Don’t be guided too much by the blurb on the back of Knights of Heliopolis, which talks about how it’s a reworking of Alexandre Dumas’s classic French story The Man in the Iron Mask. It’s not lying, this is indeed it’s starting point, but I suspect you’ll be much better off being guided by your knowledge of the author, Alejandro Jodorowsky. He hasn’t just added a typical smattering of fantasy to the story, but has reworked it well beyond the point of recognition.
As a result, what we get is a typical piece of Jodorowsky intergenerational world building. Starting in the reign of Louis the XVI, it spans through the French Revolution, into Napoleonic times and beyond. The main protagonist is the hermaphroditic son/daughter of Louis XVI, who has spent his childhood in hiding but is liberated by a cabal of alchemists. This wizardly coven is working on creating the materials and gaining the skills they need to escape death and live forever.
Split into four chapters, what starts off as a fairly straightforward fantasy soon spins off in all sorts of interesting directions, which followers of Jodorowsky will be happily familiar with. Suffice to say, hundreds of years are covered in the book; famous people from history are subverted; and good and evil are difficult to differentiate between. It’s all good solid Jodorowsky stuff.
The art is by Jérémy, whose work fits neatly into our expectations, binding the historical fantasy seamlessly into the Napoleonic backdrop. He creates a very clean and attractive French Revolution, and even his imperfect characters have a certain precise clarity of style to them. However, it all carries the story along superbly.
So, fans won’t be disappointed, but what about those new to Jodorowsky, looking for a route in? I’d argue that this probably isn’t the best starting point. Of what I’ve read of his works, and I admit to not having consumed as much as I’d like, The Metabarons trumps this by some margin. There’s plenty of what makes The Metabarons so fantastic in Knights of Heliopolis, but the latter’s genre-busting strangeness doesn’t quite have the same solidity that The Metabarons has. There we had a lot of different things held together by a dynasty that grew with every chapter, with a sci-fi wrapper to bind it all together. Here the historical sci-fi fantasy genre is a bit less focussed. It’s also shorter and feels a bit compressed, even though it’s well over 200 pages.
In summary, then: buy it and enjoy. But if you’re new to Jodorowsky, there are better ways to dip your toe into the ocean of his spectacular world building.