Preview/Review: Dark Horse's The Borgias: So NSFW ~ What'cha Reading?

Preview/Review: Dark Horse’s The Borgias: So NSFW

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Preview/Review: Dark Horse's The Borgias: So NSFWI have to preface my review about this graphic novel with a warning: it is not for those easily offended. I mean, it’s the Borgias, for FSM’s sake, and if you know anything about that family, have seen any movies or TV shows about them, you would know this. But for people with no frame of reference for this family (I can only assume you’ve been living under a rock), you’re going to want to watch who you read this around. Dark Horse categorizes this as a book for adult audiences and with good reason. Basically I’m just saying you might want to reconsider reading this one on the subway or anywhere easily offended people or non-parented small children might be tempted to read over your shoulder (learned that lesson the hard way when a kid started reading Saga over my shoulder on the F train, and I am passing that pro tip onto you, our beloved readers).

Okay, warning out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks. I’ve never read anything about the Borgias prior to this graphic novel, but I had the same basic knowledge about them that I’m sure many of you do: they were a strong family in a time of powerful dynasties, and the fact that we remember their name is testament to that. They were also supposed to be incredibly corrupt and depraved—Rome and the Catholic Church were no innocents in the 15th and 16th centuries, and the Borgias were representative of the extremes in their society. The patriarch of the family, Rodrigo Borgia, became Pope Alexander VI and used his illegitimate children by Vannozza dei Cattanei (among them Cesare and Lucrezia) to strengthen his hold over Italy. Unheard of today, but not exactly unusual for the time and place in which the Borgias lived.

The graphic novel brings all of this to life, and then some. Jodorowsky and Manara have created the ultimate soap opera of historical comics. You might expect this from a comic that includes Machiavelli and Da Vinci as characters, but this book approaches Tudors (the TV show) levels of over the top-ness (shut up, that is too a word). My jaw dropped more with every panel. Popes and cardinals having sex? Sure. Incest? Sure. Girl on girl action? Sure. Boy on boy action? Sure. Dying pope drinking breast milk from an unwilling woman? Sure. A man drawn and quartered? Sure. Syphillis and deformed babies? Sure. Men (and women) urinating on other people? Sure. And that’s only the smallest hint of what you’ll see in this book.

Manara’s artwork is amazing, and his crowd scenes are like a Where’s Waldo of hedonism and depravity: orgies happening with every possible sexual position shown and some poisonings and a stabbing thrown in for good measure. They’re everything you’ve ever heard about Rome’s sinfulness portrayed in living color right in front of you. Jodorowsky has penned a sweeping epic that is a perfect match for Manara’s vision. He gives us a devious father scheming to put his family at the top of the European power structure and willing to do anything to keep them there. His vision of the united family always comes first, often at the expense of his children’s goals and desires. The Borgias is set up as the first Italian mafia story, and I can totally see it: the family, its loyal lieutenants and hangers-on, all growing fat and complacent on power until in-fighting tears them apart.

I do have to say that a fair amount of historical license was taken (yeah, I totally looked things up on the internet after I finished the book). This is routinely done by Hollywood and premium TV channels for the sake of a good story, so I can’t blame comics for following suit; I do wish the creators had stayed a little closer to the facts, which are juicy enough. In the end, Jodorowsky and Manara have created a story every bit as engrossing as the Godfather, although I will admit that I felt it was too much excess for too long by the end of the read: 218 pages is a lot of sex, drugs, alcohol, lust, and corruption to be immersed in. It is still a masterpiece, the most cinematic graphic novel I’ve ever read (only to be expected, given the creative team). I give it 4.5 out of 5 Lightning Bolts.

The Borgias
Writer: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Artist: Milo Manara
Introduction: Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
Translator: Katie LaBarbera
Publisher: Dark Horse
Format: Hardcover Graphic Novel
Publication Date: November 12, 2014
Price: $59.99

Here’s a preview straight from Dark Horse:

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About Author

Julie Hegner has been descending the geek rabbit hole since she watched her first episode of Star Trek at age eight. A longtime fan of Trek, Who, X-Files, and the Whedonverse, it was only a matter of time until hanging out with other geek girls and repeatedly watching Tom Hiddleston led her to the awesomeness of comics. She takes a special joy in reading about ladies who kick ass, but in general anything with a good storyline floats her boat. You can tweet @julz91 on Twitter.

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