AT THE END OF THE RIVER – More Weirdness at the End of the World, this time with an adventure featuring Spain’s answer to Mad Max: Hombre himself. This character was created by Antonio Segura and Jose Ortiz in 1981 in the Spanish publication Cimoc. Hombre went on to appear in notably “adult” comic books and magazines around the world, including reprints in Heavy Metal here in America.
In this age of non-stop comic book adaptations for movies and television I’m amazed that the excellent Hombre series hasn’t been tackled in some form. The adult sexuality, graphic violence, Alien-style mutated life-forms, relentlessly grim storylines and gratuitous nudity are tailor-made for a cable series or R-rated films.
The title character Hombre roams our post-apocalypse planet armed to the teeth and ready to kill or be killed on a daily basis. His first-person narration echoes the best aspects of hard-boiled Film Noir detective stories while the action and mis en scene combine the best elements of Spaghetti Westerns, Post-Apocalypse movies and Martial Arts flicks. Think Six-String Samurai but without the rock and roll samurai.
There is no optimism in the world inhabited by Hombre. Antonio Segura’s writing features often tragic endings which must have put 1980s readers in mind of the downbeat stories on Hill Street Blues and Saint Elsewhere.
Segura mostly avoided easy narratives and my least favorite storyline involved Atila, the badass woman warrior. The character was great, but the tale seemed very UN-Segura-like to me. I probably would have liked her in her own spin-off story but having two such nigh-indestructible figures in one tale put things too far into the realm of upbeat fictional tropes to me. I’m virtually alone on that, by the way, since most fans LOVE the Atila story.
AT THE END OF THE RIVER – Back to the main topic of this blog post, one of the Hombre tales that best exemplifies the series’ aesthetic sensibilities. Our protagonist is the best there is at what he does, but in a much grimmer and more adult way than Wolverine ever managed.
Synopsis: Hombre, his friend Daniel and their latest band of temporary allies – Mongol, Anna, Paco, The Old Man and Spectacles – had robbed some settlers of their winter supplies and made their escape via a modified raft down a winding river in a rocky wasteland.
Or so it first seemed. The settlers had erected a trap across the river near the rapids, planning to contain Hombre and his allies there. They hoped to then steal their ammo and water, then kill everyone except the buxom Anna and the Old Man, since he was their agent who had led Hombre and company into this trap.
Hombre, Daniel and the others manage to force their way through the trap and face the rapids, only to be besieged by the Old Man’s settler allies in the calm waters below. Paco and Spectacles died in the rapids and, to their horror, the surviving raft-riders discover that the “supplies” they thought they stole from the settlers are really just sacks full of rocks and dirt. It was all part of the trap.
With no food and left with only the ammo remaining in their guns, Hombre, Daniel, Anna and Mongol are in no position to withstand a siege OR charge the surrounding rocky terrain from which the settlers are firing on them at will. Our protagonist having already made the Old Man pay for his treachery, the foursome have no choice but to ride their long raft downriver as swiftly as they can.
They spend days floating along, getting lost amid the barren stony landscape which at length becomes a swampy morass. As the men take turns pulling the raft along through the murk leeches and insects become an issue. Eventually Daniel – the only person left that Hombre has an emotional attachment to – becomes weak.
Daniel begs the others to kill and eat him but Hombre is reluctant.
SPOILER: Our main character agrees to a deadline with the others: he will slog his way on foot through the swamp ahead to see if he can find an opening or at least some food. If he can’t do so in the specified time Mongol and Anna will kill Daniel so he can be cooked and eaten.
Naturally, just as Hombre finds open water along with abundant vegetation and hints at game animals a faraway death-scream from Daniel tells our protagonist that the agreed-upon time has run out.
PART TWO – Take the pistol away from your temple for now, there’s another grim part to At The End Of The River. We pick up several days later. Hombre, Mongol and Anna have been traveling on their raft through the lush green area discovered at the tragic end of the previous chapter.
The trio have been living like primitive humans, using wooden spears to kill game since they still haven’t come across more ammunition. Anna has agreed to share herself sexually with Hombre and Mongol individually in shifts of so many nights in a row.
A complication has arisen in that Anna and Mongol have fallen in love, so she wants to cut off Hombre. The two lovebirds plan to be a devoted couple. Mongol warns Hombre that, maybe he wouldn’t stand a chance against our main character in a fair fight, but if he tries having sex with Anna again he’ll kill him in his sleep if he has to.
Astonished at Anna and Mongol’s feelings AND that he himself can still feel hurt over such a development, Hombre musters what little decency he has left and agrees to not make any more moves on Anna. He plans to keep his word, since the happy couple want to have children, too, “like they’re Adam and Eve or something.”
The three figures make their way downriver some more and eventually notice that both sides of the river are now covered with very strange-shaped and odd-smelling trees with twisted, almost menacing looking branches which hang over the river to form a virtual tunnel.
Before the trio can decide to turn back they are seemingly attacked by a serpentine monster from the river. Then they seem to be attacked by a monstrous version of Anna. Eventually Hombre, Mongol and Anna realize the fragrances from the trees must be hallucinogenic.
Disoriented and desperate to get away from the oppressive smell of the trees our heroes race through the forest. Strange sounds are now added to the intoxicating yet nauseating aroma. Hombre and the others keep seeing grotesquely drawn humanoids lurking in the forest around them but tell themselves that it must just be more hallucinations.
SPOILERS: It turns out the grotesque humanoids are real. The noises have been their mutated voices, which stimulate the brains of normal humans into seeing things like the serpent monster. It wasn’t the foul-smelling trees doing that.
Hombre, Mongol and Anna try fighting their way through the mutants. Mongol and Anna are captured but Hombre fights through and makes his way to high ground from which he can see that the mutants’ home village is surrounding a long disused nuclear power plant.
The grotesque humanoids – drawn in such sickening detail that we even see the females breast-feeding their mutant offspring through their malformed breasts – have apparently been mutating since the apocalypse. They have grown oddly-shaped orifices and strange appendages that might be modified sex organs and they excitedly wag those at their new captives.
From his perch Hombre can see the captive, horrified Mongol and Anna being dragged to the center of the village. Hombre actually feels sorry that they’ve been robbed of their chance to play at being Adam and Eve, but grimly notes that the grotesque mutants are more likely the REAL future of the “human” race.
Hombre’s leg has been wounded in his flight and he needs to rest before moving on. The story ends with it being unclear if the mutants will rape or kill or eat Mongol and Anna or do all three to them.
COMMENT: Going forward it would be a recurring theme in the Hombre stories – anyone foolish enough to show any signs of hope or optimism (like Anna and Mongol did in this tale) wind up suffering horrible fates.
Hey, I WARNED you that Hombre’s world was relentlessly downbeat. I’ll leave it up to you readers if I examine more Hombre stories or if you’d prefer that I didn’t.
FOR MY EXAMINATION OF THE 13-PART BLACK PANTHER STORY TITLED PANTHER’S RAGE CLICK HERE
FOR MY ARTICLE ON THE LIST OF ATLAS/ SEABOARD SUPERHEROES CLICK HERE
FOR THE AUSTRALIAN SUPERHERO PANTHEON CLICK HERE
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