Review: Morbus Gravis Book I & II

The name Druuna and more importantly her creator, Paolo Serpieri first entered my consciousness thanks to Heavy Metal magazine, a publication which fed my love for science fiction and beautiful women. It also introduced me to a wide array of European writers and artists such as Enki Bilal, Moebius et al. For someone craving comics which dealt with adult themes, Heavy Metal was a godsend. 

I read the exploits of Druuna very sporadically, and out of reading order hence my enjoyment of the series was less enjoyable, but after some time now I have decided to rectify this and read the books in order, and the result proved very surprising indeed! 

In Book I, we are introduced to Druuna and the world in which she inhabits. It is a post apocalyptic setting, wherein a plague has ravaged the city, and those who are unaffected are sent to the upper levels, whereas the infected are sent to the lower levels, or ‘hell’. Danger lurks at every corner, and our heroine sets out to obtain medication for her infected lover, Shastar, who has been turned into a tentacled Lovecraftian bundle of horror, and the ‘doses’ help to keep the madness and mutation in check. However, her task is easier said than done as her path is filled with sex and flesh starved mutants trying to sample her ample flesh, and sadistic men who want to rape or torture her. 

In a world which is very ugly, she stands out like a goddess,  perfect in every way; an Aphrodite rising up from the waves of disorder. Serpieri’s work is very detailed and the way he illustrates her body is beautiful, the tone, the lighting, the contours – you can see he is very much in love with his creation. At times it feels like Serpieri is the sculptor Pygmalion, who fell in love with a statue he had carved himself. 

In a strange moment this is reinforced when he draws himself into the story, playing the part of the  doctor who has sex with Druuna in exchange for doses. 

Serpieri’s artwork is absolutely mesmerising; the details of the streets and their mad denizens is very evocative of another post apocalyptic comic, Katsuhiro Otomo’s masterful Akira. But whereas Otomo’s storytelling was strong, Serpieri’s is very weak, with characters who are very two dimensional. Druuna’s world is very mysogonistic, she is contantly being coaxed or forced into having sex, and the majority of the men are perverts or sadists.

In Book II,  Druuna starts to develop more personality (something lacking in the first volume). The story picks up right where the first one left off, she meets a strange telepathic human/ computer hybrid called ‘Lewis’ who enters her mind and has sex with her on a sunny beach (don’t ask!) and then tasks her with finding the ‘Tower of Power’ in order to shutdown the computer responsible for the city’s crisis. 

Of course nothing is as simple as it sounds, and she has to contend with more mutants, priests and perverts. Eventually her journey takes her into the bowels of the city, like a literal descent into a Boschian nightmare. It feels like a disturbing dream, and Serpieri’s artwork helps to conjure this image very starkly. 

The story does get very absurd at times, but Serpieri’s artwork more than makes up for it. This is one of the reasons why I hold his work in such high esteem, there are very few artists who can draw the female form as well as him, not to mention the male form as well. When it comes to erotic art, Serpieri is quite possibly the master at it

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