Writer: Igor Baranko
Artist: Igor Baranko
Published: 2004, Humanoids/DC Comics
From the way they play roulette to Tesla and his coils to firing adorable little puppy dogs into space, Russians have earned our respect and bemusement for being fearless and crazy [oh man, remember Stalingrad? That shit was off the hook!]. Our next review deals with a piece that is a suitable Soviet mindfuck.
The Horde, another loan from the Jason James Booth Pre-memorial Liberry, is a product of Ukrainian-born Igor Baranko. Growing up during the Cold War, Baranko served in the Soviet Army for two years, which influenced this graphic novel: it revolves around the ambitions of a Russian dictator in the year 2040.
I would probably not be doing this review if I hadn't watched the Russian film Mongol the other night with my buddy Scott. Mongol details the rise to power of the great Genghis Khan, who would go on to conquer most of Asia. In a show of serendipity, the titular horde in The Horde refers to the Mongolian Golden Horde, a kingdom that invaded Eastern Europe during the 13th century. You see, in the book, the batshit-crazy dictator of Russia wants to resurrect the spirit of Genghis Khan in order to recreate the old Mongol Empire. Anyway, that's why I'm reviewing this instead of another comic I read about a gay cowboy.
So: the year is 2040. Ivan Apelsinov is the mad ruler of Russia, Chechnya has been nuked, and Vladimir Lenin's body has recently been stolen by aliens. Meanwhile, in the Russian state of Tuva, in the flooded, abandoned city of Kyzyl, a woman travels the psychic planes, also in search of the spirit of Genghis Khan.
Apelsinov sends his secret service agents to the Ukraine, where they have discovered the grave of the last incarnation of Genghis, key to his resurrection. Also traveling to the Ukraine is a fellow named Jhokhar, perhaps the last Chechen survivor of the nuclear attack. He is led there under the divine protection of Allah, evading death and capture multiple times thanks to a series of “coincidences”.
On some weird ethereal plane, the psychic woman encounters Genghis, who is struggling to stop his continued reincarnations by uniting the fractions of his spirit that split when his mortal body died 800 years prior. Pretty crazy. She opts to help.
These stories all come together in a climactic simultaneous showdown in Kiev, the Kremlin, the psychic plane, and aboard a UFO.
After reading two of the books I borrowed from J. Booth, I have concluded that he is insane. They keep getting weirder and he assures me that The Marquis: Inferno is even more so. That forthcoming review will surely determine when exactly J lost his mind. Stay tuned!
That being said, I am likely insane myself, as I thoroughly embraced the weirdness of this comic. The Russian dictator is a former science fiction writer, surely a dig at Scientology, founded by batshit-crazy L. Ron Hubbard. And aliens... where the hell did these aliens come from? The inclusion of these extra-terrestrials is probably the weirdest and weakest element of the story, their interventions seeming a little Deus Ex Machina, but I guess anything goes in this wacky future.
The book is full of spiritual shenanigans, combining elements from Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and even giving a shout-out to Osiris of Egyptian mythology. A lot of the time, I wasn't sure which deities were pulling which strings, or which ones [if any] were merely figments of their worshiper’s imagination. There is an interesting scene in the latter half where the Patriarch of the Russian church sees an angel and a devil appear before him, but they may just be a drug-induced hallucination. The philosophical first words of the book are actually “where does the dream end and reality begin?”
Baranko also gives a bit of props to his homeland. Referring to the burial place of the last reincarnation of Genghis Khan, Lama Noyon, one of the Russian secret agents asks “why here in the Ukraine and not somewhere else?” to an old woman [who is the manifestation of the thoughts of said lama]. Her reply: “Because the Ukraine is the crack between worlds. The crack between Russia and Europe, east and west, the left and right hemispheres of the brain...” Ukraine has indeed been in the eye of the shit-storm, as European neighbours and Asian invaders have fought over control of the nation for centuries.
The artwork is charmingly realistic; no bulging muscles and anti-gravity bras here [save "Strong Woman", a heavily-siliconed superheroine star of an "illegal American film"] . Just regular folks with regular bodies. For the "spiritual journey" scenes, the art and colours become fittingly trippy.
I'm not sure how intentional it is, but the story has an element of the postmodern that I found entertaining. Around the beginning, Apelsinov appears to be addressing the readers themselves, when it is revealed that he is talking to his reflection in a mirror. The last couple of pages show the unnamed psychic woman hilariously asking her new padawan “then tell me, what was this story about?” The name “Jhokhar” sounds like “joker”, and the man is constantly grinning from ear to ear. Even the absurdity of some of the plot lines [the aforementioned kidnapping of Lenin's body, the American propaganda arguing in favour of necrophiliacs' rights, the insane clone of Isaac Newton's plan to castrate everyone to achieve world peace] seems like the author winking at us.
On the whole, The Horde is a quick read, a crash course in culture, and a lot of fun. Recommended for those with an open mind.