Alexandro Jodorowsky is the man who was going to direct the original film version of Dune - and he’s no idle dreamer: Salvador Dali, Gloria Swanson, and Orson Welles were cast. Artist Jean 'Moebius' Giraud drew thousands of sketches; Dan O'Bannon was hired to supervise special effects, illustrator Chris Foss to design spacecraft and H.R. Giger to design the worlds. Sadly Jodorowsky fell out with Herbert and the entire project collapsed, but The Metabarons stands testament to what might, just possibly, have been.
To plagiarise every other review of The Metabarons I’ve read, this is Space Opera with emphasis on the ‘opera’ - although the ‘space’ is hardly neglected either. I’ve never come across anything quite like this before: the collaborative novel between Cordwainer Smith and Stanislaw Lem that never happened, brought to voluptuous life by Gimenez’s gloriously full-colour painted artwork.
The Metabarons casts the puny laws of physics recklessly aside as it careers about a far-future (I think) galaxy populated by all manner of altered humans, aliens, robots, bizarre religious sects, mile-long hybrid dolphin battleships and hermaphrodite Emperoresses.
The two collected books tell the story of the line of the Metabarons, first encountered in Jodorowsky’s other major work The Incal (which I haven’t read), and their tragic rise, fighting pain, loss and simple Fate, to become the galaxy’s ultimate warriors.
The story deserves - in fact it most warmly invites - comparison with opera and Greek tragedy in the awful inevitability of its story, the sense that whatever the Metabarons do they will somehow be stricken. The earliest holders of the title are merely trying to save them and theirs; that they become the most dangerous and destructive force in the galaxy is only to protect themselves against those who would harm them. Ironically, of course, the accumulation of power to guard against one threat only launches them into the clutches of another, and thus does the cycle of misery and retaliation continue, whether through accident or malicious design.
The Metabarons doesn’t rely on convoluted story-telling techniques or tricky sf plots but falls back on some of the oldest ideas in the world, ideas that would be as familiar to Homer and Shakespeare as they are to us, only in this version Scylla and Charybdis are replaced by alien hordes and covens of psychic witches.
The dark psychological depths of The Metabarons may not be as deep as Jodorowsky’s narrative forebears, but just feel the quality of the tapestry he’s weaving them upon, a stupendously visualised and decadent future cosmos replete with wonders, horrors and oddities, with the tragic figures of the MetaBarons bestriding it all, forever doomed to despair despite all their ever-accumulating power.
Just imagine what Jodorowsky’s Dune would have been like, and weep that we’ll never see it…