This sixth volume in Moebius’ collected works, is a very strange mix indeed.
Strange in the best sense of the word.
The main story, Shore Leave on Pharagonesia is about a human called J.D Foster who, during leave on an alien planet of the title, goes looking for a drink as you do. Before being granted access into the city, an alien guard tells him that Pharagonesia has “entered the IV stage” or “mutation day”, something which revolves around the lining up of the lunar cycles. As he enters the city, an alien cabbie tells him that most of the bars would be closed during Mutation Day, but he would direct him to a place that might be open. Little does our human protagonist know, that his thirst for a drink would have disastrous (and bizarre) consequences.
Our human you see, forgets to “kok his drink without frapping” which on Pharagonesia, is the difference between life and, well something much weirder than death!
What then follows is a series of comic mishaps as two aliens (the owner of the bar and his assocciate) go about desperately trying to set things right.
Pharagonesia is a very funny strip, dealing with subjects such as transformation and the danger of unknown things, and places, so very Moebius-centric if you will! And to top it off, the ending is brilliant. Again, Moebius excels in his depiction of the world and its inhabitants, it is very similar to our own but very different at the same time.
The scenes of mutation in particular, are magnificent to behold, calling to mind the works of Cronenberg and Carpenter; body horror (or humour) at its best.
Absolute Calfeutrail is completely wordless, and depicts a man falling through an inner world to a desert landscape which he destroys in nuclear fashion. It is very dream like in its depiction, which was of course Moebius’ intention.
The Hunt for the Vacationing Frenchman is a story featuring Moebius’ famous creation, the heroic Major Grubert, who has been tasked with capturing a vacationing Frenchman for a zoo. An admission by Grubert however, turns things on its head and then he himself becomes the target.
White Nightmare is a very topical story, about a racist attack on an Arab man by white bigots in Paris. It is also a powerful commentary on community response, as people witness the attack from the safety of their homes and are unwilling to help the man, maybe due to fear.
It is made doubly powerful as the first act shows the racist mob being apprehended by the public, and things going wrong for them only for the ringleader to wake up and realise it was all a dream. Then the actual attack takes place and the public are seen cowering behind their curtains, watching from a distance.
The Apple Pie is about the sexual awakening of a pubescent girl in what looks like 70s America. It has some explicit depictions of the girl, which might sit uncomfortably with some readers. But at the same time, the idea was to show the coming of age of the girl. As she reaches puberty these feelings start to emerge within her, taking her on a flight of fancy or a dream as she’s helping her mother make Apple Pie in the kitchen. It has a very poetic feel to it.
Double Escape is another wordless strip, again with a very dream like feel depicting a prisoner who starts floating out of his confinement only to be shot by a guard. However, his spirital self transcends all earthly restrictions, hence the meaning of “double” in the title.
Rock City (again wordless) depicts a man in a futuristic totalitarian civilisation who sees himself as someone outside of the system, but in truth his every move is monitored by the government.
He tries to rebel using violence, but ultimately fails. Captured by the government, he is brainwashed and let out into the city without prior memory, and hence the cycle begins anew.