Metal Hurlant (#1 – 14, US) – Various

3 out of 5

Y’know, I sure felt cool buying Metal Hurlant each week – the US version of the same-named classic French magazine, which had a relatively short run from Humanoids / DC/Humanoids, dually printed in French and English – and I’m pretty sure the creators of Metal Hurlant felt pretty cool about making it, as the rather self-congratulatory (not necessarily undeservedly…) editorial suggested in each issue.

And while there was some prestige, landmark stuff in the book – two semi-ongoing tales from Alejandro Jodorowsky; one-shots from noted French writers / artists; others combining US writers or artists with international ones – that “this sure is a great comic, eh?” vibe kind of hung overhead, making it hard to get a read on what the series wanted to be without its boasts. In the middle of almost each issue, MH co-founder Jean-Pierre Dionnet would go on for about 5 or 6 pages and namedrop dozens of odd books and movies and comics he was supporting, and these were a pretty good encapsulation of the mag: a ton of potentially interesting recommendations lost in a lot of noise, with art design that did not help guide the read whatsoever, showing examples of the reccs in a collage format, mismatched to the sequence / page on which Dionnet referenced them. And so it was with the comic, which both kept kind of shifting around its format, and also settled into something of a rut, ending up with multiple ongoing storylines when the first issue promises to not have any – except Jodorowsky, ’cause, y’know, he’s a legacy – and making fun of the trend of zombie-related media in America, only to wind up with two of those ongoing stories being about zombies.

Any anthology is going to be a mixed bag, but as I’ve commented on other anthology comics (2000 AD, DHP), it helps to have some kind of editorial oversight that links things, otherwise, it’s a complete crapshoot. While it was cool to have an internationally mixed crew creating these stories, that, also, tended to dilute the book’s successes, with genres and tone wildly flip-flopping.

I would say the production quality of the stories did always feel like it got extra appreciated attention: art never feels rushed, there were never any typos, and entries were allowed to go on however long or short they needed. The production on the book itself was less impressive, as part of that ever-shifting general presentation: the layouts always looked a little garish, with the series really trying hard to find a look that cut the line between pulp and high class, and somewhat just looking cheap as a result.

More favorably, Metal Hurlant did have a very unique tone to it, just not a clear one. It was clear it wasn’t a book of one identity – American or European – which was part of the goal, so in that sense, it was successful; and that was definitely what made it feel “cool” at the time – early 2000s – when finding foreign books on the shelf, and in a pre-digital time, was more difficult. And of course, the flipside of the crapshoot comment is that sometimes that would work in your favor: each issue of MH I picked up was a brand new opportunity to find an artist or writer from whom I wanted to see more.

An interesting experiment that I suspect could be more successful nowadays, when the LCS shelves house a lot more indie and foreign books, and a mag like this wouldn’t need to muddle its own messaging with bravado, instead just relying on its contents.