11 November, 2012

Talkin' Bouncer: Raising Cain

My first knowing exposure to Alejandro Jodorowsky was the psychedelic western El Topo. It’s a hard movie to describe and a harder movie to watch more than once, but if I would have to describe it, it is about Clint Eastwood taking on the quest of Gilgamesh mixed in with the story of Siddartha Guatama and, I don’t know, a weekend with Timothy Leary if you added. . . I don't know, it's just one hell of a movie. Yeah. That is the ticket.

It wasn’t until years after I saw that movie that I realized Jodorowksy had transformed himself into a comic book writer (because the word “transformed” is the entirely appropriate when it comes to men like him) and that I had read some of his work previously.

He has a fairly storied career, at least among European comic book fans. He created the Metabarons and went on to work with no less than Moebeus himself (RIP) with The Incal.

Whether that is a detriment or not we can all agree that Jodorowsky's oeuvre is a unique lineage in the comic book medium. Thankfully, perhaps.

Bouncer: Raising Cain is less like The Incal and more like one of the screenplays I half wrote nine times during my freshman year in college. For those that are not me, that means that this book is far less awesome than the sum of its parts and could have, at some point, used somebody of authority and taste saying “No, get rid of this, this is gross. Please stop. You weirdo. Ick."

And so forth.

But that never seems to go down. Instead we get a crazy person's vision of a western and that, at least on paper, is a cool thing to have in existence.On paper this is a full-blooded western, a proper Western, even, especially when you consider that most of El Topo was dedicated to murdering queer yogi messiahs in the middle of the desert as I understand it. Also: Rabbits.

Anyways, the basic subject of the comic is about a young man looking to avenge the death of his parents at the hand of an evil Confederate brigrand. In order to accomplish this he seeks out a gunslinger who he believes will aid him in this task. In short, it is your basic “regeneration through violence” myth that is prevalent in the Western genre (and, well, American history), but written by a Jewish Chilean/French jack-of-all trades-cum-madman. That’s where the wrinkles appear.

Nothing in this story seems to exist without some sort of corollary symbolism—or at least strangeness that creates a gap where symbolism might be imagined. Things do not happen on a grand scale so much as they appear on some sort of theatrical scale. It is as if Jodorowsky fears that we’ll miss the importance of something happening if it appears to be realistic or that we will miss that something happens when it happens. His default position—and it appears this way in all of his works, as I understand it—is to point a high key light on the action.

People do not catch snakes, they catch three snakes. They do not find guns, they find guns from the devil (off screen). They do not get shot, they get shot and raped and decapitated. Oh, also: Illuminati symbolism (another carry over from El Topo). It might be that he isn’t just gilding things, it might be that he is actually attempting to weave in some sort of philosophy into his works. But if so, what?

You can see this in how the young man trains to be a gunslinger. His attempts at becoming a gun fighter more closely resemble a person looking to become a kung fu master or a lama than it does a shootist. It's a fun twist on the trope, if slightly contradictory. Hard though, it is to over analyze something like that when our main man's spirit animal is a legendary Scottish gunfighter who changed his name to "Butterfly."

It's at this point I would say "Yeah, it's that kind of a book," but the universe really doesn't allow for more than one of these kind of things to run wild at one time.

Adding on the fact that this young man also takes mushrooms to reach some sort of martial enlightenment seems to make me think that Bouncer comes across as El Topo Lite. While reading it, I wondered if some segments of Jodorowsky's abandoned Los Topos story (or stories) are what Bouncer became. It certainly feels like it. There's enough sexual violence, augery, and disabled people to pass for a sequel, even though this book seems to be set in America as opposed to some sort of a acid-washed wonderland. It wasn't until later (while reasearching this article) that I found out that El Topo Dos: Topo Mas Fuerte is actually, finally, possibly in production as we speak. And what is the title: Abel Cain.


The real star of all of this is the artist, Francois Boucq. He draws in panoramic landscapes and amazingly drafted details that only really seem to exist in the European tradition of comics (or at least how I imagine that tradition to be). His line work is really just stellar. . . even if everyone in this book seems to be some sort of a caveman. That’s acceptable though, when you have the closest thing to John Ford panoramic that I’ve ever seen in comic book form. He’s a pretty swell drawer and I’m poorer for having just found out about him.

Though he does draw a revolver in the 1870's with a swing out cylinder, which is crazy, as that wouldn't have been invented for a good long while afterwards.I mean, who does he think he's fooling?

My real problems with this book is that it seems senselessly and bizarrely cruel. There seems to be a lot of rape and pederasty in this book. Considering the amount of psychosexual activity in El Topo (and just the trailer for the Holy Mountain), I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. That movie starts with a naked eight year old, so I guess I really should have known better.

And also I guess my problem is with how light of touch these horrors have. People murder each other because they're bad! I guess! And people rape the children of the murdered because the world is bad! You know! That's how things are. Anyways, this diamond.

I mean, what? What is going on? If you're going to drop some dark, dank shit in my lap, you had best give me a fucking reason. Cormac McCarthy is my favorite author. He understands how to lay down some well reasoned horror and by extension I think I might, as well. Alejandro Jodorowsky, on the other hand is no Cormac McCarthy (and he is no me, which is a shame, I would have a much better beard if this were the case).

Now do we avoid these sort of things because we don’t want to put anyone in danger or do we avoid them because they’re morally wrong? Or do we avoid them because it can easily become exploitative? I don’t know that Jodorowsky knows. What I know is that there are large chunks of this book that make me feel icky. Oogie, even.

Then again the violence is so hyperactive and the plot and characters so surreal, so maybe there’s an argument for the sexuality being as weird as it is. When it all comes down to it, regardless of the actual reason or intention, there is only so much pederasty I am willing to put up with in my art.

Then the big redemption at the end of the story is. . . incest? I guess? I mean, they’re cousins and it’s olde timey, but, really? We’re supposed to be down for this? Is that the point? Is Jodorowsky so European as to make that his central feel good point? Do I care? There’s a lot to unpack and that’s without the fact that the diamond that acts as the story’s MacGuffin is hidden exactly where you think it would be. . . which I guess makes me a sicker man that three depraved murderers.

This book creeps me out in a lot of ways. Then again I bought it for five bucks at Vroman’s, so I do have the standing to be too irked.

Bouncer is a fine spiritual successor to El Topo and, fortunately, it is free of the nonsensical mysticism of that John Lennon championed film and instead replaces it with the use of child rape as a major plot point. Beyond that (if you can get beyond that), it has a passable story and some amazing art work. Outside of Jonah Hex it’s hard to find a decent western comic book and Bouncer: Raising Cain is most certainly decent.

SIDE NOTE: If you haven’t read up on Jodorowsky’s Dune yet, then you definitely should. It’s. . . well, it’s, um, completely fucking nuts. It has a gold toilet. Shaped like a dolphin. And the Emperor of the Universe uses it as a throne. And that Emperor is Salvador Dali.
**And even Jonah Hex isn’t even in the West anymore. He’s in Gotham. The hell is that about?