By Josh Hechinger
Welcome to From Strip to Script, where I take a page of finished comic art and try to derive a script from it, to see what I can learn from the exercise.
"Castrated and suffering from having accidentally killed his own son, Othon von Salza turns his back on pure martial arts…" [See this link].
I first heard of The Metabarons via Warren Ellis' Come in Alone column, where he quoted the above dust jacket copy in write-up of the series. It's a line that has burned itself verbatim into my memory, because…well, look at it. How could you possibly not want to know what that guy's deal is?
Alas, copies of the comic in English were either out of my price range or just unavailable for years…happily, it's joined the ranks of other personal holy grails (Alien: The Illustrated Story, American Flagg!, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure…) in finally being available and affordable.
Of course, there's always the risk that it wouldn't live up to my expectations…but no. It's as absolutely berserk and operatic as that sainted logline above had led me to believe; without taking anything away from Juan Gimenez (art) and Alexandro Jodorowsky (story), The Metabarons is like the perfect fusion of Jack Kirby and Alfred Bester; brilliantly dynamic and physical, with an unceasing barrage of new ideas almost every page, but also dealing with horrible and horribly-driven characters, who are compelling in the way they navigate their compulsive destructive urges, for better or worse.
Considering this page from volume two is about the castrated Othon telling his psychic witch wife Honorata that he refuses to see their son Agnhar (they conceived via psychic blood magic) for seven years due to the fact that Agnhar was hit in the womb with an anti-gravity dart and now naturally floats (which Othon thinks will impede his ability to be the warrior-successor to the Metabaron title)…well, this is a relatively sedate page in the cycle, let's put it that way.
PAGE FIFTY-TWO (SEVEN PANELS)
P1. HONORATA clutches AGHNAR to her breast as OTHON jabs a finger in their direction.
– OTHON All right. But I wish to hear nothing of the child during the next seven years…
P2. OTHON grits his teeth.
– OTHON At that time, I will put him to the test of warriorhood. If he survives, I will allow him to succeed me…
P3. Outside the Metabaron's tower; dark against blood-red skies.
– HONORATA And if not?
P4. OTHON snarls, eyes bright with something like madness.
– OTHON He will die…and that will be the end of our clan…for I will kill myself as well.
P5. In the Metabunker, LOTHAR lies on its front, smoke pouring out from inside its torso. TONTO stares at him, head tilted quizzically.
– LOTHAR Ohmy-ohmy-ohmy! This time I'm not just going to fry my diodes but also the audio-gyroscopes that enable me to walk! My cathodes are melting with curiosity! How will a weightless child become the best warrior in the galaxy? What will his initiation be like? Will Honorata withstand seven long years of separation from Othon without it diminishing their love for one another?
– TONTO ?
P6. TONTO harangues LOTHAR as the robot barely lifts his head to entreat the small storyteller.
– TONTO Shut your rusty old trap! You're more inquisitive than a hairdresser on Terra Prima!
– LOTHAR Tell me! Tell me!
P7. TONTO gives a little shrug, tilting its head.
– TONTO Ok, I get it…but I can tell you very little about those seven years…
So, What'd We Learn?
– I'm a jerk, so I'm putting you in at the actual tail end of a scene, but…y'know, it actually kind of works as a self-contained little block of storytelling, doesn't it? Panel one, here's all our principle players (Othon, Honorata, and Aghnar), by panel three we have our setting (a tower), and Othon beginning and finishing a plot point (if that kid can't be raised right in seven years, I'll kill him and myself). The Greek chorus of Tonto and Lothar fill you in on all the rest, including the characters' names. You could jump in here, and probably be fine for the rest of the volume. I'm not sure why you would, but you could, and a million-and-five-ideas comic like this one doesn't hurt itself reinforcing its plot points from time to time.
– Speaking of: Greek chorus isn't right for the robots, is it? They're more in the vein of Shakespeare's comic (no pun intended) gravediggers, or his clowns: menial workers commenting on the frankly berserk events the upper class is getting up to in the story. It's not a tool I feel like you see too often in comics, which tend towards the more novelistic approach of narration captions, but, hey, it's a tool. It's out there, The Bard used it, it's probably not worth dismissing entirely.
– I know "technobabble" is the accepted term, but I've always liked "authentic technological gibberish" for things like Lothar talking about all his melting parts. Metabarons deals in a fair amount of fake-technology-using-real-technological-terms, to say nothing of unwieldy far-future-epithets; it's the sort of thing I usually find pretty grating, but Jodo's impish enough with it ("Paleo-Christ!" is a cheeky one) that it comes across as more avuncular or off-the-cuff than anything.
– It's the sort of panel-to-panel storytelling choice we take for granted in this nutty world of comics, but cutting to the distant exterior of the tower as Honorata asks her question is a great way to create the effect of the story holding its breath, and quite literally isolating the moment in time for as long as the reader cares to take it in.
– And of course, the next panel being a tight shot of a wild-looking Othon having the crazy eyes and the full extent of his dramatic ultimatum/childcare plan puts a great little button on that scene, if not the page.
Philly-based comic writer Josh Hechinger [joshhechinger.tumblr.com] is a Cancer, and his blood type is A+. You can find him being a loquacious dope on Twitter, and read his comic collaborations on Comixology].