Megalex – Alejandro Jodorowsky

3 out of 5

You have to allow for a certain amount of whimsical concept bloat in the Jodoverse. That’s just how the dude’s brain constructs things: moreso as ideas with representative elements as opposed to stories with characters. This works best when Jodorowsky gives himself the room to explore those whimsies, or when he’s limited to single slices of them. On occasion, the idea can necessarily be centered around a figure – El Topo, for example – and then it syncs up nicely, giving us a linear element against which crazy things are pinged.

Megalex is chock full of great ideas, given their uniquely offhand zen zing by Jodo’s writing style, but it’s also a mixed bag in terms of structure: it gives us a central figure up front (an anomalous, mutated soldier in a world which customer-crafts its peoples to all look the same), then transitions to a larger scale battle – the oppressed mutates versus the techno-organic Megalex overlords – and then shifts into fable mode, exposition dropping the whole backstory (and future-story) of the world on us.

I wouldn’t remove any of these sections – separated into the three books of the series – but each one sets you up for something that doesn’t really feel like it pays off. Book One starts to explore the drug-addled populace of Megalex (a very automated city-as-a-planet) and the numerology baiting structure of various citizens lifespans – 40 years, 400 years, 4,000 years… – and gives us our naive, newborn mutate as a fun protagonist, escaping from the usual vetting procedures which would kill such anomalies thanks to interruptions from the rebelling peoples who live in the only unconquered areas of the Megalex. He’s positioned as something of a potential hero, guided to an underground city by Adama, a huge-chested tsundere type and then put through some conditioning trials and tribulations, but Book Two switches over to Zenia, the hunchbacked leader of this particular tribe, and his role in the overthrow of Megalex. This book functions more in Jodo’s conceptual mode, pitching us a trio of spiritual leaders for the underground folks and a trio of evil cyber-humans leading Megalex, and completely scurries our Book One protag to the side. But just as we’re coming to grips with the fomenting conflict, Book Three back pedals to fill us in on historical lore, and then skips quickly through the ensuing battle to give us the aftermath and beyond. The conclusion calls this the first “cycle,” and if that had meant further cycles, the varying stylistic focuses of the series could’ve been smoothed out at length, but we haven’t yet returned to Megalex.

As mentioned, all of this stuff is a lot of fun, but excepting Book One’s action adventure setup, the other books are way too compressed to let it sink in.

Fred Beltran’s digital art in Books One and Two (switching over to hand-drawn in three, but his character / concept design remains just as detailed and impressive) might be make or break for some, but I love the look of the series. The digital vibe was perfect for representing the straight edges of Megalex, and then the outright oddities of the underworld, and helped bring an appropriately weird uncanny valley feeling to the art.

Many of Jodo’s comic book works can feel disjointed, and a bit wandering, but that’s generally inherent from the get-go. Megalex is only disappointing because it changes tactics a few times, and each of those tactics is so damned intriguing, you wish it could’ve been the focus for the whole thing. In re-summarizing it, it’s clearer to me how certain story threads carry through, but it only sounds “linear” when retelling the plot as such; the actual reading experience often feels like you’re skipping over chapters when going from book to book. But because of its unique visuals, and brevity, it’s also a good recommendation as a sort of speedrun of Jodo’s strengths and comic-y indulgences.