The Manara Library Vol. 5: More Adventures of Giuseppe Bergman (Dark Horse) Review

Dark Horse releases the latest volume in their series of Milo Manara hardcover editions on June 12th, and we've done a thorough, attentive, and vigorous examination of the book.

When Den of Geek asked me to review the latest of the collected volumes by famed Italian artist, Milo Manara, I nearly fell off my chair. Are you kidding? Review some of the most celebrated comic porn in the industry? By the master himself? Please? You want me to get down on my hands and knees and grovel like a dirty girl?No, Gerri, no! You are a die-hard feminist! You hate pink. Babies terrify you. Manara only draws women who subjugate themselves to men, running amok naked through busy city streets while anonymous folk grope their way well past third base. You cannot! You will not!Oh, but I do so love sexy time. And full disclosure: there is already an embarrassing amount of porn on my Kindle. So what is a die-hard, sexy time loving, feminist to do?Acknowledge that for all his illustrated objectification of women, Manara does not just peddle porn! He has been at the top of his game in literature, history, and art for decades. He cleverly mixes high and low art, creating vulgar scenes amid lush and exotic (and culturally relevant) landscapes in order to create tension and cultivate mystery. He is a master of juxtaposition; transposing the world’s most famous canvases and using them as the backdrop while he pits race, culture, and gender against one another. His female characters are forever naked, their tender regions splayed open, placing inherent physical vulnerability at the fore.Reminding me of a recent quote by the comedian Louie C. K.: “You know what the number one cause of mayhem to women is? MEN.”And Manara.So what do we have in this, the 5th volume of his collected work (not the actual porn-porn, which is collected in another multi-volume series)? The many adventures of Manara’s illustrated alter ego, Giuseppe Bergman.An Author in Search of Six Characters: The African Adventures of Giuseppe Bergman, Book 1“The secret of harnessing solar power died with the Incas…”The first story begins with Bergman smashing through the fourth wall, explaining the mechanics of storytelling to the reader. The illustration is exquisite, and waffles between minimalist and finely detailed with perfect balance. The narrative (and Bergman) follows an unwilling young woman who has been drop-kicked into the script, forced to accept her role as a prostitute named Lulu. Also, there is that solar power thing that the Incas thought up (i.e. the MacGuffin).Poor Lulu, but before we feel too sorry for her, remember that “there is only one reason for Lulu’s presence: she must provide the story’s erotic element, and must therefore have a strong sexual charge.”Essentially Manara has blessed us with a ridiculous story about ridiculous stories. He calls out each hackneyed plot device as it occurs. The characters are like actors, real people (most of whom are despicable) who are forced to wear their alternate identity like an ill-fitting costume.Dies Irae: The African Adventures of Giuseppe Bergman, Book 2The second story starts out in much the same way, with Chloe, the good girl drawn naughty, asking the reader to quantify her existence and identity through the careful exploration of numerous styles of illustration. My favorite is Chloe the stick figure, laying with her legs splayed.This time, Chloe is our narrator while Bergman’s adventure takes him through Africa. When Chloe isn’t narrating, or masquerading as one of the young, nubile, Masai girls, she is being chased by evil poop men. Hey, not everyone makes their Golems out of boring old clay!“Dies Irae” is just as self aware as “An Author in Search of Six Characters,” and plays on the same narrative tropes; bringing identity, perception, and cultural bias into sharp focus, only this time overt sexuality acts as a secondary theme. However, despite the beautifully nested stories and Bergman’s growing self awareness, it does not quite reach the level of poetry the first story in this volume achieved.To See Once More the Stars: The Urban Adventures of Giuseppe Bergman, Book 1Full disclosure: this has always been my favorite piece by Manara.Bergman’s urban adventures start when he meets a breathtakingly beautiful young woman (sublimely rendered in water color) on her way to Toyland. She can’t seem to remember who she is, and keeps referring to a book of famous paintings in an effort to know herself. At first Bergman was irritated (who wants to babysit a wackadoodle?), but since the paintings she emulates are highly erotic, her inherent nudity detracts a wee bit from the inconvenience.Completely off topic, but why am I suddenly reminded of the virulent hate Game of Thrones fans are piling on George R.R. Martin? The books are make believe, children; not reality. Yet we can’t help but get emotionally attached to the characters, to become invested in their lives and transpose ourselves into their narrative. Such an easy escape, and so much more enriching than fantasizing about the dreary eight hours a day the majority of us sit in a cubicle.Manara, like Bergman, is well aware of what he is doing and how the reader can get sucked into a narrative. In fact, in order to inspire even greater investment, Manara provides a blank panel and invites the reader to draw something in the book itself in order to further the plot. Clever dickens.Anywho…ust as Manara was inspired by famous paintings, ancient buildings, and classical texts from the world over, it is immediately apparent how much he inspired Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder series. If you are a fan of McNeil, you will love Manara.Bergman’s Odyssey: The Urban Adventures of Giuseppe Bergman, Book 2This is the first ever English translation of Bergman’s Odyssey and the story is exactly as advertised: Bergman (and his company of lusty ladies) gets drawn into Ulysses’ epic journey. Here, though, while the characters from both Bergman’s world and Ulysses reality appear to be self aware, they do not crash through the fourth wall. The style of illustration is also markedly different; the heavy use of pen and ink lines reminded me of stylized engravings. There was nothing wrong with it; it just lacked the subtlety of the earlier stories. Still, American fans of Homer (and Manara) will not want to miss the release of this story!All told, Dark Horse’s Manara Library Volume 5 is a must have for any fan of the Italian master. He is a consummate storyteller and illustrator who never fails to challenge and delight the reader!Also; the booty is pretty dern fine too!Den of Geek Rating: 5 Erect Peens The Manara Library Volume 5: More Adventures of Giuseppe Bergman from Dark Horse will be in shops on June 12th!Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!