The HordeBy Igor Baranko (Humanoids/DC Comics; 2004)

Reading this thoroughly bizarre, spiritually infused graphic novel from Ukrainian writer/illustrator Igor Baranko, I couldn’t help but wonder if Alejandro Jodorowsky had a hand in its creation. It contains quite a few Jodorowsky trademarks, including a wild mixing of seemingly incompatible religious beliefs within a science fiction-tinged framework, a penchant for the freakish and grotesque, and an overall love of outrageousness. Jodorowsky did in fact collaborate with Igor Baranko on an earlier project, but THE HORDE is very much Baranko’s own fevered creation.

The time is 2040 and the place a war-torn Russia. The nutzoid current dictator is looking to resurrect Genghis Khan so the latter can re-summon his Golden Horde and finish the job of conquering Eurasia that was begun back in 1206. Doing so entails calling up the spirit of a long-dead lama residing in the Ukraine, the only neutral state left in Europe, and apparently “the crack between the worlds. The crack between Russia and Europe, east and west, the left and right hemispheres of the brain…”

Also obsessed with Genghis Khan is a freaky Buddhist monk who happens to be the reincarnation of the woman who killed Genghis Khan all those millennia ago, and who now seeks to reunite with his former adversary on an astral plane. Other characters caught up in this crazed tapestry include a homicidal Muslim nomad on a spiritual quest, a knife-wielding Catholic bishop, a military officer with extrasensory powers bequeathed by the radiation of Chernobyl, genetic clones of Abraham Lincoln and Isaac Newton, and a band of never-seen aliens who steal the corpse of Lenin.

Yes, this is insanity of an extremely high order, and requires at least two readings to be fully understood. The artwork is bold and arresting, while the imaginative richness of the narrative is simply astounding, with an audacious amalgamation of faiths and cultures that’s thoroughly provocative. Yet THE HORDE also contains plenty of gore, ghosts and monsters, making it a rare example of an account that’s both sleazy and intellectual. Mr. Jodorowsky would be proud!