Sons of El Topo vol. 1: Cain HC – Alejandro Jodorowsky

3 out of 5

Jodorowsky tends to have three general modes of expression: the world-building, narrative-be-damned all-encompassing wonder of the Jodoverse; slightly more “traditional” story-telling – generally as it relates to a specific character – which is a setup he rarely seems to use; and then acid trip fantasies, following whimsies of imagery and inspirations, wherever they may lead.  There’s crossover between all three of these, but Jodo’s films tend toward the latter, and a lot of his comic work toward the former.

I haven’t watched El Topo in years.  I’d say you don’t have to have seen it to read Sons of El Topo – the most important bits, that El Topo was a bad man who gave away his son (here renamed Cain, from the film’s Hijo), creating bad blood between the two, then became all redeemed as a Christ figure and had another kid and then died, are retold in the first few pages – but at least knowing there was an El Topo helps, as that intro reeks of recap, despite it being something of a reconfiguration of the flick as well.  And it’s a sensation that lingers: while Jodo’s intro to the book makes it clear that this is a comic, and not just an adaptation of the El Topo sequel he’d been trying to make for years, we never quite sink into the world like we do with Metabarons or Incal; there’s a lot of distance and artifice that works intriguingly with the full effect of cinema, but makes the reading experience like being told a story second hand.  That doesn’t make Sons of El Topo uninteresting at all – it is, like the film, certainly divisive in its “symbolism,” which seems to very much focus on a Christ / Christianity study – and, visually, Ladrönn’s big, beautifully painted panels and full-of-life figures are stunning.  But, despite the assurances, it’s an adaptation, and one that’s been split into “parts,” with part one not necessarily offering up enough beyond imagery to vibe with whatever the story’s motivating inspirations might be.

In fact, at this point, it could even be a retelling of El Topo: Cain repeats his father’s bad-man sins (including his contentious treatment of women…), albeit in part motivated by a curse placed upon him that makes everyone turn away from him and treat him as unseen.  With the passing of his mother potentially bringing him together with his brother in the next volume, I hope Sons of El Topo becomes relatively more grounded, and, perhaps with more pages on which to reflect, can be recognized as taking advantage of its medium and not just putting text to page.

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