Heavy Metal Overload Special Summer 2008

To this day, the name Heavy Metal puts a little song in my geeky heart. This despite the fact that, in actuality, I’ve read proportionately very little of its impressive 30-year run. I suppose a lot of the warm fuzzy glow I get from the brand comes from the daring 1981 animated extravaganza, which hit HBO around the time I was 12 and pretty much blew my hormonally-ravaged young mind. I was just the perfect age for its bizarre blend of juvenile and adult, fantastic and uncouth.

Flash forward ten years. I have disposable income and no longer fear parental units stumbling across my weird nudie space comics and demanding an explantation. So I signed up for a 3-year subscription to Heavy Metal and gleefully rubbed my hands together in anticipation of the delights to follow.

The verdict: a mixed bag. Somehow, the magazine didn’t entirely live up to my idea of what it would be. Maybe it was because the days of Moebius and Bode were well in the rearview mirror. The original owner had sold the magazine to Peter Eastman- co-creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles- who seemed to see it primarily as a vehicle to promote the career of Julie Strain, a D-list actress with ginormous fake boobs who happens to be Eastman’s wife. Maybe I was misled by the quality of the film into thinking Heavy Metal was something it wasn’t. All I know is the ratio of stories I enjoyed to those I didn’t was about 1:5.

There were things that irritated me. For example, there were some ongoing series that others readers (or at least the editors) enjoyed way more than I did. It seemed like every 4 or 5 months there was a new installment of certain stories that I didn’t want to read in the first place. Other times, they would print the first part of a story and never print the rest. They also started reprinting a lot of old Atomika and Tundra material, which pissed me off because I had already bought it the first time! I was also aggravated with the magazine’s policy of publishing seasonal special editions which weren’t considered part of the subscription. Even though I had signed up to have the magazine delivered to my doorstep, there were issues on the stands that I wasn’t getting. Like I said, irritating.

Once my subscription ran out, I cut ties with Heavy Metal and haven’t bought a copy in the intervening 12 or so years. I would flip through it from time to time on the stands, but the Summer 2008 special caught my eye in a way that no other issue had for quite some time: some fantastic artwork…a sexy lady…WWI soldiers in combat…a half-man half-robot and a mad scientist type in his spooky lab. They got me. I plunked down my seven bucks figuring, “even if it ends up sucking I can rip it apart on my blog.”

The issue’s first story is a quick 7-pager called “The Door” by JM Darlot and IG Holgado. It concerns an ordinary-seeming desk jockey whose day at the office is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a new door which he did not order. No sooner have the delivery men propped up the mysterious door and departed then a knocking begins to sound from the other side- even though there is no other side! I’ve never been a big fan of the short form and nothing here changes that opinion. “The Door” is more about setting a mood than telling a story, and it’s only partially successful at doing that. Holgado’s clean artwork is almost Disneyesque, which is a look I enjoy sometimes but isn’t quite dark enough for the creepy tone Darlot’s going for here. An intriguing premise to a better story than anything satisfying unto itself.

The title character of Massimo Visavi and Adriano de Vincentiis’ “Sophia” provides the issue’s requisite T&A. De Vincentiis’ art is very good, he is as adept at drawing beautiful villas or the canals of Venice as he is the curves of a nude woman. So at least there is something nice to look at while you are plowing through an otherwise underwhelming supernaturally-tinged quest around the globe. Along the way we are subjected to some pretty awkward dialogue, although whether that can be chalked up to bad writing on Visavi’s part or a poor translation I couldn’t say.

Sophia Delamore is the scion of the very powerful but extremely dysfunctional dynasty. Her father went insane, and tried to murder her as a baby. Her mother had no choice but to kill him to save Sophia, but she in turn was killed by the vengeful grandfather. The evil grandfather is dead now as well, but his estate is in limbo because no one can locate his will, which has been locked away in a small carved chest behind a mysterious symbol. Sophia’s people track down the box, but before she can even figure out how to open it it’s stolen again. So she criss-crosses the world to once again gain possession of the heirloom. Imagine a watered-down cross between the Da Vinci Code and Raiders of the Lost Ark, only with Paris Hilton as the heroine.

And that was the biggest of the story’s several problems. Sophia is a rich, haughty celebrity who is too dumb to know that baby tank tops and high-heeled boots are impractical attire for slogging though a South American jungle (this can’t be chalked up to artistic license, by the way, even other characters point out how ludicrously she dresses). Visavi tries with mixed results to make her more sympathetic through flashbacks of her as a young girl being haunted by her mother’s ghost and being abused by an evil nun. It all leads up to a whopper of a revelation at the end, and the realization that, regardless of the “The End” on the last page, this is really only the first chapter of an ongoing saga. I can only wonder when another chapter might appear, and whether anyone will care when it does.

If I thought the translation in “Sophia” was sloppy, it’s ten times worse in the next story, a noir-looking boxing story called “Man at the Carpet.” Actually, the translation is so egregious the only way I can tell what the story is supposed to be is by looking at the sketchy Ted McKeever-esque artwork. The captions are really that indecipherable!

Example the first, our narrator Joe describing how an opponent’s punch feels like being hit by a train: “…it seemed to me the most logical explanation, to strike me had to have been for strength a commodities train and not the red boxing glove of Tyler Holland, my challenger.” Flows nicely, doesn’t it?

Someone urges Joe to get an honest job and avoid criminal types: “Think to stay up, pal… you are young. One like you finds a good job to the docks. Don’t fall out with that people!” Wha…huh?

An aforementioned criminal type tries to convince him of…something… “It’s not good enough to be good to arrive at the top… It always needs the help of someone, There is who looks for it, and who, like you, receives that help without know it.” Words to live by, my friend, words to live by.

The whole story is this puzzling. I’m not sure what’s more appalling, that someone did such a horrific job of English translation, or that said translation crossed some editor’s desk who responded, “Looks great-- print it!” Everyone involved with the magazine should be embarrassed that this thing ever saw print like this.

The story that redeems the whole issue is Xavier Dorison and Enrique Breccia’s fantastic “The Sentries”, a bleak cyber-monster story set in the opening of World War I (would that make it--- “Greatwarpunk”?) Based on the eye-popping artwork alone I was convinced to buy this special, and there are visual treats to pour over on every page. Breccia’s actually a world famous artist, but I’ve been ignorant of his work up until now. This page is from the original French version, but check the pencils:

The script is equally compelling, telling the tale of a tortured soul whose good intentions lead to nothing but misery. Gabriel Feraud is a scientist who has invented a radium-powered battery, but despite his family’s near-destitution refuses to sell the design to the military for use in the impending war. Colonel Alphonse Mirreau is in charge of Project Sentries, a research experiment to create cyborg soldiers for the French army. Previous attempts have failed because the cyborgs didn’t have sufficient power and ran down on the battlefield. Now Mirreau will utilize all the pressure his rank provides to strongarm Feraud into handing over his battery design. What follows is a test of wills as Feraud tries to uphold his principles. But as often happens when a lone citizen tries to stand up to will of the institution, his struggles may ultimately prove the downfall of his entire family.

Breaking down the issue by rating:
"The Door" (7 pages): 7
"Sophia" (54 pages): 5.5
"Man at the Carpet" (10 pages): Incomplete!?
"The Sentries" (62 pages): 9

At first blush, it might not seem worth picking up the Overload special just for one story, but because "The Sentires" is so good, and because it is so long, it just about justifies the $6.95 price tag on its own. Monthly comics are about three bucks for 22 pages, so the price actually compares favorably. I say grab a copy, and if you happen to like some of the other stories too, even better!

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