Title: The 6 Voyages of Lone Sloane
Publisher: Titan Comics
Writer: Philippe Druillet
Artist: Philippe Druillet
Spoiler Warning! This review talks about the plot of the graphic novel being reviewed. I try to avoid mentioning anything I see as a major twist or reveal, but I don’t guarantee it. Read at your own risk!
Lone Sloane is a spacefaring wanderer created in 1966 by French cartoonist Philippe Druillet. This book does not collect the first Lone Sloane story, “The Mystery of the Abyss,” but it does collect the next six Lone Sloane stories, published in the French magazine Pilote in 1970 and 1971: “The Throne of the Black God,” “The Wild Wind Isles,” “Rose,” “Torquedarra Varenkor: The Bridge Over the Stars,” “O Sidarta,” and “Terra.” While not a powerhouse of plot, The 6 Voyages of Lone Sloane is filled with jaw-dropping art and ideas to equal the imaginations of Jack Kirby and Grant Morrison.
Druillet’s art is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Frequently, I was floored by how he plays with perception and perspective to create seemingly infinite vistas. I marveled at the intricate detail placed into machinery and architecture. My mouth was agape at stunning, innovative panel layouts that subverted contemporary norms. Time and space lose coherence. The color is like a painting, and Druillet occasionally distorts the palette in such a way that the only comparison I can find is a photo negative. Sometimes the term “panel” isn’t sufficient to describe the frames on the page. A few two-page spreads are oriented vertically, rather than horizontally. I feel that the best way to review this book is to go through each story individually.
In “The Throne of the Black God,” Sloane travels through space, alone, apparently an anomaly for a Terran 800 years after an event called “The Great Scare.” Sloane’s ship malfunctions and explodes, leaving him in the cold vacuum of space until, a moment later, a black throne appears, trailing white tendrils of energy to save Sloane. The throne is “He Who Seeks,” and he has been seeking “The Living One.” He brings Sloane to priests who plan to sacrifice Sloane to bring a god of destruction into the universe, but the king of gods grants Sloane a “word” to send the Black God back to his oblivion. The word is an abstract collection of geometry rather than a word of letters, and when the priests make their play, the word creates a multitude of Sloanes stretching forever. Only Sloane remains afterwards, standing on the throne, radiating white that pushes away the void of space. This story is an incredible introduction to Lone Sloane’s universe that sets the tone for the rest of the book.
“The Wild Wind Isles” opens with a massive ship on a raging sea. Its figurehead is the gigantic, tusked skull of some fantastic beast. The ship’s captain is Shonga, a pirate looking for Sloane to use him as protection from the gods guarding a treasure. Sloane’s exposure to the black throne and the priests’ rite has infused him with divinity. Shonga’s crew insist that Sloane is cursed, but Sloane agrees to lead Shonga to the treasure. He guides the crew through a “maze of winds,” which Druillet renders as solid walls of air currents. At one point, Sloane says his protection ends, and beyond it, Shonga’s crew is pulled into infinity in a long train of condemned souls. This story gives the sense that Sloane is a legend, a story thread that will continue.
“Rose” finds Sloane on a cosmic junkyard planet. Druillet renders the obsolete, forgotten machinery with exquisite detail. Sloane meets Koll, an old man; Rose, the A.I. of a discarded ship; and unfriendly, impractical-looking robots. Koll plays an organ that activates the robots, and they sabotage Sloane’s efforts to build a new ship to escape the planet, including a sharp, impossible behemoth that stomps on Sloane’s work in a vertical two-page spread. It turns out Koll is a fugitive robot afraid that Sloane is an agent of the law. Sloane takes the organ, which is capable of spaceflight, and abandons Koll to his fate among unfriendly-looking inhabitants of the planet. This story is notable for how it portrays Sloane in more mundane social interaction, however brief.
Torquedarra Varenkor is the name of the being that rules the titular Bridge Over the Stars. He is eternally bored, and for entertainment, he sets Sloane against a champion of his choosing. The champion can move through all dimensions but one, and if Sloane cannot find that dimension, the champion will take his soul. With Rose’s help, Sloane separates a soul of hatred from himself to fool the champion and escape. The stand-out in this story is the optical illusions used to depict Varenkor’s champion.
In “O Sidarta,” Sloane is captured by a ship of the same name, only for his captors to discover his identity and welcome him back to the captaincy of the vessel after he escapes his prison. He reveals he knows the location of “the true Terra,” and the O Sidarta arrives there at the beginning of “Terra.” They find it the centerpiece of a grand divine mechanism, inhabited by strange creatures that worship the deity Wul. Wul claims the gods banned Terrans from their home planet, now populated by beings that “ran away from the universe of Elric the Necromancer.” Wul commands Sloane to leave, and Sloane obeys. These chapters are intriguing not only for revealing more about Sloane’s background and offering a glimpse of Earth as it exists in his time, but also for name-dropping Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné in a surreal moment of intertextuality.
While I find the translation of Druillet’s prose to be engaging and powerful, I found myself more impressed by the concepts than the narrative progression or dialogue. They seemed more like Druillet saw them as necessary tools to showcase the ideas, rather than aspects of the comics that could mutually benefit his imagination. Some plot points feel a little convenient and contrived. All the same, The 6 Voyages of Lone Sloane is remarkable on the strength of its images alone, and I recommend it. Hergé is quoted on the back as calling Lone Sloane “sensational,” and I’m inclined to agree.