and with a publisher like Humanoids, it’s fairly clear that the impetus of excitement for a book they’re publishing is based around the artwork (hence those ginormous, super expensive coffee-table sized books they produce that I wish I could afford).

    So with something like “The Incal,” my interest for it was never really born from the same love of sci-fi that draws me to, say, something like “Guardians of the Galaxy.” That’s a book I read for my interest in space pirates and bandits and alien conflict. “The Incal” differs from this or most any other average book because the main event is seeing what an artist like Mœbius was capable of at the top of his game. The same goes for its prequel, “Before the Incal.” Certainly I’d built up a respect for Jodorowsky and his wonderful universe at that point, but the reason to buy the book was the work of Zoran Janjetov. His similar style, his take on John DiFool’s early days and his entry into this mind-boggling sci-fi landscape is what drew me in and kept me there.

    As I was approaching “Final Incal,” it became clear: this book was no different.

    Reading through “Final Incal” is like a complete reinvention of that which came before. Certainly the finale of “the Incal” and the idea of reincarnation makes that plausible within this space, but it’s a bit bigger than that. “Final Incal” isn’t just another “Incal” book, but rather its own “Incal” book — something that exists both in parallel and overlapping with its predecessor. It’s an interesting read, one that plays on some ideas from the previous stories but endeavors to tell a different story, something of its own; the meta and religious aspects of the previous volume aren’t absent, but they’re certainly downplayed in favor of what feels like a very powerful call to arms. But what draws me into it, honestly, is not this fantastical world that Jodorowsky has built and developed throughout the Jodoverse: it’s Ladrönn’s artwork.

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    What I found myself marveling at was not the intense, tremendous science fiction being thrown at me, nor the big ideas about the cycles of life, multiverses, robo-revolts and how it relates to the trials of John DiFool in his latest adventure. It’s not the ideas that I find fascinating at all; truth be told, if you cut out all the dialogue and handed me the comic wordless, I dare say I’d enjoy it just as much. What I marvel at in a book like “Final Incal” is this beautiful, fully-realized and revitalized universe that Ladrönn had resculpted from the template left by Mœbius and Janjetov.

    This is a book where the art overtakes the writing.

    Right from the beginning, as John DiFool drops from that familiar vantage point, the book has been reinvented. You can still see the original ideas and elements to this world that Mœbius had built in “The Incal,” but Ladrönn very quickly differentiates the book from his predecessor and clear influence. This is a familiar but grittier landscape, something that bites back; it’s wild and impossibly out of this world, and yet its grounded in a distinct way that becomes more apparent as you read along. The sci-fi world we’re delivered here is clearly a reflection of the influence of technology in the current world, yet it’s more than just a dystopic and distorted lens of the future; it’s an entire world of its own, something new that we’re peering at through a looking glass. “Final Incal” is more than just another story about John DiFool, but rather Ladrönn’s chance to chart a place for all of us to visit and find a home in (even if, truth be told, in actuality this is more of a “great to visit, not to live there” place).

    If there’s one thing noticeable about the differences between “Final Incal” and that which came before it, its that this is much less of a sprawling adventure story. Part of this plays to Ladrönn’s strengths, allowing him to focus more on this nightmarish counterpart to our last jaunt in the capital city. There’s still certainly elements of that there, but it’s not the same place that we visited in “The Incal,” not really; when John originally dropped down in the beginning of “The Incal,” it was into this fantastical and metropolis, the city of the future. Here things are different, as organic battles against the mechanic. Ladrönn offers up something all together new and inspired, and in doing so he takes John DiFool on one of his most exciting journeys yet.

    This book takes you around the world and back, into space and into the earth, and it does so with such reverence to the idea of world-building. It plays with the iconic elements of “the Incal” quite a bit, as well as familiar characters, but the priority seems more on showing us the way things are, here and now. That’s not something you see everyday, especially in comics; we often get aspects of a world our stories take place in delivered through various stereotypical geography and landscapes, but not to a scale such as this. Ladrönn delivers unto us the heavens and the darkest pits of despair, both the grounded below our feet and the intangible surrounding us. You don’t just see these places from a distance, but rather are immersed into these foreign landscapes that are mindblowing in scope and scale.

    Given the incredibly important role of the artist in each installment of “The Incal,” Ladrönn’s involvement in “Final Incal” is that much more overt. Each book has had similar ideas and obviously shared threads, but every single time the book explores and in turn feels like something new. By taking that which came before and building upon it, Ladrönn delivers a techno-revolution on an unparalleled scale; this isn’t just an installment of the series, but rather to some degree this is the apex of the series. John DiFool’s reincarnation here feels like the collaborative effort of incredible artists, and it’s Ladrönn who defines and justifies the continued existence of him in comics.

    In that regard, “Final Incal” is more Ladrönn’s book than it is Jodorowsky’s. Familiar characters are essentially brand new (Kill Wolfhead’s return, for example), and new characters fit so wonderfully into this shared space. Ladrönn approaches each scene with such an intense eye for the most minute details that it very much re-defines the book in an intriguing fashion. His DiFool is still the somewhat shaky, accidental hero we’d come to know, but throughout the course of the book Ladrönn is offered the capability of displaying that in differing fashions as multiversal concepts are explored and the fabric of everything is torn asunder. It’s clear Jodorowsky’s wonderful imagination is obviously at play here, but Ladrönn is the one bringing it to life in such a palpable fashion.

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    Of course, none of this is to say that the work of Jodorowsky is anything to snub your nose at. Certainly not; “Final Incal” is another extension of the clearly limitlessly creative mind that dwells within his head. Having seen Jodorowsky’s Dune certainly compliments that, as well as makes quite a few things and ideas present within the book stand-out; Jodorowsky is an incredibly talented and inspired individual, and “Final Incal” certainly displays his best qualities. While the various books in the Jodoverse have their pros and cons, the only real drawback to Jodorwosky’s work is how far he sometimes stretches his concepts. For Jodorowsky, sometimes it feels reading his work like he has too much to say than that which can be contained within his stories; the expanded “Metabarons” series comes to mind, for example, which elaborates on things from “The Incal” that at times don’t feel like they needed to be elaborated upon. Yet “Final Incal” delivers with it a good deal of focus and attention, and while many of the grandscale ideas are still present within the book, it’s perhaps the most focused and straightforward this saga has ever been (though I realize that the term “straightforward” comes with somewhat negative connotations and isn’t meant as such).

    Plus, how Jodorowsky has found a way to continue exploring John DiFool’s life beyond his original storyline is interesting. It’s almost a reboot, in a manner of speaking; certainly there are elements in this book that only have any kind of specific resonance due to the attachment developed in “The Incal” (particularly in the return of characters, and the one scene that definitively makes clear the relationship between this book and its predecessors), but the book does manage to walk that thin line between being niche and being accessible via context clues. I can’t say I’d fully recommend reading one without the other, but for those curious there’s still a lot here to devour.

    The inclusion of “After the Incal” by Jodorowsky, Mœbius and colorist Beltran is also a great inclusion within the book, as its story colors “Final Incal” in a different light. It actually helps to appreciate “Final Incal” and Ladrönn’s work all the more, as comparing the latter work of Mœbius alongside Ladrönn reveals two remarkably visceral expressions within the same mindscape. Certainly Beltran’s colors add a great deal to Mœbius’s pencils and that in and of itself is essentially a complete reinvention of Mœbius’s “Incal” work, but it’s interesting to see in what different ways the two approach similar ideas; Mœbius delivers the nightmare of the tech-world with a more abundant sense of optimism, something peppered with light and hope throughout, whereas Ladrönn’s world is a bit more gloomy yet never the less resilient. It’s a very interesting dynamic.

    Honestly, in a way I’m sort of reminded of the graphic novel release of “Noah.” “Noah” is a tremendous book, one that’s very intelligent and beautifully painted, but it only really works because of Henrichon. Aronofsky is certainly the bigger name, and certainly his frequent themes and ideas are present within the text, but it’s Henrichon that brings it to life in a way that the film ostensibly could not. The difference between “Noah” and Noah is palpable, and it all comes down to the way that Henrichon and Henrichon alone brought the story to life. If you were only ever able to pick one or the other, the graphic novel is the way to go because literally everything about that story is more touching, more emotional, more ingrained and more palpable in Henrichon’s artwork.

    While a supposed adaptation of “The Incal” is on the way, reading a book like “Final Incal” is a perfect example of the artist as the director, the cinematographer and the actor(s) and why this matters so much more — or rather, why this is better. “Final Incal” is a beautiful book, and it’s a beautiful book because it’s a comic done by an artist as great as Ladrönn; Jodorowsky is only part of the equation, but ultimately not the most important one. The imagination on display, the wild ride, the highs and the lows of this war between those above and those below is something unparalleled, and Ladrönn does a wonderful job of putting John DiFool and vicariously the reader in a tome that is nothing short of a testament to his skill. This is a book that is certainly a celebration of Jodorowsky’s ideas and Mœbius and Janjetov’s previous work, but more than that it is a temple built by and for Ladrönn, an Incal of his own.

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    And no matter how many times John DiFool falls down at the beginning of the story, this book is certainly something that comes once in a lifetime.

    “Final Incal” is a definitive statement on the enduring saga of “The Incal” from one of its original creators and an artist who truly brings it to life for a modern generation. It’s a brand new adventure, and it’s a tribute as well; that seems to be the simplest way to get the tremendous accomplishment of this book across, but the collaboration here makes it abundantly true. There is nothing about “The Incal” and the original collaboration between Jodorowsky and Mœbius that feels like it’s being replaced, and yet “Final Incal” can on some level do so — it’s the same book in the same series, and it’s something entirely new. You can’t help but compare it, unfortunately, but there’s almost no real reason to. The greatest thing that “Final Incal” does is essentially create its own necessity for existence.

    The Jodoverse is a beautiful, scary, awesome and inspiring place to get lost in once in a while. “Final Incal” and the truly incredible work by Ladrönn is an amazing reason to do so.

    I’m still probably going to take shit for that headline, though.

    Matthew Meylikhov

    Once upon a time, Matthew Meylikhov became the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Multiversity Comics, where he was known for his beard and fondness for cats. Then he became only one of those things. Now, if you listen really carefully at night, you may still hear from whispers on the wind a faint voice saying, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not as bad as everyone says it issss."