4 out of 5
Ah, Jodo. Even without a preliminary viewing of Jodorowsky’s movies, I understood that all of the oddities in the comics works of his I sampled – Technopriests, bits in Metal Hurlant – were neither traditional sci-fi of any sort, or intended to be directly read as parables. I tend to like to have “points” to my stories, or for the narratives to be fairly tight, and I can’t say what I read offered either of those exact benefits… but I loved the stuff. Foisting it on to other readers, I realized it was quite an acquired taste, though. But I do think that when you’re armed with his movies, it better equips you to deal with and interpret some of his themes, which – in the words and paper medium – are completely unlimited by budget, and thus subject to his vast imagination, brought forth by various amazing artists. In the case of Knights of Heliopolis, knowledge of Jodo’s “psychomagic” therapy – or a viewing of the documentary on the same – helps guide the way, since the book could be read as a fantastical application of that, tweaked to fit various historical events.
I “believe” psychomagic; that is, I believe that Jodo is a very engaging speaker, and that applying hands-on and extreme “cures” to combat Freudian pathos will probably work for certain types of people. I mean, this is mixed with as much bullshit as anything Jodorowsky does – including this comic – but there’s a fascinating logical thread contained within, and guided by Jodo’s metaphysical leanings and willingness to engage thought when guided by the tarot and whatnot. Psychomagic – and Jodorowsky’s philosophies – often deal with the struggle between male and female “forces,” and the ties between parent and child. On a broader scale, this can get political, but Knights very much distills it to a human level, telling a tale (wanderingly) of a group of immortals who are applying the practice to save humanity from their indulgences. It seems, in my reading, to attempt to redress Jodo’s staunch divide between genders in his early work (and the sexism that promoted) – I’ve often wondered what his take would be regarding our more gender-fluidity-aware times, and having his lead agent of change in Knights be a hermaphrodite may be an on-the-nose way to go about that, but it’s also part of how Alejandro has allowed his world views to morph and encompass the changes around him.
Now does this actually amount to anything? No, of course not – it’s still bullshit, with symbolic rebirths and sexual unifications and positing wars as humanity’s testosterone-fueled attempts at overcoming insecurities (although, sure, we’re good on that last point), and spreading that across a vague retelling of The Man in the Iron Mask (book one), Napoleon’s rise (book two) and fall (book three), and then, uh, Jack the Ripper (book four), and there just happens to be a talking, kung-fu gorilla in there, and maybe an alien, but it is goddamned fascinating bullshit, as is almost always the case with Jodo. And the story is actually fairly linear feeling as well, remaining focused on our lead character’s emotional maturation while undertaking various missions for the Knights, with artist Jeremy beautifully tying things together, equally apt at dialogue and drama and sexy stuff and violence and action.
With a memory of The Incal, or maybe lulled in by the misleading “this is a retelling of The Man in the Iron Mask” publicity, a reader will likely be put off by the high fantasy esotericism of Knights of Heliopolis, which only briefly nods to that latter story before heading off to deal with ghosts and clones and mutants. But being mindful of the philosophical pursuits of Jodorowsky’s film career, this is an engaging “modern” update on those themes, unleashed via Jeremy’s art unto massive, unrestrained worlds.