Creator Credits: Grant Morrison, Kevin Eastman, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alex de Campi, Tony Parker, Leonard O’Grady, Duncan Trussell, Donny Cates, Andy Belanger, Kong, John Bivens, Omar Estevez, Tim Hall, Dean Haspiel, Enki Bilal, John Mahoney, Jok, Carlos Anon, Matt Molen, Kevin Molen, Ian Bederman
Looking at that… that’s a lot of names. But when it’s an anthology series as densely packed with content as Heavy Metal is, everyone deserves their due. This is especially true when the issue kicks off with a controversial story that will bring many new eyes to the series. “The Savage Sword of Jesus Christ” (an eyebrow-raising title in itself) sees Editor-in-Chief Grant Morrison once again tackle the relationship between writers and their fictional works – the subject matter of his Eisner-nominated series Annihilator. Beyond this, Heavy Metal #284 delivers the quality, counterculture comics that the series has become synonymous with.
Morrison opens the magazine with a forward that seeks to make sense of the year that was 2016 while providing optimism against the odds for 2017. After that, the issue jumps right into “The Savage Sword of Jesus Christ,” which takes on of the most famous stories of death and resurrection and gives it an exciting new spin. The Molen Brothers’ art is both raw and polished, a perfect match for both of story’s the realities.
“Savage Sword” might be the main attraction, but the other stories within are equally worth of praise. There’s the second chapter of Donny Cates and Ian Bederman’s “Atomahawk,” which reimagines the internet as a blood-soaked world inhabited by axe-wielding warriors. In “The Simulationists”, Cates teams with writer Duncan Trussell and Andy Belanger for their own twisted vision of Jesus, giving it a more graphic, technology-based slant. While these stories may shock and offend many (e.g. conservative Americans), they speak to the notion that religion can be twisted and contorted to support a specific worldview.
Perhaps the biggest and most pleasant surprise is hidden in plain sight, as the issue’s main cover features Taarna, the warrior and star of 1981’s film Heavy Metal. Bringing Taarna back are creators Alex de Campi and Tony Parker. Their tale does not lean as heavily into the fantasy/exploitation genres as the film version does. Instead, de Campi’s writing places the focus on reincarnation and multiple realities, which in turn enables Tony Parker to create beautiful and mesmerizing visuals. By the end, it’s unclear if this is the first in an ongoing saga or a standalone tale, but it doesn’t really matter. In the spirit of the magazine, Taarna is an ambiguous tale that leaves much in the hands of the reader to take from it what they will.
Beyond these, the issue is filled with other fantastic stories which challenge the readers through obscure writing and art. Publisher Kevin Eastman and artist Bill Sienkiewicz join Morrison for the opening chapter of “Mythopia”, an engaging science fiction tale. There’s a Tim Hall/Dean Haspiel story, “The Last Mortician”, and the Kong/John Bivens tale “Snow Blind” both of which contain a certain level of creepiness, with the former adding a retro feel of 1970s/1980s comics.
Heavy Metal #284 has everything you could look for in a counterculture, independent comics publication. A densely packed page-turner, the issue sees some of the industry’s most unique voices at the top of their game. In a very heavy week in terms of comic releases, this is the cream of the crop.