Review: Divergent DimensionsA comic review article by: Jason Sacks
A traditional Heavy Metal story has always had a few specific characteristics that make it stand out; among those things are exotic creators, illustrations of beautiful, often naked women, strange space aliens, and an oblique, fascinating, almost parable-like narrative. This new Heavy Metal digital comic from writer RG Llarena and artist Milton Sobreiro displays all those characteristics: the art is gorgeous, we get to see some tits -- including some weird lizard woman tits; these talented creators are completely new to me; and, yeah, four of the stories in this wonderful book are really obscure in terms of their meaning and the point that the writer is trying to convey.
But the obscurity of the stories in Heavy Metal has never mattered when talented creators are the ones creating those obscure stories, and this collection is no exception. I'd never heard of Llarena or Sobeiro before I read this group of stories, but their work is proudly in the tradition of their other great Heavy Metal creators.
Take the first story in this collection, "Awakening". It has art that's reminiscent of the great British cartoonist John Watkiss and a thoroughly cosmic story, it's squarely in the classic Heavy Metal model. The amazing Paradigm City, "vibrating in random frequencies throughout the multiverse", houses some odd and smart alien creatures with narrow faces and spines on their heads. Those creatures keep a naked human-looking woman in a jar, who the alien creatures force to wake up on an alien world. On this world she is dressed as some kind of avenging alien angel who ends up fighting with a bunch of lizard creatures (the female lizard creatures have breasts) to bring the lizards out of the stone age.
I really don't have much of an idea who this woman is, or how she got to this alien planet, or what her mission is. There are some scenes that are thoroughly symbolic or allegorical on these pages, which all leads to a feeling that I understand this story emotionally more than I do intellectually – which puts me in an odd and intriguing position as a reader. I liked the story. I was fascinated and intrigued by it. But I had no idea what really went on. And I kind of liked that aspect of this story. I liked how I was forced out of my complacency as a reader. There were no easy answers in this story, though there are clues aplenty if I tried enough to understand them.
The second tale in this book, "Remnants", is similarly a parable of some sort –- a meditation on free will, violence, individualism and the terrible tortures that individualism brings all of us – all set in a world that seems a cross between a World War I battlefield, an exotic dystopia and a steampunk Mongolia, with a touch of superhero mixed in. Adds the breathtaking art that amounts to a travelogue to an unknown exotic land and an ending that can be read as either crushing or beautiful, and you end up with a story that just works on a different level than most comics stories.
"Choose Your Own Adventure' is a nice palette cleaner. This is a much more straightforward piece than any of the others in this book. This tale is a fairly clear story of a bizarre prisoner exchange, even if there are elements to this story that are never explained (why do the jailors want to do this very strange thing to their prisoners?), but the great creature on the last page of this story is spectacular and the story has enough intriguing elements to suggest a larger and more complex world than we see just in these few pages.
We've all seen quite a few "space Marines" stories through the years, maybe too many. But the fourth story, "Living Morpheus", succeeds because Sobreiro draws the shit out of his alien creatures. They're impossibly exotic, unbelievably strange; truly alien creatures that are far outside of our human experiences. This is exactly what readers want to get out of Heavy Metal: something they would never experience without reading this comic. After seeing the mixed beauty and destruction that the Marines bring to this world, the bleak ending makes perfect sense –- even if the motivations and command structure of the Marines still feels a bit cryptic.
Finally, "Threads of Fate" wraps this collection up with another parable about free will and power, all set in an impossibly exotic world. Once again I felt like the true meaning of this work was just out of my grasp – particularly when compared with the feeling I got from "Remnants" earlier in this book – but more importantly the story feels like it makes perfect sense and feels like the journey into an intriguingly different world. If the ending symbolic "removal of rose colored glasses" feels a bit cliché, Llarena has earned that credit with all of his originality.
This really is an impressive and fascinating book; true to the Heavy Metal tradition, but thoroughly the creation of Llarena and Sobreiro. These are the kinds of vistas that we want from Heavy Metal and these are the kinds of fictional worlds that we expect from the best of it. I had no expectations of this digital book when I picked it up; by the time I'd reread it for the third time, I became a big fan of it.
You can download Divergent Dimensions at Heavy Metal Digital.