Part 3-Steel Head, or A Study in Silliness.
At this point, dear reader, I need you to distance yourself from dealing with the Metabarons as a comic book; instead, I need you to think of the series as a five-course meal in a fancy restaurant.
Alejandro Jodorowsky is the maitre d’, an elegant man who has put painstaking detail into making both the menu and the restaurant work. Juan Gimenez is the chef, slaving over a hot stove to give you an appetizing course that will stay with you forever.
So far, you’ve already had the Othon von Salza salad (mixed greens with a light vinegary sauce), which served to whet your appetite for the Aghnar soup (mushroom soup with chopped thyme leaves, which was way too spicy for no discernible reason). Having had the soup, you feel filled and perfectly sated. You reach for your wallet so you can pay for the meal, when you suddenly look up and see Jodorowsky walking toward you holding this:
Before you’ve even had a chance to open your mouth in protest, he slams it into your table, knocking down towels, plates and all, and then proceeds to pour a jug of barbeque sauce all over it, which he then smashes into the ground. With a shit-eating grin on his face, he backs away, his eyes fixed on you, watching you as you eat it.
To make matters worse, the Steel Head Ribs are one of those dumb-ass half and half plates (half well-done, the other half rare) pretty soon, you end up dreading your every bite.
What I mean to say, is that Steel Head’s tale (despite its many merits) just doesn’t quite fit the series. It also has a number of problems concerning it narrative execution, which very nearly ruin it.
I’m going to give you the tl;dr version of Steel Head’s merits and flaws, if only so I don’t have to break up the article to talk about them:
Steel Head is a legitimately interesting and challenging character to write.
He’s a Metabaron, product of psychic incest, raised wholly by his crazy space-witch of a mother, with the express purpose of besting his father in combat. He has also never really had a human brain, which means that he has never actually shared the same thought processes as any human being. He’s alien, inhuman and dangerous.
· He has an unusual and intriguing motivation.
Steel Head’s purpose isn’t the accumulation of money or fame. What Steel Head wants instead is to be more human. He starts off on the wrong foot, demanding fame and adoration and ends up seeking the true meaning and an insight in the nature of love. One could argue that Steel Head’s tale is essentially a sci-fi retelling of Pinocchio.
Only in this case, Pinocchio lacks a conscience and is capable of committing mass murder at the drop of a hat.
· He’s a legitimately well-thought-out anti-hero.
For all his mistakes and crimes, Steel Head ends up doing more good than harm by the end of his tale.
· Steel Head’s a dick.
No, I’m serious. Steel Head doesn’t appear to have anything better to do than be an asshole 24/7, which initially appears to work in his favor (giving the impression that he will soon realize the error of his ways and turn to the good side), but ends up being his only major characteristic.
· He has no backstory.
Steel Head just shows up. There’s no explanation where he came from, how he was raised, not even a montage depicting his thought processes. For fuck’s sake, you could write a whole miniseries solely based on Oda-Onorata’s way of raising him, about how she poured every iota of her malice and zeal into him and turned him into a bitter, bitter cyborg but no. We don’t even get that. We just get to shrug and go: “Hey, that guy’s got a robot head. That’s cool, I guess.”
· His love story just doesn’t fucking work.
I get what Jodorowsky was going for here. The message he’s trying to get across is that you don’t get to be a murderous asshole your entire fucking life and ever make up for it. The problem is that he fails in bringing that message across as the story unfolds. As a result, Steel Head and Gabriella’s story reads more like one of those retarded on-off relationships in a tedious sitcom than an actual romance.
One last thing before we begin: it might seem like I’m bashing this story arc, but I’m not. Steel Head is one of my favorite characters (right next to Aghnar) and the only reason I’m being so pissed off and nitpicky about it, is because I feel like he deserved a much better story.
Without any further ado, let’s dive into his tale:
Steel Head’s tale begins with him and Oda-Onorata appearing before the Imperial Couple in the eve of the Phthagur invasion, petitioning the court to accept him as mankind’s champion. When the nobility of the universe requests a display of his power, Steel Head responds with this:
Impressed by Steel Head’s bitching spontaneous gardening skills, the Imperial Couple gives him permission to serve as the champion of humanity. The Phthagurs accept and decide to pit them both against each other. The victor will ensure the ultimate survival of its species.
Father and Cyborg grandson-son meet on the battlefield and commence their battle, which does not quite go as you’d expect. What starts off as a dogfight in the vacuum of space, and then escalates into a trippy 70’s music video, without any decipherable progress.
After a long and winding trip deep inside one of the Doors’ acid trip, the battle once again reaches real-space, where Steel Head and Aghnar lock psychic horns. Switching heads (yeah he’s got a bunch of them, each with a different function, a concept which I consider very cool), Steel Head attempts to overpower him, but Aghnar ends up ultimately victorious. Recognizing defeat, Steel Head and Oda-Onorata opt to graciously surrender.
Right at this point, when all seems lost and Oda-Onorata speaks her final farewell to her estranged hateful son, is when the series pulls a double-cross. Steel Head grabs his own mother and uses her as leverage to blackmail his father into surrendering. When Aghnar refuses, Steel Head starts maiming her.
To be perfectly honest when I first read this, I wasn’t expecting this development. I was counting on Oda-Onorata doing the crazy thing and somehow stabbing Aghnar in the back so her son-grandson could win the battle. What I got instead was an insight into Steel Head’s way of thinking and upbringing, which I loved to hate from that moment on.
Aghnar surrenders, choosing a noble death by suicide for him and his mother. The two die in each other’s arms, their respective sins finally forgiven. With humanity the victor, the Phthagurs honor their part of the deal by committing mass suicide.
Steel Head is immediately hailed as the new Metabaron and a party is thrown in his honor. But before anybody gets a chance to cut the cake, nightmarish brain eaters from a parallel universe invade and attack poor, defenseless humanity, killing the Imperial Couple in the process.
Your Graces, what I think I'm saying is, sometimes, invincible space horrors invade, somebody's gotta deal with them, and who're you gonna call?!
Steel Head, of course! He is promised riches beyond his wildest dreams and all the prostitutes he can eat, but he doesn’t really have need for any of it, no. What Steel Head asks in return is the Medallion of High Nobility, the Empire’s official “Congratulations, you’re awesome” seal of approval.
Steel Head of course makes short work of the creatures, by visiting the dimensional rift that HE AND HIS DAD CREATED DURING THEIR MIND BATTLE, and sealing it off while crossing his fingers and hoping nobody noticed. The creatures, deprived of contact with their native universe, die off in less than 24 hours.
But our dick cyborg friend can’t get his prize yet, not until he gets the vote of Don Nikhanor Rosamel de Rokha, a socialist leader who has never supported the Metabarons caste and the only person who stands between his and his vaunted badge. Steel Head decides to try and talk it over with him, hoping to win the stubborn socialist over with his silver tongue, ultimately befriending him.
Hahahaha, no he just blows the son of a bitch into a million tiny pieces.
With the only naysayer in the universe dead, Steel Head is finally awarded the Medallion of High Nobility. At last feeling himself superior to everybody, he decides he now has the luxury of resting on his laurels, safe in the knowledge that the very people who despise him are now forced to both call on him and sing his praises.
Unfortunately, his moment in the sun is ruined by the intervention of Don Rokha’s daughter, Gabriella who calls him out for outright murdering her father and destroying their magic space tree or some shit.
Despite presenting irrefutable evidence, Steel Head does not back down or even acknowledge her accusations. In a reaction truly befitting a socialist drama queen like herself, Gabriella decides to kill herself in protest.
Think of them as a sci-fi retelling of the Honey Mooners. "One more word Garbiella and POW! Straight to Aldebaran!"
Steel Head, fed up with people crashing his goddamn party, stops her bullet in mid air, kills her personal guard (destroying her only pieces of evidence), then slaps her around for a bit, exclaiming that he doesn’t need her backwater planet’s vote and he sure as hell isn’t going to take lip from its crummy little president. He’s got the money, he’s got the power. Getting the women is now only a matter of time.
Gabriella calls him out for the heartless, inhuman son of a bitch he is and tells him that he will end the Metabaron line once and for all, since he will never sire a child with a woman that he loves and that no woman will ever love him back. Steel Head, mistaking this insult for a challenge, decides to prove her wrong.
I am rubber, you are glue, bitch. Also, Challenge Accepted.
Steel Head immediately begins his quest towards understanding love. He journeys far and wide across the great expanses of the empire, from its lightless reaches to the great worlds of the Inner Rim, seeking an answer. His journey brings him to Terra Prima, where the Great Library might contain some answer within its myriad tomes.
But the answer Steel Head seeks is not there, either.
I used to feel terrible every time I read this scene, until I started picturing these books as every fanfic ever written.
Having successfully destroyed the sum of humanity’s slash fiction in one glorious shit fit, Steel Head proceeds to beat the everloving crap out of Tonto, who takes it like a man before he gets a chance to present his master with a solution. By sheer luck, he has stumbled upon a mysterious transmission, the content of which appears to be some sort of poem (the crappy kind, that doesn’t rhyme).
Steel Head immediately goes after it and gets a fix on its point of origin: an insignificant planet in the fringes of the Empire, the burial place of the last poet, Zaral Krleza (which from now on I shall call Zar, because I’ll be fucked before I type three consonants in a row again).
After six months of constant searching, Steel Head finally finds the planet and final resting place of the last poet. It’s an inhospitable rock, its surface constantly whipped by terrible hurricanes, acid rain and electrical storms of unbelievable fierceness, before he finally reaches Zar’s tomb. Try and spot what’s wrong with this image:
Apparently, Zar was one part Kryptonian, two parts Kazantzakis and wholly, mind-boggingly, pants-shittingly rich. Also, insane.
HOW. THE FUCK. DID HE BUILD THIS SHIT.
Did he commission this to some mad architect? Was it given to him as a gift for his lifetime of service by the Mad Emperors? If none of the above happened then was it there already and did he just decide to bury himself there? If so, who the fuck built this in the first place?
See, this is my problem with Steel Head’s tale. Jodorowsky and Gimenez both come up with some stunning visuals which entail a shitload of complications and maybe a couple of great stories and they just throw it out there with ZERO justification. Was there even some note regarding the details in the script, rationalizing this fortress as the final resting place of the Last Poet?
Of course there wasn’t. Because this whole thing, this montage and the sequence which follows, it’s just an allegory regarding Steel Head’s rite of passage toward claiming his humanity. But you know what? Adding a justification would have taken just a single goddamn page. Here, I’ll do it for you:
Inside the Metabunker, Steel Head has his eyes fixed on the control panel, his fingers tapping at the buttons. A holographic display of the desolate planet which is Zaral’s final resting place appears before him. His stance and the set of his shoulders express his relief. Behind him, Tonto is running a check on the planet.
Tonto: Master, the planet appears to be like some sort of Paleo-Hell! Its weather and atmosphere are highly inhospitable! Nothing can survive on the surface, but a few hardy species of animal!
Steel Head: A terrible choice, as far as graveyards go.
Tonto presses a button. Another holographic display pops up, replacing that of the planet. It depicts Zaral’s fortress and the Poet himself, old and weathered. Steel Head crosses his hands, already calculating how to breach it. Tonto waves his arms, as he tells the tale of how the Last Poet came to this planet.
Tonto: The poet was the last great troubadour in the service of the Mad Emperors, master! His entire life, he was kept both a prisoner and a guest of their family, forced to compose for their own sick amusement! But when Krleza broke down and dared request his freedom, he was punished by-
Steel Head: Being entombed in this nothing little hell, forced to live out his days here, while still reciting his poems through a secret frequency. When the Mad Emperors were finally overthrown, the frequency was lost and with it, Zaral Krleza. Every child in the length and breadth of the Empire knows this story, Tonto.
Our point of view switches so we see Steel head towering over Tonto, who steps back and raises his little robotic arms, as if to protect himself from the coming abuse. But Steel Head has better things to do.
Tonto: Master, I beg you. To brave this Paleo-Hell is pure foolishness!
Steel Head: Enough with you, you stupid piece of metal! My mother’s Shabda-Oud powers and my father’s omni-armor will be more than enough for me to conquer this wasteland!
SEE? SEE HOW EASY THIS IS?
Anyway, having reached the tomb of the Last Poet, Steel Head is presented with a challenge: defeat the great Octo-Tiger guardian using only an archaic bow without arrows, or be destroyed along with the rest of the planet and his prize.
Having overcome the poet’s challenge, Steel Head finally reaches his prize: the head of the Last Poet, kept alive thanks to trillions of kublars worth of machinery. As you already know, Steel Head got no head. Krleza needs a body. They both have access to ridiculously advanced medical procedures, so they decide to graft each other, thus forming a new being, created by bringing together the Universe’s last romantic and its Leading expert in being an Asshole.
This is a great idea. I bet it’s gonna go exactly as planned, without any tragic consequences whatsoever.
So they become one and call themselves Melmoth, so they can more easily lie about how they have nothing in common with that murderous psychopath that was the previous Metabaron. Using their new fused mind, Melmoth decides that he needs to make amends with Donna Gabriella, so he can get in her pants.
First off, he finds a magical space tree (like the one he blew up) and kills the indigenous macromite population who never really hurt anybody and worshipped the tree as a god, adding insult to injury. With the magical space tree in tow, he pleads for her forgiveness. She’s still determined to friendzone him, so he proceeds to clone and resurrect her father, restoring stability to her planet.
But Don Nicanor suffers from resurrection amnesia and seems to be unable to recall that the girl who calls him father and claims to love him is HIS OWN GODDAMN DAUGHTER, so he proceeds to attempt to rape her.
Melmoth, never once apologizing, proposes killing everybody, but Gabriella opts for a much more sensible solution: when her father tells her that he is in love with her eyes, she does this
When a woman’s willing to tear out her own eyes instead of fucking you, she wasn’t worth it in the first place. On another note: wait for iiit…
So the father, shocked and appalled, finally remembers that this is truly the crazy bitch he fathered, gives them both his blessing and his vote for the Medallion of High Nobility. They marry, Gabriella gets herself a new pair of mechanical eyes and then they get
But shit hits the fan when Melmoth sees Gabriella’s face, horribly deformed by the pair of cybernetic eyes Tonto built for her, shut himself in his tower, has a shit fit and then…
And that was the end for Melmoth. And all it took was Krleza noticing that his wife is ugly now (something which could easily have been fixed with a simple cosmetic surgery, according to what we’ve seen).
Did I also forget to mention that while Krleza was having his little retarded moment, his wife’s home planet was being attacked and its people decimated by the techno-priests?
On a side note, did I also mention that Melmoth was their only line of defense worth a damn? No? Well he was.
With the stupid fucking poet finally dead (I never really liked him anyway), Steel Head decides it’s time for shit to get real. He dons his finest, murderiest head, boards his ship and has a bloody and bitching battle against the techno-priests, who he crushes like flies.
And even though Steel Head saves her people and forces the techno-priests to back down, guess what she does? SHE HAS ANOTHER HISSY FIT. But Steel Head deals with it the best way possible, according to the teachings of the Last Poet.
You know Steel Head, if you’d only bothered to slap her back when she sassed you in the first place, you’d have saved yourself a whole lot of trouble.
The techno-priests agree to buy off Gabriella’s planet and provide its natives with a proper refuge and a sizeable sum that will both ensure their survival and their livelihood. With that done, there’s nothing left to keep Gabriella and Steel Head from living happily ever after, is there?
Of course there is. Once again , Gabriella opts to bust our balls instead of shutting up and farting out the next goddamn Metabaron, cursing Steel Head with her final birth and giving birth to twins, a boy and a girl. But the boy is sick and he knows that he cannot save it, thus leaving him with a daughter. Steel Head, faced with this conundrum, proceeds to make the logical choice.
The logical choice being to transplant the boy’s brain in the girl’s body, because he’ll be damned if he has to raise a girl for a Metabaron!
And somehow, someway, this is gonna be even sillier than Steel Head’s tale.
This is only as a closing statement, a commentary on a couple other things that bothered/confused me when I first read this part of the series.
Donna Gabriella is the daughter of a man presiding over the Troglosocialisks, who are obviously an attempt on Jodorowsky’s behalf to parody communism. Now, I live in a country that has a number of Communist parties active at the time and one of them (The Greek Communist party) has always had a place in the Parliament since the 70’s.
Having spoken to both supporters and members of the Party, I understand what Jodorowsky was going for. How even in the farthest future, they keep mincing the same old ideology and end up being preyed upon by the technologically far superior imperialist powers. I get that, I really do and I also found this to be a funny and on the spot commentary on the current state of Communism as an ideology.
The problem is that it doesn’t work, not in this story and not for one bit. Yes, I love reading a good Commie joke (and any other political joke), but these jokes have no place in an otherwise dramatic narrative about a cyborg seeking love, finding it, losing it then returning back to where he started, only much more bitter and angry at the world.
I’d love to read a spin-off series about the Troglosocialisks however, so please, if anybody’s listening, make it so.
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