Three issues in and already Junius is losing his humanity in the pages of Caligula. Of course, that development was always inevitable, as each issue of Caligula has shown Junius slipping further and further but last issue's introduction of a demonic talking horse proved to be the final straw, even more so than Junius' discovery that Caligula himself was some kind of immortal. Yes, you read that right, a demonic talking horse.
As weird as that sounds at first, the introduction of Incitatus isn't without historical grounding. Incitatus was indeed Caligula's horse and thanks to the historian Suetonius, the horse has been held up as a symbol of Caligula's madness for some time, largely due to Suetonius' retelling of an anecdote wherein Caligula intended to promote Incitatus to the level of consul. In modern times, Suetonius has of course been questioned and the story of Incitatus has been said to be an example of Caligula's satirical abilities rather than his madness.
Lapham takes a different approach, positing Incitatus as possibly the source of Caligula's powers and the true source of evil in the story. While Caligula is doing his best to bankrupt Rome -- removing the wine tax, making the games free and granting the citizens a form of democracy -- Junius is entranced by the horse, incapable of rejecting its demands and becoming a sort of slave for Incitatus. Lapham's version of the Caligula story has in these pages become an exploration of how myth and madness intersect and what happens when such mortal distractions as death become boring.
Despite Junius brief moments of clarity, which allow him to exact revenge on one of his family's murderers, he is mostly lost in that heady mix of myth and madness, questioning how far gone his mind is and attempting to distract himself with drink and women. It's only when one of Caligula's "stunts" goes horribly wrong that he regains his focus on what must be done.
Attempting to prove a soothsayer wrong by riding Incitatus across an entire bay through a vast display of engineering and poor financial management, Caligula is put at risk of rebellion at the hands of Laurentius. The grim, horrifying scene that follows displays the full scope of German Nobile's artistic abilities, presenting images that are surrealist and yet perfectly real. It's expertly choreographed and an impeccable rendering of a scene that could have been ridiculous in the wrong hands. And in the chaos of it, only Junius has the sense to realize that Laurentius' assassination attempt is for nought; it will take a combination of Junius' awareness and Laurentius' strategic mastery for any damage to be inflicted on Caligula.
The scene does raise some issues with the series though, namely that Lapham's efforts are becoming exhausting as the violence and decadence have become grotesquely numbing (which, I suppose, could be construed as an example of form following function), a series of shocks and attempts to one up the previous scenes. After last issue's mostly personal display of madness, the wide scale insanity in this issue seems a little ill-fitting, like Lapham may no longer have control of the story. But there's enough promise left to ensure that if Lapham can pull off this tale of mythological perversion, it will be truly great.
When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.
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