Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The World of Edena by Moebius

I'm not an expert on Moebius's graphic novels -- I read all of the Epic series when they came out, three decades ago, and scattered other works, but haven't made a serious study of it. So I can't say if this is true. But it does seem to me that every Moebius epic inevitably ends with a big-nosed Everyman on the run from a totalitarian strongman in a dream world, pursuing the image of the perfect woman, who is not so much a character as an idea, even if she's supposed to be a real person.

Again: I could be wrong.

But what I got out of The World of Edena is that Moebius is another one of those artists who draws -- and, in his case, often writes -- about what's of interest to him right then, and incorporates it into his current story, even if that story seemed to be going in a different direction before that point.

This tendency is especially marked when a long series is collected together, as here. World of Edena contains what were originally five separate albums -- four of them published as part of that Epic series, actually -- that were published between 1983 and 2001 (the book doesn't make this clear at all, and online searches have not been terribly helpful, either). It looks like the first three came out relatively quickly -- Upon a Star for a Citroen internal promotion in 1983 and then The Gardens of Edena and The Goddess in time to be published in the Epic series in English in 1988 and 1990 -- and then Stel was in the early '90s (in time for an English translation in 1994), but the last piece, SRA, left until this 2016 book to see a US release.

The first book is a space fantasy, mixing light mysticism with a post-Star Wars lived-in future, with that long Citroen story seeing space mechanics Stel and Atan crash-landing on a strange planet, traveling to the inevitable enigmatic alien artifact, and equally inevitably being the people prophesied for seven hundred thousand years to transform the artifact and transport themselves and all of the other assembled sentients to the fabled paradise planet, Edena. (Before that is a related short story, "Repairs," which the book also fails to explain. Did Moebius create this before the Citroen commission, and decided to re-use the characters? Was it a warm-up for the longer Citroen piece? How much earlier was it written and drawn? Despite a lot of text pieces about how wonderful and philosophical and thoughtful Moebius was, the tedious details of dates and provenance are neglected.)

The Gardens of Edena picks up on that supposed paradise world, but Moebius has a new hobby-horse in the raw-foods movement. So Stel and Atan are thrown onto Edena alone together, and none of the other sentients from the first book (with one exception, much later) are ever seen again, referenced, or given a second of concern. Instead, our heroes find themselves roughing it in an Earthlike savanna landscape, left without their usual machine-created food and health-regulating tech. So they are forced to become "natural," which of course is vastly better than modern medicine -- Moebius is telling this story, so they don't get dysentery or get eaten by a predator or get injured in a way that leads to septicemia or gangrene. No, this is nice nature, the kind that civilized Frenchmen can rhapsodize about at length from posh hotels around the world as they draw their comics pages. The kind of nature that has sparkly fairy creatures massing at night to make gorgeous comics pages of transcendence and love -- pages that will almost convince you.

Along the way, it turns out that their diet was suppressing their natural sexuality, and that Atan is actually female. Stel, the pilot with the big nose, is of course male, and of course gets most of the pages and action from this point forward. Very soon after this revelation, Stel attempts to rape Atan -- Moebius probably wouldn't put it that way, but it's what happens -- and they separate.

The Goddess follows Atana -- she has to change her name, apparently, since a gender-neutral name is only suitable for a man -- on her wanderings through this natural world. But Moebius's hobby-horse has mutated, so she's captured by the hyper-technological denizens of The Nest -- all human, and, as we learn later, the descendants of the other humans from Upon a Star -- and sees how horribly non-natural they are in their underground bunker and full-body suits. She quickly becomes the figurehead of their rebellion, against the mysterious Paternum, who also appears to her in nightmarish dreams. And she appears to be successful in the end.

Then we return to Stel, who does not have to change his name when he transitions from sexless to male, because male is the default, right? (There could be a major feminist critique of World of Edena, and the names would be only the beginning.) He also gets caught up in the Nest and the Paternum, which is not as defeated as we thought. Atana is now sleeping somewhere, and Stel is prophesied to be the god who will save her, uniting their powers to save the world. There's a lot of running around and a lot of two-bit philosophy and a lot of supposedly profound dreams for close to a hundred pages. Moebius draws all of this beautifully, even if I couldn't precisely believe it. And it ends of a massive cliff-hanger, but luckily we don't have to wait a decade, as the original French readers did.

The final book, SRA, continues the adventures of he-man Stel, as Atana is still missing and believed sleeping. All or most of it takes place in dream-worlds, as Stel battles the person barely mentioned in Upon a Star that became the evil Paternum, with the aid of Edena's fairy-like sprites, another supernatural character on his side, and possibly the mysterious powers of still-sleeping Atana. And, yes, the big-nose guy is on the run in a world controlled by the evil totalitarian, to save or be saved by the perfect woman who he hasn't seen for years, tried to rape the last time he saw her, and doesn't really know at all.

Ah, romance!

The ending is oddly enigmatic for that set-up: we don't even see Stel and Atan(a) meet. The supposed god and goddess of this world are separated for most of the book, pretty much from the moment they get differentiated by sex, and one or more of them are dead on one or more levels of reality. A cynical reader might think that Moebius wasn't actually finished, and that this book doesn't so much end as stop, before a final book that might have actually tied up everything and actually got Stel and Atana together and friendly with each other, finally. Luckily no such cynical reader is right here.

I enjoyed The World of Edena without taking it seriously for a second once it hit that paradise planet. It is lovely and sumptuous and stuffed full of half-digested (and frequently silly and sophomoric) ideas. Moebius draws magnificently, so it's a shame that his people are so cardboard and his moral dilemmas are so dull.

Also, every time I see the title, my mind sings it to match this song. So let me infect you with the same earworm:


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