Cover Versions: METROPOL

April 2nd, 2012

Being an irregular series wherein I spotlight some particularly beautiful cover runs, from some comics you might have forgotten about, or never seen before. This time it’s the turn of Ted McKeever’s late 80’s NY art-house urban apocalypse Metropol:

Metropol was the culmination of the artistic curve that Ted McKeever began with Transit, fine-tuned with Eddy Current and fleshed out with Plastic Forks. It’s a stunningly rendered vision of a hellish city on the verge of an imminent quasi-Biblical melt down. McKeever’s artwork by this point is all blocky, jagged ink splatters and bold neo-noir shadows. There’s something primal and terrible about his depiction of a modern city coming apart at the seams, as a mystery plague culls the inhabitants and human bodies are twisted, molded and resurrected into vehicles for an old testament conflict, with the hopes for the city diminishing at every turn.

McKeever keeps things densely claustrophobic; his expressionistic city is crammed with lumpy, misshapen people leading dead end lives and the skyline is littered with images of industrial menace; gallows-like cranes and skeletal scaffolding. At no points is there the suggestion of a life beyond the concrete confines of the unnamed metropolis. Characters circle each other and descend down into the entropic plughole of their environmant. The populace is trapped in with itself as the city shifts, tears apart and ushers in a strange and terrible new reality. It’s an astonishingly singular and potent artistic vision; dour and occasionally purple prose is enlivened by McKeever’s brutal, idiosyncratic wood cut  art style and grotesque imaginings. Slightly reminiscent of Jose Munoz, this is no wave NY art school noir with a dose of Bosch thrown in for good measure.

The covers for the original Epic series are strong, graphically bold and dripping with the heavy atmosphere that permeates the book. The first , at the top of this post, sets the scene perfectly; a lone impressionistic figure is silhouetted against a semi-abstracted cityscape. This could be a panel out of RAW, and is a compellingly ambiguous opening image.

The second issue showcases McKeever’s talent for rendering the mundane as grotesque – his lumpy, bumpy figures are fun-house distortionsof the human figure, but there’s also a grubby, solid  humanity to them. This is a long way from the glistening hard bodies of Byrne, Perez et al.

This is a nightmarish image, and one with too familiar genocidal overtones. Palid bony limbs,  sickly plague-ridden flesh, and the stench of the charnel house. Compared to the relative domestic familiarity of the previous cover, this  is a rapid tumble into the abyss.

Here the artist begins  to unleash his talent for drawing truly horrible monsters. Metropol is teeming with legions of nightmarish demons and devils. Glimpsed out of the corner of your eye, a lanky limbed abhorrence with a swollen bullish head skitters down an ally way; an ex-wrestler and a pack of boy scouts with blank cataract eyes and sewn up mouths; awful things with broken doll heads and specimen jar bodies. I first read Metropol under the influence of a heady dose of hallucinogens and the distorted toy box monstrosities of McKeever’s vision made the whole thing feel like a fever dream.

Jack  takes a moment to consider his bleak new kingdom. There’s something deeply unsettling about the chunky thighs, garter belts and undead animal stares of his demon-whore consorts. The simpering craggy faced homunculous is just the icing on the cake.

Ahh, finally our hero. The man of the hour,  Eddy Resurrectus,  is here to join the side of the Angels. Humanity’s last hope arrives in the form of a malnourished undead maniac with a pair of battered red Converse trainers and a battery pack strapped to his groin. This portrait of Eddy Current show McKeever at his wild and  startling best.

Metropol is certainly a product of its times. It’s very much a part of the serious-minded, design heavy comics of the later 80’s. You could easily imagine McKeever’s art hanging in a New York loft space as much as on the racks of a comics shop. Whilst the solemn tone is occasionally a little dry (and occasionally pompous) the artist’s depiction of a city teetering on the edge of the abyss, that’s already damned and halfway in hell,  is immersive, stifling and utterly original.

It’s well worth picking up, especially as some issues feature an Eddy Current back up strip gorgeously drawn by Mike Mignola (and which features a particualrly tasty monster in the form of a tower-block sized humanoid armoured slug called Vinegar Tom). Image recently published Metropol as part of the the Ted McKeever library, so you can get all of the story in one fat b+w volume, although for my money I actually prefer the colour Epic single issues. The muted, urban palette of blasted yellows and greys, matched with the queasy hues of its hellish denizens work surprisingly well with McKeever’s jagged blacks and whites. The series works also works  in single issue form as the episodic grind of the narrative increases the feeling of despair and hopelessness. I don’t think McKeever ever bettered Metropol – the later Industrial Gothic from Vertigo was a strong Lynchian fairy tale of amputees in love, but the ‘official’ follow up to Metropol, Faith, was less inspired. Metropol remains his signature work and the best representation of his artistic vision to date.

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