Thursday, September 10, 2015
MYTHCOMICS: JIHAD #1-2 (1991)
I've provided a brief sketch of the concept of JIHAD's status as one of pop culture's best crossovers in this post on my blog OUROBOROS DREAMS, which is more or less my "stuff I've been reading" blog. This neglected graphic novel consists of a pair of squarebound 48-page books issued by Epic Comics during their creative roundelay with Clive Barker. I detailed my personal acquaintance with the Hellraiser and Nightbreed franchises on the OUROBOROS post so that I wouldn't have to explain all that here.
I'm also not going to spend a lot of time on the complicated plot and the extremely crowded cast of characters in JIHAD. As noted in the other essay, the base goal of JIHAD's plotline, as scripted by D.G. Chicester and painted by Paul Johnson, is to meld the loose mythologies of the Hellraiser and Nightbreed franchises. However, there's quite a bit more going on in JIHAD's theme than the customary cross-franchise meet-and-greet.
For one thing, JIHAD offers one of the few complex meditations on the metaphysical theme of "order and chaos." In Greek creation-myths these contrary forces are more often styled as "kosmos and chaos." The English rendition has been used by many authors, but may be most familiar to fantasy-fiction readers in its utlization by author Michael Moorcock in some of his sword-and-sorcery works, notably the "Elric" series. Though I haven't read every Moorcock work, I've found his handling of the dichotomy to be routine at best, and the same applies to similar adaptations in DC Comics' "Doctor Fate" franchise.
In contrast, JIHAD begins with a syncopated juxtaposition of images that contrast the worlds of the Nightbreed and the Cenobites as emblematic of "chaos" and "order." Yet. instead of picturing chaos as simply some sort of nasty world-conquerors opposed to the reigning hegemony, the Nightbreed embody the messy chaos of the unbridled life-force. It's violent, but also sexy in a visceral fashion.
In contrast, the Cenobites, who practice a form of extremely violent mortification that surpasses anything that the flagellants of medieval times could have imagined, seek to impose a ruthless form of order upon their bodies and of all those within the hell of their god Leviathan. In keeping with the HELLBOUND film, the Lord of Hell is an abstract polygon-shape whose precision the Cenobites seek to emulate. Chichester takes screenwriter Atkins' conceit-- probably borrowed from similar motifs in the horror stories of Arthur Machen-- and expands upon the conceit, satirizing the attempt of all religions to impose an artificial orderliness and to restrain the chaos of life.
The force that brings the two factions into conflict is a group of inferior Cenobites who aren't satisfied to suffer under the banner of Leviathan, as is the nameless leader known as "Pinhead." These Cenobites are led by an accursed couple, Alastor and Chalkis, who urge Leviathan to allow them to declare a jihad against the resurgent Nightbreed. The true aim of this purgatorial power couple, however, is to elevate themselves to become deities in their own right and take over Hell. Pinhead opposes their ambitions, not least because such desires possess "the stench of chaos," but his many-faceted deity overrules the Cenobite leader and allows Alastor and Chalkis to make war on the monstrous Nightbreed. The villains' plans involve a blasphemous parody of the Christian host and the suborning of a Knight Templar (based on the historical Jacques de Molay). The Nightbreed fight back with both bestial fury and subtle alchemies. One of these involves bringing back a dead man to be the vessel of their long-absent deity Baphomet, who is more or less the deific opposite of Leviathan. In the Johnson-Chichester cosmos, the order represented by the Christian mythology is every bit as inverted as that of Christianity's versions of sin and suffering. Indeed, I strongly suspect that one of the creators had read his Bataille, for on page 19 of Book 1, one of the Cenobites recites an injunction from hell's holy books that is an almost verbatim reprise of a phrase from Bataille's EROTISM: "And do not deny the taboo, but rather transcend it and complete it."
I've discussed various aspects of Bataille's taboo-and-transgression formula in essays like LEAD US NOW INTO TRANSGRESSION and HOLY NUMINOSITY PART 4, so I won't comment further on this theme here. Suffice to say that whereas a lot of horror-writers, both in prose and comics, merely play at transgression, Johnson and Chichester display a predilection for physical distortions worthy of the celebrated Hieronymous Bosch.
To be sure, JIHAD is as as dense as-- well, hell. Not all readers will catch its learned references, but I'll note that my favorite is the Thomas Malory FAUSTUS quote on the last page, which offers a tragic perspective on the dedicated diabolist Pinhead; one that the extremely uneven film-series certainly never managed to articulate.