The Incal (L'Incal) is a sci-fi comic series by writer Alejandro Jodorowsky and artist Mbius and is the center-piece of the former's Metabarons Universe. The project was born out of, and recycled many concepts from, the two's failed attempt to make a film adaption of Dune. Despite Jodorowsky having every major event of the comic planned out beforehand, and the series only being 6 volumes long, it took 8 years to complete.
John Difool is a low-ranking private investigator in the slums of the dystopian planet Terra 2014. After escaping the aftermath of a butchered job, he encounters a Borg, a member of an once imperial alien race that has now passed into myth. The Borg reveal that it had been looking for him and entrusts him with a mystical object, the Light Incal. This naturally makes Difool the target of multiple interplanetary factions that seek to use the artifact's powers for their own goals, not the least of which include the Incal itself.
A 6-part prequel Before the Incal (Avant l'Incal), detailing episodes from Difool's life prior to the events of The Incal, was published between 1988 and 1995. It was illustrated by Zoran Janjetov in a style very similar to Moebius'. (Although the recoloring of the first, censored English release gave it a more distinct look). A sequel to both the original Incal and Before, entitled After the Incal (Après l'Incal), began in 2000 with Moebius back as artist, but the series only lasted one volume before it was discontinued. The project was rebooted with Mexican artist José Ladrönn (Elephantmen) in 2008 as Final Incal and finished with 3 volumes in 2014.
For other spin-offs and related media see: the Metabarons Universe.
The Incal provides examples of:
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Luz tearfully confesses her feelings for Difool after he performs a Heroic Sacrifice in Final Incal. It helps in bringing him Back from the Dead.
- Anti-Hero: Difool is both a Classical Antihero and Knight in Sour Armour. Kill Wolfhead walks the line between Pragmatic Hero and Unscrupulous Hero depending on his mood. Both he and Tanatah started out as Nominal Heroes before Character Development and Heel Realization hit in. The Metabaron is clearly one too, but is a bit harder to pin-point.
- Aristocrats Are Evil: Averted with the Emperoress, more-or-less played straight with pretty much everyone else.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Happens to Difool and Luz at the end of Final Incal, as they're taken by the Light and Dark Incal to "help spread love throughout the universe."
- Beneath Suspicion: One of Difool's greatest assets, and arguably why his teammates keep him around against his will, is that he's the perfect diversion due to how unassuming and slight he is as a character.
- Butt-Monkey: John Difool, subject to injuries both comical and horrific.
- Clipped-Wing Angel: The President's final Necrobot form. Although it still has its uses.
- Crapsack World: Difool's homeplanet Terra 2014 (especially in Before) and Technogea. The rest of the universe too, to some degree.
- Dark Is Not Evil: The Black Incal. While it's used to construct the Shadow Eggs and was originally in the possession of the brutal Tanatah, it's a necessary component to form the complete Incal with its Light twin.
- Darker and Edgier: Before the Incal as it explores the kind of circumstances that would produce a Nominal Hero like Difool and how he wound up miserable and alone apart from Deepo.
- Deus ex Machina: The Incal has a tendency to bail the heroes out when their task proves insurmountable, but it's quite iffy on when it lends its help.
- Driven to Suicide: Difool lives and grew up near a suicide spot so popular it has just been named Suicide Alley. Before the reveal that his mother was one of its victims and a young Difool tried doing the same.
- The Empire: Averted. The empire may be corrupt and inefficient, but it is not actually evil.
- Evil Makes You Ugly: Difool's natural handsomeness faded over the years along with his innocence and nobility, leaving the reader with the pointed, scowling private detective they are introduced to in the first book.
- The Fool: John emphasises the less rosy aspect of this archetype. In that, he manages to progress through the story and triumph in spite of how he essentially stays the same all throughout and barely has (or wants) agency.
- Freudian Excuse: Before the Incal reveals the many horrific and complex roots of Difool's cynicism and selfishness.
- HeelFace Turn: Outside of Deepo, most of the allies Difool picks up are people who have exploited or tried to have him killed in the past.
- Honey Trap: How Animah keeps compelling Difool to stay and help the Incal. To his chagrin, he's always aware that he's being played, but is too infatuated with her to refuse.
- Meaningful Name: John Difool. Yes, his name alludes to the fact that he's kind of a dumbass, but in the Tarot, the Fool is the first of the Major Arcana, and symbolizes chaos, infinite possibility and the beginning of a journey, which are all motifs that apply to John.
- Mind Screw: Gradually becomes this toward the end of the original series, and pops up from time to time in the prequel and sequels.
- Non-Human Sidekick: Deepo, Difool's (eventually) talking "concrete seagull".
- Petting Zoo People: Kill Wolfhead, who resembles a dog despite his name in the English translation, and a few others. The sequel and prequel reveal that they are actually genetically modified humans.
- Religion of Evil: The Techno-Technos (short for the Techno-Technocracy, formally the Church of Industrial Saints) after they start worshiping the Darkness. They are a more neutral Corrupt Church otherwise.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Attempted by John multiple times.
- Spiritual Predecessor: Like its inspiration, a lot of this series' ideas ended up being reused in other works, most notably Warhammer 40,000 and The Fifth Element.
- Sufficiently Advanced Technology: Some of the tech is really out there in terms of what it can achieve, like the "interior exterior", a chamber that, when you enter it, you end up on the outside of a big sphere surrounded by a seemingly endless black void.
- Tarot Motifs: According to Jodorowsky Difool (and Deepo) is the Fool trump, Solune is a combination of the Sun and the Moon trumps, the Emperoress is a combination of the Emperor and Empress trumps. The names said it all really. The Techno-Pope is also meant to correspond with the Hierophant trump and the Technos' tower with the Tower trump. Strangely the Themed Tarot Deck based on the original series was a French-style one and thus didn't utilize the symbolism Jodorowsky based the characters on. There was however an Italian-style one based on Final Incal, but it was only available as a promotional item at Comic-con 2014.
- He also described thinking of the series as corresponding to a triptych-layout as used in tarot divination."You first look at the central picture (the present / The Incal). Then you look at the picture to the left (the past / Before the Incal). Then to the right (the future / After the Incal)."
- He also described thinking of the series as corresponding to a triptych-layout as used in tarot divination.
- Took a Level in Badass: Before the Incal shows how John went from being a helpless orphan to a not-quite-as-helpless Class-R detective. He does this sporadically when he possesses the Incal, but even without it he takes a few on his own by the time Final Incal ends.
- Trauma Conga Line: Unlike the one he undergoes in The Incal, the horrors that befall Difool in Before the Incal aren't nearly as funny.
- Uplifted Animal: Deepo, after being the Incal, becomes intelligent, talkative and very opinionated.
- Used Future: On of the earlier examples of this. Used to contrast the gritty conditions of the lower classes and the ancient coldness of the Technos with the aristocratic upper classes and the vibrant new age aesthetics of everything related to the Incal itself. Especially noticeable in Final Incal due to Ladrönn's more realistic style.
- Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Difool.