Grant Morrison needs to crank up the Heavy Metal
by rick olivares
I picked up the latest two issues of Heavy Metal magazine.
It has been three decades since I purchased a copy of this avante-garde comic magazine that was a blend of science fiction-fantasy and erotica and served to introduce European stories and art to a worldwide audience.
I picked them up only because one of the foremost writers working in the comic book industry today, Grant Morrison, has come aboard as editor-in-chief. I can’t say whether the magazine’s content has been good or bad because it has been quite a while. However, when you bring on board someone of Morrison’s caliber; someone whose highly-creative and deliciously wicked imagination has revitalized or pushed mainstream American comic book titles like Justice League of America, Batman, and the X-Men into another stratosphere of success and acclaim, you have to excited about what magic will be weaved by the Scotsman into a title that has lost its relevancy.
Thus far, two issues — Heavy Metal is now published every two months — have been released; May 2016’s #280 and July’s #281. As Morrison’s ornate introduction in #280 puts it, this is his “first time in the command of this vast star-machine that’s been sailing off the map’s edge of imagination and graphic madness”.
That is exactly what this magazine is.
The Scot’s first issue comes in the Spring where death and rebirth is the seasonal theme. Save for French creator Enki Bilal’s - more on him later — “Julia and Roem” that re-works William Shakespeare’s start-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet into a post-apocalyptic life, and Erika Lewis and J.K. Woodward’s “49th Key” that tells the story of an archeologist and young mute boy’s journey from the magical land of Enochia to modern world, most are new stories.
It should be noted that “49th Key” is the first story from the magazine to be adapted for a television series. The “Heavy Metal” animated film from 1981 used different stories featured in the magazine that were tied together by one common thread.
Having said that, here are my favorites from the first two Morrison issues of Heavy Metal.
280 “Still they come"
Morrison kicks off Heavy Metal #280 with his own story titled “Beachhead” (with artist Benjamin Marra) about aliens conquering the Earth and featuring some ugly looking aliens in a sad sack like story.
Canadian writer Ryan Ferrier, whose amusing look into life on Earth after the machines have taken over the world in “D4VE” (from IDW Publishing) pens a story that Spanish artist Hugo Petrus drew (in a style that would appeal to fans of renowned fantasy artist Charles Vess). “Goddess” is about a forest deity who leads a bloody reprisal on a village that has hunted and killed creatures like deer and such with wanton abandon.
There’s a small portfolio and interview with German artist Mimi Scholz whose work features females and animals in bizarre and surrealistic surroundings.
And there’s “Lepidopteran" by the Argentinean duo of writer Emilio Baalcarce and artist Gaston Vivanco that is about a Russian fighter jet that goes up against a U.F.O.
281 “Sex in the Summertime"
“Option 3 “ by Morrison and Simeon Aston, "The Last Romantic Anti-Hero" by Dean Haspiel, and “Zentropa" by John Mahoney.
As a youngster in the mid-1970s, it was the pre-internet age and the comic specialty shop had yet to be introduced, I would glance at the Heavy Metal magazines that were sold in only two shops in Manila — the Rastro and Christhareth — that were both situated in Greenhills and have long since closed. The magazines were expensive even if many of them were sold as second hand copies courtesy of American servicemen from Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base looking to make an extra buck.
It was hard enough collecting comics during that time let along picking up a magazine that was considered racy and subversive by many.
To digress a moment about reading Heavy Metal, one must not be encumbered by anything else. Each and every issue must be read and digested with an open mind and without the element of time. The stories, more often than not because of the art styles, are vastly different from mainstream or even most American indie comics. So it requires some reading. This isn’t a comic that can be read and devoured in five minutes. Most issues are mind-blowers.
Around the time that the "Heavy Metal" film was being promoted, I had saved enough money to buy my first ever copy of the magazine and that was the 53rd issue cover dated August 1981. The cover art featured this beautiful fairy that was painted by Spanish fantasy artist Esteban Maroto. I actually could have gotten some earlier issues but I had to make sure that I got one with a cover that wouldn’t catch the attention of my parents. Nevertheless, that issue featured works and stories from Richard Corben, Rod Kierkegaard, Howard Chaykin, Tom Yeates, and Jim Steranko among others. And there too was a Bilal story so getting #280 a little under 35 years later was a bit of serendipity.
All in all, the first two Heavy Metal issues under Morrison’s baton has some interesting stuff. However, to be honest, nothing so far that has me raving 'this is a must read’. The hype is over-hyped. It’s a shame because one of the variant covers to #280 shows Morrison flipping the bird. So much about sending a message because there’s nothing so far except some creator putting his mug front and center.
Hopefully, the third issue will find some new and interesting series we can really latch on to and place this magazine firmly on my comics pull list. Or else, I will respond by flipping Morrison and Heavy Metal the bird and just re-read those old magazines that have a warm place in my fanboy’s heart.