Meanwhile, as Italian fiction tried until Tutti i denti del mostro sono perfetti to engage in a serious way with sci- fi, thanks to the pushing of the Urania prize, another media had brought the genre out of the fandom ghetto and had put it in an entirely new pop perspective. This was a medium that was able to sell hundreds of thousands of copies each month; a media that since the Thirties had told amazing fantastic stories. It was 1991 that the comic Nathan Never22 appeared in newsstands published by Sergio Bonelli Editore, the largest Italian comics publisher. Nathan Never is still today on sale in the newsstands throughout Italy and the regular series has arrived this month at issue number 262. The comic, despite a certain originality of the protagonist, was, has been and still is a melting pot of international science fiction that goes from Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Stanislaw Lem, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein to Star Wars, Blade Runner and Star Trek, from Judge Dredd to Gundam, Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor, Akira and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Nathan Never is a pop product that rarely or almost never, despite the quality of many stories, dares to explore the dark side of the human soul, so arousing the Unheimlich. The stories of Nathan Never were more concerned with technological progress and, to a lesser extent, with the sociological dimension, than with the human condition as opposed to what will Evangelisti would do in describing the journey of the Malpertius spaceship, where the technological aspect is absolutely secondary to the psychic one.
A year later, in 1992, another science fiction comic appeared, set in a less remote future than Nathan Never, but it was gloomier. The
publisher was the independent Star Comics and the comic was Lazarus Ledd. The reference points were cyberpunk, technothriller, spy stories à la Ludlum (the Bourne cycle) and hard boiled. Lazarus Ledd like Nathan Never, has a dark past and its author, Ade Capone, unlike the authors of Nathan Never (Michele Medda, Antonio Serra and Bepi Vigna), didn’t hesitate to deal with it. Lazarus Ledd wasn’t a superhero with super problems, he was just a hero with super problems: the human aspect overwhelming the technological one. The psychology of the characters was more important than the setting and although the uncanny never emerged, Ledd was harder to digest for popular comic readers and so the series came to an end after twelve years, after ups and downs and some noteworthy crossovers, such as the one in which Lazarus worked with Sam Fisher, the protagonist of the Ubisoft video game created by Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell23 and when the ancestor / alter ego of Lazarus, Alphonse, met no-one other than Nicolas Eymerich himself. 24
Another independent publishing house in Milan, Eden Center, in the wake of the success of Nathan Never and Lazarus Ledd, between 1991 and 1992 put together a team of authors and artists who gave birth to the Full Moon Project25, a paranormal horror sci-fi series in which a pair of special unit FBI agents, with very different characters, deal with unusual and unexplained cases. Chris Carter created X-Files three years later. The comic was short-lived, seven issues, but the same team worked in 1994 for Star Comics on a space opera titled Hammer. The first episode26 of that ironic, dark and cynical series had a plot that predates the Matrix by 5 years and had something in common with I due lati del Muro by Francesco Grasso, the second winner of the Urania prize. The context and the psychology of the characters were very balanced–technology, sociology and human evolution interpenetrated, but the chosen media – the popular comic – was, like the Italian tradition, perhaps not the most suitable to fathom the abysses of human despair. It’s even true that Hammer often privileged cartoon action and outer space adventure to nnerspace introspection, although its three main characters would have fitted well with such stories. The series ended in glory after thirteen issues.
At that time, the only widespread and popular comic that had a heavy dose of uncanny and sufficient skill to mix outer space and inner space with good writing and a nice Moebius like graphics was probably ESP, a series created by Michelangelo La Neve and published by Universo Pubblicità. The main character was Bianca, a young girl with psychic powers, able to penetrate the minds of others and travel through dimensions who works for the ESP department, a department that deals with psychic phenomena located in the catacombs of Rome. The characters of ESP move against the background of fantastic worlds, universes without sky or inhabited by mysterious creatures. In this world, at the crossroads between fantasy, horror, gothic and sci-fi created by La Neve, there’s never a clear distinction between good and evil and the focus is always on the multifaceted nature of the human soul. 27
The adventures of Italian science fiction comics didn’t end in the Nineties, but they would never be able to repeat the success of Nathan Never and its numerous, more or less lucky, spin offs. 28 At the turn of the new millennium, Bonelli itself published the light-hearted but not very successful Gregory Hunter, the post-apocalyptic gothic fantasy Brandon aimed at a young audience, the new weird Jonathan Steele, the miniseries set in the fifties à la War of the Worlds Brad Barron, the steampunk miniseries Greystorm29, the miniseries inspired by the TV series Jericho, Caravan, the urban fantasy Gea, the time travel sci-fi Lilith, the annual special Storie da Altrove, and some single stories such as Il pianeta probito by Antonio Serra e Paolo Bacilieri and Sighma and Darwin by Paola Barbato.
Nowadays Bonelli is about to publish Orfani, a miniseries in color (the first time ever for the Milan based publishing house which usually prints the series in black and white) of hard sci-fi: a crossover between Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and the Halo videogame by Roberto Recchioni, author of John Doe, a series published by Star Comics that would fit well on the pages of DC’s Vertigo comics.
Before concluding this brief overview on Italian sci-fi comics we have to travel back in time a little: cyberpunk was read by Italian novelists a decade late, but comics were well in advance of literature. The term cyberpunk was coined in 1983 by the American writer Bruce Bethke for one of his stories, even though the genre was born more or less at the beginning of the Eighties.
In Italy in 1978, while Star Wars was a cinema big hit, Stefano Tamburini and Tanino Liberatore, created for a highly political and satirical indie magazine the character of Ranxerox, an ultraviolent android assembled by parts of a photocopier with great physical strength and the “gift” of obscene language that acted in a very similar way to what was described a few years later by cyberpunk. Ranxerox was fierce, politically incorrect and was born of the emerging punx culture: the white, red and green—Italian–hardcore punk scene30 that found in the international underground, as did the anti-hero of Tamburini and Liberatore, a crowd of fans at every latitude, from Japan to the United States.
22 Dark Horse Comics has released six stories of Nathan Never in the U.S. In 1999, DreamWorks has bought the movie rights of Nathan Never. To understand the range of the Bonelli’s comic it could be useful to know that the circulation of Nathan Never in Italy in the Nineties roamed around 200,000 copies per month, Amazing Spider-Man, stood at an average of 160,000 copies per month in the English speaking countries. Nowadays Nathan Never sell between 40 and 50,000 copies per month.
23 http://lazarusnews.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/lazarus-ledd-splinter-cell-il-crossover/ 24 Cfr. Lazarus Ledd extra 17, I cristalli di Eymerich.
25 13 issues from 1994 until 1996
26 The set is the end of the third millennium. A stormy period, characterized by a state of uneasy peace. The Solar System is dominated by the presence of the human race, for which was not enough to emigrate to places a million miles away to stop fighting. Hypertechnology often merges with what remains of the distant past to create absurd and baroque forms. Spacecraft travels fast from a terraformed desolate planet to a floating island between asteroids, from one orbital city to an artificial green forest. Ports francs host strange travelers: unscrupulous businessmen, cyberkiller, ruthless mercenaries, adventurers and sailors on the payroll of the multi planetary companies who are transporting everywhere metal taken from the asteroids. (Cfr. Hammer # 1, Doppia fuga).
27 Another comic worth mentioning was the hybrid sci-fi – fantasy, 2700 by Manfredi Toraldo, a Do It Yourself underground and cult series started in 1992. Strong introspective and social issues meet high fantasy and Japanese giant robots like Gundam: our civilization is dead and from its ashes a medieval society was born. Some technological knowledge has been preserved in the hands of a obscurantist guild called obscure, an arms race is triggered by the discovery of a crystal that can become a source of energy for any machine as long as driven by a man and a woman at the same time.
Some obscure become geringmakers, the designers and makers of giant robots in the service of the nobility and the church. These giant mecha, the gering, (30 to 60 meters high) operated strictly by the collaboration of a woman, called the made anda man, called master. The robots become so the true instrument of power of the twenty-eighth century. The long and indiscriminate use of these crystals, however, due to genetic defects in the human race, lead to the birth of androgynous and hermaphroditic called fanti, jacks. In what has become a society structured on the balance between males and females in the domain through a church matriarchal and patriarchal nobility, the emergence of these new beings, who alone could use the giant robots, is seen as a danger to the society and they are demonized and exterminated even with the creation of an inquisition. The comic mainly follow the adventures of a fante (Ariel) and his two companions (Behemoth and Abner) struggling to survive in a society that is their enemy.
28 Legs Weaver, Asteroide Argo, Agenzia Alfa, Universo Alfa, and Almanacco della Fantascienza, an annual magazine dedicated to the international sci- fi news which comes with an unpublished Nathan Never’s story.
29 The first Bonelli series which has a “villain” as protagonist.
30 Italian hardcore was an extremely influential in the 1980s, and still is for many hardcore bands across the world. Although there were important scenes in the USA and the UK, in the 1980s Italy punks grew up in a social and political situation that was really hard, once the era of political terrorism (both left and right wing) ended up and the moment was ready for mass-firing in Italian factories.
Many punks of that years came directly from the Italian proletariat and sub-proletariat, so the lyrics of the bands were focused on the social situation and on the distance between punk movement and the growing Italian-yuppie philosophy. Inspired by bands such as Crass and Discharge, many lyrics were anarchism oriented, anti war and anti NATO. Groups included Wretched, Kina, Declino, Cripple Bastards, Cani, Infezione, Indigesti, Peggio Punx, Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers, Chelsea Hotel, Nerorgasmo, Khalmo, Contropotere, Nabat, Blue Vomit, Negazione (www.punk4free.org/downloads/func-showdown/164/) covered even by Mike Patton former Faith No More… and Raw Power that shares the stage in USA with Circle Jerks, Adolescents, D.O.A., Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Agnostic Front, Dead Kennedys, Suicidal Tendencies and, in a small Seattle’s club in 1986, with Guns ‘ N’ Roses as opening act.