Updated: Jul 9
As with all reviews on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete overview of the book; rather, it is to examine how the book relates to the meaning of life.
Before the Incal is a dark science fiction comic book series written by Alexandro Jodorowsky and illustrated by Zoran Janjetov. The series was released between 1988-1995, and issues in the series include:
With that said, we once again find ourselves in the #Jodoverse, and, as such, we can ask ourselves, will we find Jodorowsky again touching upon the meaning of life in this series as he usually does? Yes, of course, because that is what Jodoroswky does.
Before the Incal is a story about a low-life class R detective in the making, a whimpering man-boy known as John DiFool. It is not only a coming of age tale but also a tale of tragedy and what our future could look like if we continue on the same path we find ourselves today. To begin with, society is split into two. There are the aristos, the high-class people that live above everyone else and sport nice looking angelic halos, and the low-class society that lives below in poverty and squalor. The series opens when John DiFool interacts with a few aristos that came down from heaven looking for a bit of fun and looking for a few whores to spend the night with. As luck would have it, John's mother was a prostitute, so he knows exactly where to lead the spelunking perverts. As for John's dad? Well, he was a criminal. Always making innocent inventions that would get him in trouble, like that of a fake halo.
Not long into the series, John's mother commits suicide after the cybo-cops torch a manufacturing warehouse that supplied the drugs she needed to stay alive. Everyone thought the drugs were just to get high, but his mother actually needed them to survive. When things got too tough, she jumped off Suicide Alley, much to the aristos' delight, who are thrilled to torture and torment those during their long descent to death, their last minutes of life.
His mother would be no exception, and John would be able to do nothing but watch in horror as his mother plunges into the acid lake at the bottom—shot at, peed on, all the ways you want to remember your mother's last moments. John and his dad were undercover robbing aristos, you see. His intervention would have meant their capture. But his father's fate would be that of capture anyway. His halo battery would fail, and his true identity would be revealed. The loss of his mother and his father and his low status in life would lead John to believe life had no meaning.
So what else can he do but commit suicide just as his mother did? He jumps, just as his mom jumped, but his mother's lover/pimp Snailhead, a slimy being if there ever was one saves him and his bird Deepo. A fate that would eventually lead him to meet an ex-cybo-cop, Kolbo-5, that would save his life. He helps the cybo-cop restore his missing arms and legs, and in return, the cybo-cop helps him find a reason to continue living. Eventually, the cybo-cop would teach him a lesson or two, and help him become a class R detective. But not before John would meet an aristo named Luz, who quite frankly had a terrible personality. She would come to the lower levels just to torment the sick, force John to pee in their medicine, and do other horrific things—all for her own amusement. But she is beautiful, and John would fall in love with that beauty. To be fair, after Luz loses everything, she changes and sees the error of her ways. The transcendence and transformation of people who were once flawed, even evil is a common theme found in the Jodoverse.
To become a class R detective, John must first solve a crime of his own choosing. So he recalls that he has never seen any prostitutes with kids, except his mother. He also remembers that he was locked away for several years in a room and never allowed to come out, but he doesn't know why, and his mother and father never told him the reason. So he chooses the mystery of the missing babies. It would turn out to be a mystery of epic proportions that would lead him to quite an adventure—an adventure of love and betrayal and eventual heartbreak. But an adventure that would also give John a reason for being, a reason to continue living.
So to get to the bottom of the missing babies mystery, John and Luz team up together (though only after much turmoil and then lovemaking between the two). What it all boils down too is that the techno-technos are taking the babies of prostitutes and other low-lifes living in the bottom rungs of society. They then kill those babies and steal their pineal gland, insert gland into the baby brains of the aristos, and viola! out comes an aristo baby with a halo, proving their aristo status and superiority over the low-lifes that live beneath them. Without the halo, there would be nothing else to distinguish the aristos from the others.
But the world would never learn of their discovery. John would eventually have his memory erased (forgetting about Luz) and revert to a meaningless life of homeo-whores, SPV (drugs), and Vhisky (alcohol).
Most telling about the book is that it shows what could become of humankind, or perhaps even what we've already become. It takes sharp jabs and consumerism. Everyone, including babies, are addicted to cocaloco (a highly addictive drink and an obvious jab at Coca-Cola). TV spares people from the "blankness and emptiness" of existence, and people love violence. The more exotic the violence on TV, the better. In some sense, we can also see this taking place today. TV shows and movies are increasingly becoming bolder, more daring, pushing the boundaries of what is considered acceptable. Think of a world ruled by consumerism, dark corporations, technology, a technopope, and reality TV gore. You then only begin to enter the Jodoverse.
Jodorowsky once again creates a brilliantly dark scientific dystopia, which, by all means, is a very believable future for us. In addition, he once again touches upon the topic of meaning. What we see is a man-boy coming of age in a dystopia, whining his way through life, finding purpose through #work, through #love, and through mystery. But it is also a purpose that disappears once his #memory is erased, once his love is lost. Thus reflecting the nature of life and how everything we cherish can be taken away so quickly. As for the aristos, love is a foreign concept, an emotion forgotten, an evolutionary relic of antiquity. Luz would eventually discover this relic, only to lose it, and find it once again.
The story is also expanded upon in The Incal and The Final Incal series. Although the series doesn't delve into the meaning of life like some of Jodorowsky's other works, it does dive into concepts like who are we really, who are you, the creation/end of the universe, God (as a machine), love, #immortality, friendship, and sacrifice. Everyone wants to be immortal until they are immortal and realize it really takes the taste out of life, until they realize the only way to achieve this is through becoming a machine (which is forcefully done in an effort to eliminate all biological life). Ultimately, love triumphs over technology. Perhaps, it can even be argued that Jodorowsky shows us what is meaningful through examples, or the lack thereof. That is Jodoroswky tries to get us to see what is meaningful through extremes, shows us our grim future, and gives us a pathway to a more meaningful one. Overall, a great series worth checking out. Other characters from the Jodoverse also appear in the Incal series, e.g., the Metabaron. So definitely check it out if you have the chance.