Friday, April 19, 2013

Comic Review: Morbus Gravis I & II

Book One

    There are two things I’ve liked since I can remember.  Science fiction and sexy women.  So, it’s no surprise that wee lad Matt, sneaking a peak through his brother’s issues of Heavy Metal back in the 80s, was pretty quickly captivated by Druuna, the comic from Paolo Serpieri, perv artist extraordinaire.  The artwork was what pulled me in.  His style was what I came to think of as European Comic Style, a semi-realistic, gritty, detail heavy style that I really responded to.  Where the four-color comics of Marvel and DC, with their spandex wearing muscle men bouncing around did nothing for me, the post-apocalyptic, medieval, or ultra-strange science fictiony settings I found in the pages of Heavy Metal were much more my bag.  Sadly, I wasn’t allowed to read Heavy Metal, and there wasn’t much of anything around on the news stands to hold my interest, beyond a couple years of G.I. Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  So, I didn’t stick with comics.  But Druuna stuck with me.  I eventually tracked down those issues in the white boxes of local comic shops, and read them again and again.  And when I wrote my own stories, images Serpieri’s raven haired heroine drifted through my mind.

    What I didn’t know then was that the world Druuna lives in is right out of various classic science fiction stories.  There’s really nothing new to it at all, but it is beautifully illustrated.  I also didn’t realize that the writing was crap.  Now, this could be a ‘lost in translation’ issue.  I don’t know.  But the dialog isn’t good.  And there is far too much of that misogyny and outright sexual violence that would eventually drive me away from European film.  Reading it now, I can’t help but feel disgusted by the treatment of Druuna, not just by the characters in the book, but by the author.  It’s almost as bad as watching anime, where women are constantly degraded.  I have to use selective concentration to kind of ignore that stuff best I can, so I can still enjoy the cheesecake and the weird ideas.  I love the setting, an endless city of decaying halls and sewers, mutants lurking in the shadows, sinister priests and corrupt officials, and a quest to discover a world shaking secret.  It’s right out of Robert A. Heinlein’s story The Universe, and others of the sort.  And it’s absolutely the kind of science fiction comic I’d love to be reading more of.  And yeah, the copious amount of nudity makes it all the more enjoyable.  But I could deal with a lead who manages to be less of a sexual punching bag.  I’d rather not read what I call ‘Oprah fiction’ that particularly popular brand of women’s fiction with its fetishistic focus on abused women.  To me a hero isn’t someone who sits around enduring, but someone who stands up and does something.

Book Two

    Is it misogyny, or is it an image of men as perpetual brutes and monsters?  It seems like every man in this comic is a horrible beast, bent on murder and rape.  It’s really an ugly vision of people, with men as monsters and women as their victims.  When that isn’t the focal point of a scene, I enjoy this volume in much the same way as the first.  Sadly, that is the focus of several scenes.  Again, I like the setting presented in Morbus Gravis a lot.  It looks amazing with all the ducts and pipes and decay.  And I would love to see a movie about the setting.  But I don’t think I could sit through an actual Druuna film, if it kept all the human content.  This second volume does give Druuna a bit more personality, though it doesn’t make her any more sympathetic, as she hardly registers the nightmare world she watches a young woman pushed into.  The second story picks up right where the first one left off, and takes Druuna on another journey across the city, into the deep realms of the mutants, where she must find the Tower, and win the day.  Of course, it’s not that simple, and there are so many degenerate, evil men she needs to run across on the way.

    So often, great comic writing is saddled with dreadful comic art.  This is the opposite.  If Serpieri had applied his skills to a better, less morally bankrupt script, I think he might have produced something really memorable.  As it is, if you can divorce the art from the story content, it is quite effective.  But it’s some danged ugly business otherwise.  I found myself wanting to enjoy reading these again much more than I was able.  Again, I walked away from European film, especially Italian stuff, in large part because I passed my threshold for seeing women abused.  I’d rather avoid it in comics, too.

Morbus Gravis I
Author & Artist: Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri
Publisher: Heavy Metal
ISBN: 978-0-8781-6222-2

Morbus Gravis II
Author & Aritst: Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri
Publisher: Heavy Metal
ISBN: 0-87816-223-2


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