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THE BORGIAS By Alejandro Jodorowsky and Milo Manara (graphic novel review)

Review by Lily Fierro
Written by Alejandro Jodorowsky
Art by Milo Manara
Introduction by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá!
Translated by Katie LaBarbera!
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Publication Date: November 26, 2014
ISBN-10 1-59582-787-0
ISBN-13 978-1-59582-787-6

Allegory can be a powerful literary tool. Using a historical institution to represent a modern one can provoke reflections and realizations about the flaws of the modern world.

The erosion of faith through organized religion has been the subject of many works of culture and the artifact of many historical events. Conveying and understanding this erosion can lead to interesting discussions around conflicts of individual and popular faith.

In Jodorowsky’s introduction, he indiscreetly suggests that The Borgias is a metaphorical narrative that represents the behavior of the United States in the political and economic world arena.

He describes the corruption and the evil that most dynasties have incurred on the world and their eventual end, suggesting the impending doom of the fall of America as a world power. The Borgias, for him, is an exercise in allegory, comparing the destruction of the Borgias dynasty to that of a modern world power, hoping to provoke some realization of humanity and kindness and humility in the reader, which are as lacking today as they were in a post Black Plague Europe.

Regardless of Jodorowsky’s noble intentions to elevate the readers to their best and in turn, raising humanity to a new level of greatness through The Borgias, the novel is a failure of an allegorical commentary, incapable of completing the full sense of misery inflicted by the Borgias family and completely missing the target in terms of trying to encourage better behavior from the world.

The Borgias is an audacious, pretentious retelling of the wrath of Rodrigo Borgia and his family. It’s hyper-sexualized. It’s indulgently violent. It’s shocking for simply the sake of awing the readers in its ludicrousness.

Regardless of whatever truth lies behind the history of the real Borgias family, the tone by which Jodorowsky handles his subjects is histrionic and unamusing. At best, The Borgias is a soap opera of a graphic novel, with all of the the same non-shocking twists and turns of closeted homosexuality, incest, murder, and love triangles.

The Borgias are an evil breed, we get it, but what is more infuriating about The Borgias novel is not its characters but Jodorowsky’s belief that his narrative is an allegory. With The Borgias, Jodorowsky conveys the evils of an antiquated society without capturing the modern evil he so adamantly describes in his preface. There is no analogue to current evils in any political or economic form and the nuances they take with a modern, internet and technology infatuated society. The evils of The Borgias are generalized and are not different from the outrageous acts of Caligula or Henry VII, whose stories have already been told.

Manara’s artwork is beautiful in this novel, which makes The Borgias an even more upsetting read. All of the noise, flash, and style Manara brings goes to waste with a facile political thesis and melodramatic narrative that even his outstanding watercolors and drawings cannot rescue.

With The Borgias, Jodorowsky attempts to make a grandiose statement about governing (political or spiritual) institutions and ends up with a vulgar caricature of a bloodthirsty, sinful family. Jodorowsky attempts in this novel what Ken Russell so successfully accomplished with The Devils. If you want to see something that tests the boundaries of faith, morality, and discusses the corruption of power within the Catholic church and its surrounding political arm, watch The Devils instead.

It’s just as audacious, but its outrageousness has purpose.

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