Megalex takes Jodorowsky fans to a new corner of the Jodoverse, adding territory to the star-chart that includes 'The Incal', 'Before the Incal' and 'Final Incal', 'The Metabarons', 'Weapons of the Metabarons', and 'Metabarons Genesis: Castaka', and 'The Technopriests' -- Jodorowsky's first collaboration with the artist Beltran. His work on 'The Technopriests', however, was as a 'colorist' for the line art of Zoran Janjetov; but 'colorist' doesn't really describe his transformation of Janjetov's pencil and ink illustrations, giving them an almost three-dimensional quality with his fully painted layering -- all of it digital.
On 'Megalex' Beltran is solo, creating the computer-generated paintings he's famous for. As one of the artists who pioneered digital comic art, alongside others like Japanese illustrator and 'Monkey King' writer-painter Katsuya Terada and British Judge Dredd/Killing Joke/DC cover artist Brian Bolland, his restless, experimental nature is typical of many 'early adopters' of art-techn. It is evident here, as the smoothly rendered art of the opening chapters abruptly shifts to more traditional line art and hatching (In a way, the artistic metamorphosis mirrors the story. The flawlessly rendered, smoothly-contoured style depicts the gleaming artifice and sterility of the Orwellian regime, while the classic -- but still computer-generated -- ink drawn pages, with their delicate texturing, represents the shifting focus as the Chem Forest rebels attack).
'Megalex' introduces a sterile world whose surface has been almost entirely covered in the rigidly engineered, technologically advanced, and viciously authoritarian global-city-state for which the book is named. With organic procreation banned, the genetically engineered population is divided into classes, the upper class allowed 400 years of life, while the lowest classes are only given 400 days. When an attack on Megalex distracts the drug addicted officials tasked with ensuring quality control among the clones, weeding out even the slightest genetic anomalies, one of the 400-day police clones emerges as an eight-foot tall giant. He manages to escape with the help of Adama, a buxom clone who is a part of the organic resistance movement, based in the last refuge of the natural world, Chem Forest. The resistance has used altered and manipulated tree roots, sliding down their hollow stalks to access the ancient tunnels, constructed by an eccentric billionaire thousands of meters beneath the plastic and metallic street-grids. They are aided by the various animal species they have managed to rescue from extinction, as well as mysterious space-faring life-forms dubbed Malaks, who look like gigantic, transparent manta-rays. They have the ability to breach the city-defenses and launch devastating attacks, making them essential allies of the rebel cause. The Megalex, controlled by the still-living brain of an otherwise mummified corpse named King Yod, with his evil wife and beautiful daughter, must be destroyed if the rebels wish to save Chem Forest from certain annihilation.
While Megalex doesn't have the epic scale of The Incal, The Metabarons, or The Technopriests, it features the explosion of mad, brilliant concepts that Jodo is known for, as well as the brutal violence and sexuality typical to his bande dessinee creations. On the down side, there is also plenty of the ridiculous dialogue and cheesy humor that Jodo fans have learned to tolerate. In some respects, his silliness is sort of endearing, and perhaps helps to balance the heavier aspects of his story-telling -- the rape, genital mutilation, and dismemberment-torture that make regular appearances in his work; although Megalex doesn't feature any of the above, and is quite tame by Jodorowsky standards.
While Beltran's digitally-painted art doesn't equal the brilliant work done by Moebius, Ladronn, Das Pastoras, or Juan Gimenez, he can hardly be faulted for falling short of what are four of the greatest masterpieces in European comic art. He is still very much a worthy addition to the incredible array of talents that make up Jodorowsky's collaborators. I would like to see him return some time to the world of pencil, ink and paint in which he began (with stunning results), but Megalex is an extraordinary effort on the part of both Beltran and Jodorowsky.