Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Knights of Heliopolis’

“Let’s kick back, pop shots, have a ball; and if the world blow up, next life, we do it all over”

Alejandro Jodorowsky is a legendary creator (the dude just turned 92!!!!), and Knights of Heliopolis, which came out a few years ago in French but is now in English courtesy of Titan Comics’ Statix imprint, is yet another one of those crazy things he does. This is drawn by Jérémy (French artists don’t need surnames!), lettered by Lauren Bowes, and translated by Marc Bourbon-Crook. Let’s get to it!

I have to admit, I’ve always been a bit cool toward Jodorowsky’s work, and that’s the situation here. He’s a superb idea man, but his writing isn’t as great, so I don’t think I’ve ever really loved a Jodorowsky work, even though I do enjoy them and appreciate both the ideas and the fact that he has enough clout to get excellent artists to draw them. This story begins in 1778, when Louis XVI was king of France and unable to bear a child. Through some weird magic, he gets Marie Antoinette pregnant, but being a scumbag king, later that day he gets the daughter of a baker, a woman named Charlotte, pregnant as well. Marie Antoinette gives birth to an intersex baby, but Marie can’t nurse him, so Louis gets Charlotte to do it. As the baby needs nourishment all the time, Charlotte’s own baby is left in a cage, suckling at a dog. Yep, Jodorowsky is just that weird. After the revolution, the man who procured the magic for Louis appears again, younger this time, and takes Charlotte’s now young child and switches him with Louis XVII, who’s in prison. Her son is mentally impaired and wouldn’t have much of a life anyway, and the man knows people are coming to kill Louis, so Charlotte smuggles him away and her own son is killed. Charlotte returns and kills the ringleader of the child-killers, Jean-Paul Marat. Yep, Charlotte is Charlotte Corday, because why not? So this is a “man in the iron mask” scenario, except that it takes place a century later and the prisoner gets away with the weird man, who turns out to belong to a secret society, the Knights of Heliopolis. Of course it’s a secret society!

Jodorowsky weaves actual European history into his story of a society whose goals remain murky, even as they shepherd Louis through several trials, including one that will grant him functional immortality (the members of the society are all men who have lived a really long time, including the prophet Ezekiel, John the Gospel writer, and Nostradamus). Their purpose remains vague, because of course there’s a secret that they’re not telling Louis (a secret society with secrets! quelle surprise!), but eventually that comes to a head. The main villain for much of the book is Napoleon, who is trying to take over the world and has some supernatural ability to do it, so Louis goes to stop him but discovers it’s not that easy. Later in the book, Louis tries to stop Jack the Ripper and finds out that’s not quite what he expects, either. As usual with Jodorowsky, there’s a lot of interesting ideas, some regrettable ones (the anti-woman attitude in the book is saved a bit at the end, but it really does feel like Jodorowsky said, “Whoops! I better tack this on!” more than anything organic), and the story never really coheres. He seems to place everything about Napoleon after 1814, which is an odd thing for a European person to do (a mouth-breathing ‘Murican? sure! but not a sophisticated Euro!) (and yes, I know Jodorowsky was born in Chile, but he’s been European for a long, long time!), and the characters are never really that inherently interesting, they’re just interesting because of the situations in which Jodorowsky places them. The best part of the book is when Charlotte Corday is alive, because her plight – someone who can’t say “no” to a king, doesn’t seem to really want to, is conflicted about that, and can’t help her own child’s suffering – is the most emotionally honest the book gets. Once Louis is grown, he’s pretty much a superhuman, and although he faces trials, they don’t feel as real as that of the woman who nursed him. It’s an entertaining book, certainly, but it’s still frustrating, because despite Louis being able to pass as a man and a woman and using that to his advantage, and despite Louis falling in love, the book feels too stuffed with weird ideas to care about the characters, so it’s not as thrilling when things happen as it might be otherwise.

Jérémy’s art is typically beautiful, in that style that I think of as “European” – very sleek, finer lines, gorgeous digital coloring that nevertheless has an air of unreality about it – like pornography, I know it when I see it! All the people are beautiful, too, which is very typical of this style of art (not that it’s not typical of superhero art, but when Europeans do it, they’re usually drawing people who are supposed to be real, so it’s more striking). His details are wonderful, as he immerses us in the worlds of Napoleon and Victorian England, and does a nice job with the weird stuff in the book, too, like when Louis is becoming immortal or when we find out what Jack the Ripper is up to. Of course, Louis is beautiful, in an androgynous way that allows him/her to move easily between being a man and being a woman. I imagine the status of comics in Europe is what allows the artists to take their time and give us sumptuous details, as Jérémy does marvelous work with the decadent glory of ancien régime Paris, the exoticness of Egypt, and the wretchedness of late Victorian England. His characters “move” beautifully, so there’s a great sense of kinetic energy coming from the pages, not only in the action scenes, which are very well done. I mentioned the coloring briefly, and what I mean is that the colors are beautiful but also have that odd “haze” that a lot of European comics seem to have – it’s like they exist on a different plane of reality than we do, which makes the oddness that crops up in this book a bit easier to accept. I don’t love the colors as much as I dig the line art, but it’s kind of a thing with these kinds of comics, and I’ve learned to accept it.

This is an entertaining comic, but like most of what I read by Jodorowsky, it doesn’t give you that extra oomph that would make it great. It’s interesting to read, beautiful to look at, and unfortunately a bit forgettable. At the link below, it’s not a bad price, and it’s a nice chunk of comics. If you’re a Jodorowsky fan, this is certainly a Jodorowsky book, so it might be your cup of tea. I don’t regret getting it, because it’s a fun comic, but it’s still a tad disappointing.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

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