Aug 24, 2015

The 40 Years of Comics Project - The Weekly Graphic Novel: Week 1 - Morbus Gravis I, 1993

The long-promised weekly graphic novel finally makes its first appearance. It's taken a while, I admit, to figure out my time and inclination, but as I come up on 6 months of blogging my collection, I'm feeling more and more committed to the project, and so I'm going to start delving into all its nooks and crannies.

Serpieri is 100% my favourite artist that I have discovered in my reading of Heavy Metal Magazine. He draws women remarkably well (and men too, but Druuna is obviously his muse). In contrast to many comics artists, especially North American superhero artists, Serpieri seems to have a notion of the way that proportion plays a role in the human body. Yes, Druuna is quite buxom, but the size of her breasts is not disproportionate to the rest of her body. She is a large, solid woman. And this makes sense, given the milieu within which she has her adventures. This is a world of survival and chaos, and while intellect has to play a role in one's continued existence in such a world, so too does body. Druuna is built to survive her environment. And look good while doing it.

I did have a few concerns as I read this book, though. The story revolves around a decadent city in which the citizens are succumbing to a disease that turns them into vicious mutants. As far as I can tell, from this opening volume, the mutation seems to give every penises as well. This ranges from the almost human-looking altruistic mutants that try to help Druuna, and the bestial, canine-like tentacle beasts that attack the "normal" citizens. Coupled with this are the two fairly explicit scenes of rape that occur in the story. Druuna is forced into fellating a mugger, though she then leads this criminal and his cohort to her apartment where they are torn apart by her mutating lover. And later a woman is attacked by one of the most bestial of the mutants, and is raped and then eaten. (Please note, these scenes are not fully illustrated the way I've just described them. There's a lot of implied horror in this book.) I was uncomfortable with this aspect of the story, until just after the second incident. The very next panel depicts a number of "normal" citizens entranced by the spectacle of the woman being raped and eaten, treating it as entertainment, and claiming that the woman is enjoying it. It's at this point that one begins to wonder whether there is really much difference between the mutants and the normals. They all seem to be monstrous. Would it be reading too much into Serpieri's weird horror tale to claim it is a critique of the rape culture within which we currently exist? At certain moments during the story, Druuna uses her sexual whiles to further her goals. She also demonstrates a desire to have sex, to enjoy sex. But she demonstrates these characteristics in a world in which a virulent disease is turning normal citizens into tentacled, raping monsters. Serpieri's narrative is pointing to the fact that this disease, which is identified by its physical attributes, is very much the same as a virulent attitude that infects the minds of the non-mutated citizens. And that somehow, in the midst of this toxic environment, there is a woman who utilizes and celebrates her sexual nature in defiance of the culture within which she lives.

But maybe I'm wrong. I don't know much about Serpieri, nor have I read much about the Druuna stories. I'm going to keep this in mind as I read more of them though. The depictions of rape in the Druuna stories have always bothered me, but having read this initial tale, I begin to see them in a different light. What got to me was that Druuna is always depicted beautifully and erotically, even when these terrible things are happening to her. But perhaps that's a part of it too. We should react the way I have when we see something so horrible happening to someone, and if we can see that that someone looks the same in the bad situation as well as in a good situation, then we begin to see the person as a person, not an object. Druuna is beautiful when she makes love, and, sadly, is beautiful when she is attacked. Let me also note that she's a fully realized character as well. I've focussed mainly on the visual element of the character, but she's also a feisty, resourceful, brave adventurer in this strange world. We connect with her, her being the focal character, and this makes the attacks on her all the more difficult to take. In his depictions of her, Serpieri takes care to craft both her body and her mind in ways that will foster a reader connection. And having done so, we are deeply disturbed at the moments where this character is abused.

Morbus Gravis I is the only collection of the Druuna stories I own. I have some more in Heavy Metal, but that means that next week's graphic novel will not be a continuation of this line of thought or this series. Just FYI.

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