Morbus Gravis II begins on a vacant beach. Though she cannot remember coming to this place, Druuna gleefully splashes through the shallows, taking delight in her surroundings. A pale blue sea and bleached rocks brighten the first page, Druuna looking up towards a bright mid-day sky in the final frame. Moving to the shore to rest, she lies face down on the sand. Druuna is presented from a myriad of angles as she rests, with Serpieri’s signature ¾ view making an appearance near the bottom of the second page, queuing the entrance of another person.

Sprawled out on the sand, a shadow crawls over Druuna’s back. She turns to see a man standing over her. He sits, checking her wellbeing. Druuna recognizes the man, though she cannot remember from where. Taking Druuna in his arms, they quickly become entangled, making love on the shore as waves roll in.

Druuna and the man toss about the sand in feverish heat, their bodies framed in short cuts, clipping between their faces, hands, and feet. It carries a sense of urgency and movement, the result being cinematic more than pornographic.

The scene ends with Druuna closing her eyes, drifting out of the dreamscape and back into reality. Her hair blows in the wind, bleeding into the panel below. Its black strands thickening into darkness, the shining black husk of a skittering beetle is the first thing Druuna sees as she awakens. Face down on the floor, Druuna finds herself exactly where she was at the end of Morbus Gravis I: in front of Lewis (head in a jar Lewis, not hunky beach Lewis). Lewis catches Druuna up on current events, recounting how she came to find him in the Upper Levels.

Lewis admits he implanted the vision of the beach in Druuna’s head after she fainted. She recoils in disgust, horrified Lewis would take advantage of her in such a state. Dismissing Lewis’ prodding with short, frustrated answers, Druuna leaves the Upper Levels, only to discover Schastar’s body gone from the elevator.

As she moves back into the ruins of The City, Druuna finds more is amiss. The Priest uncloaked by Schastar has disappeared. Walls exist where they did not before. Her telepathic communication with Lewis lost, Druuna walks among a mess of pipes and brick, desperately searching for a way out. The panels stack at uneven angels, creating a jagged series of steps, drawing the reader’s eye up and down the page as Druuna navigates the rubble.

Druuna soon discovers the landscape’s apparent shift is not an artifact of her imagination, but part of a larger phenomenon. Drunna meets a man and his daughter, Hale, who explains he too has witnessed these strange architectural changes. Soon after, the group witnesses one of these shifts firsthand. The landscape tears open before them, revealing a portal to an entirely different sector. Three soldiers skulk in the distance. The central pane warps, with the smoke and haze bleeding into the panel boarders. Toxic browns and yellows collide with the greys and blues at the other end of the portal, distinguishing the tear in reality. The panel structure is almost mirrored top to bottom, with both groups witnessing the phenomenon.

Mistaking the soldiers for mutants, the man fires a shot. The soldiers (Monk, Snake, and Sarge) retaliate, killing the man and taking Druuna and Hale as prisoners. Druuna attempts to comfort Hale, albeit only insofar as urging her not to rebel against their captors. Hale, understandably distrustful, dismisses Druuna’s advice.

The pipes morph to claw-like appendages, emphasizing the hostility.

As they continue on, the landscape’s tint begins to alter, with blue, grey, orange, and purple hues subtlety underscoring the temporal disturbances. The structures rot, coated with a thick fleshy-slime; not unlike how the sickness manifests in humans.

Druuna and Hale soon win their freedom, albeit at the cost of Monk and Sarge’s lives. Chased by a mutant, Hale and Druuna sprint off into darkness, a slithering mass of tentacles licking at their heels. The women are abruptly separated by a wall, seemingly having erected out of nowhere. Druuna curls into the dead end, the mutant now only feet away. Just before it makes contact, the tentacle forms into a human hand, and the creature groans out an exasperated “Dr..uuu..na”. As it turns out, Schastar survived and had been following Druuna, protecting her from the shadows. Before the lovers can be reunited, the wall gives way once more and Druuna tumbles into the abyss.

Druuna’s arms spread, grasping for an anchor, while Schastar remains blocked off, his reach stopping just short of the break. As she falls, the pipes lining the pit walls launch one`s gaze upward, emphasizing the speed of her plummet.

When Druuna wakes up, she finds herself in a bed, Jock looking over her. Having found her in the Forbidden City, Jock brought Druuna and Hale back to the barracks.

Jock’s apartment is a mess of old linens, arranged as pleasantly as they could be in such a state of disrepair. Druuna is hardly given an explanation (other than seeing video feed of Hale’s fate) before Jock moves to take Druuna up on her promise of repayment for the serum.

As Druuna moves to the closet to get dressed in lingerie, she stands in front of a mirror. These frames are full, detailed reflections of Druuna’s body from two angles. It’s yet another of Serpieri’s talents on full display, showcasing Druuna’s form in such meticulous detail that he can draw it twice in the same frame. As Druuna dresses herself, she stands in front of a mirror. Her reflection follows her for several panels, displaying her body with thorough consistency. As Druuna ties her corset, we see the detail of her fingers working to hold the lace in the reflection, though her hand is blocked from the other vantage. The page ends with a full body display, Druuna pulling up her underwear as she turns to face the reader, her nipples floating just above the ill-fitting brazier.

Druuna wears the outfit on without protest. Just as Lewis provided Druuna with visions and feelings of the past through telepathy, Jock has provided the physical remnants of another time period. As he puts it, “…a distant past, decadent and corrupted, where women still knew a thing or two about seduction.”, contrasting how both men use Druuna for the same purpose, but with different means of control.

Their mutual joy soon collapses, and Druuna learns she has fallen into a trap. Jock reveals he has discovered Druuna’s attempts to work with the mutant rebels. In a fit of anger, he sodomizes Druuna before discarding her to his men, who in turn take her to the prison complex below.

Jailed, Druuna is briefly reunited with The Mutant, who lays upon a cot, nearly beaten to death. With her final breaths, The Mutant apologizes to Druuna, stating it she was the one who gave them her name. Giving a chilling preview of what awaits her in the dreaded Room 77, The Mutant passes away. Druuna collapses by her side, sobbing.

Moments later, she is beckoned to stand up and exit the room not by soldiers, but by the hymn of a familiar voice. Druuna walks out the open cell door and finds Lewis standing on the beach where they first made love. She rushes out the door, falling into his arms with a gasp of relief. Lewis explains that upon making contact with her, Delta increased the auto-regenerative process – thus explaining the bizarre distortions Druuna witnessed in the book’s first half. Druuna, now aware the beach exists only in the dreamscape, explains that she is about to be taken away and tortured, and will no longer be able to help Lewis. Lewis reassures her he will intervene, though Druuna doubts how his power of dream-weaving will be of any use.

The guards’ commands soon pull Druuna free of the dream. A few lines of motion bleeding between the panels signals this abrupt transition – far less ceremonious than Druuna’s first awakening. Grasping onto Lewis in the page’s first frame, she closes in on herself, touching her own arm as she peers over her shoulder in the second, wearing an expression of pure fear.

Druuna’s preparatory torture session is interrupted by the rusted moan of Room 77’s door opening. A man emerges, stating he had finished his work and the room is free for use. The remains of his victim are dragged into Druuna’s torture chamber to be discarded into a pit. A Priest follows, asking whether Druuna is ready for processing in Room 77. In the midst of all the crossing conversations, a hand reaches up from the pit. The Gnome enters, complaining about a body being unceremoniously dumped on his head. The room recoils in horror as the Gnome looks about rather innocently before spotting Druuna and opting to attack and free her from the captors.

Escaping from the torture chamber, Druuna free-falls into the sewers below. Traces of white highlight her fall into the water. However, the motion of her fall rides on her physique as well. Her hair and breasts float upwards, while her arms reach up, allowing her open shirt to coil upwards. Capturing the build of a still body is one thing, but this panel showcases Serpieri`s ability to draft the swiftest of motions.

Arriving outside a massive tower, Druuna and the Gnome traverse a pipe bridge overtop a pit of mutants. The air is thick with a sickly pink mist. Organic matter sprouts out from the infrastructure, the flesh-like resin warping into eerie shapes of clawed hands and fanged jaws. The tower itself too is seemingly more organic than concrete, the upper stack having mutated into a massive collection of veins.

Upon seeing Delta, a being of pure energy personified by a human-like face in the midst of an electrical field, Druuna comes under telepathic fire from both Lewis and Delta (the Gnome, playfully ignorant to Druuna’s telepathic conversation, simply suggests they leave). Delta claims Lewis is lying, and that killing him will destroy the ship and everyone on it. Lewis urges Druuna on, telling her to stab the energy field with a piece of shrapnel in order to destroy Delta. As Druuna decides what to do, a trio of decrepit robots activate behind her. Closing in, they try to stop her, with one falling into Delta’s energy field, inadvertently activating a self-destruct sequence. As Druuna celebrates, she is soon informed by Lewis that he used her only as a mechanism to usher in his own death. While Delta had been trying to save the human race, Lewis had been trying to escape his centuries old prison. Druuna escapes the chaos of Lewis’ psychic link, pushing the robot free from Delta’s field.

Having saved the city, but still privy to Lewis’ telepathic whining, Druuna commits to find Schastar. The book ends with her walking out into the landscape, the Gnome opting to tag along against his better judgement.

Form

In Morbus Gravis I, Serpieri conveyed the setting through a series of dark and claustrophobic rooms. In Morbus Gravis II, the vantage has been pulled back, showcasing The City through a series of landscapes. This broader vantage not only builds suspense, but serves to tell the story from the viewpoint of characters like Schastar and Delta, observing the drama from afar. It’s both predatory and enlightening, building The City’s immense scope through sweeping vistas.

From Druuna’s viewpoint, The City seemed nothing but a labyrinth of ruined infrastructure. Chillingly, this is only affirmed when viewed in landscapes. Whatever the ship’s purpose and function before, it has dissolved into an inconceivable wreck beyond salvage. Drain pipes lead to nowhere. Pillars lay broken and scattered on the ground, the remnants of what they supported having long since disintegrated.

Morbus Gravis II also places a higher emphasis on movement and action. Druuna falls, leaps, and sprints about The City, showcasing her form in action. Unlike super hero comic fare, these sequences are never page shattering. Rather, the action is contained to panels, the urgency and drama born as a result of Druuna’s balance framed through background structures and line work.

One artistic anomaly in Morbus Gravis II lies in Druuna’s facial features. Serpieri’s hyper detailed style is still on full display here. However, Druuna’s portraits seems to have taken a slight hit in terms of consistency. Morbus Gravis II serves as an interesting reference point for Serpieri’s stylistic tweaks. In 1995, seven years after Morbus Gravis’ publishing, Serpieri said, “The Druuna that I draw is nothing but a synthesis of all the women I have ever met at the four corners of the globe. I had unwittingly used Vanessa’s magic smile, and Monica’s flowing hair and the undulating curves of Greta’s body, and so on.”(Serpieri 1995) While some of these inconsistencies could be attributed to rushing, it’s unlikely a portraitist of his caliber would have fudged such details. Morbus Gravis II may be an artifact of Serpieri’s evolution not only stylistically, but in solidifying Druuna herself, with echoes of his muses permeating throughout.

Somewhere between groundhog and human, the mutants Druuna and the Gnome encounter on the way to Delta stand upright on their hind legs. Their limbs are stumpy and short with a hock-like bend. Their heads sit atop thick necks, expressionless faces looking on in wait. Yet, the father’s heavy gut and mother’s large drooping breasts look more human than rodent. Furthermore, their body language signals anything but unintelligent or rabid. The father takes a defensive stance by shielding his family with his arms and donning his teeth, rather than committing to all fours. Similarly, the mother pats one of her children gently on the back of the head as Druuna and the Gnome pass. In spite of their vastly different appearances, they act in wholly similar, human, ways.

Compared to the ravenous mutants – or more fittingly, the Priests – the robots guarding Delta are clearly not built for combat. They stumble about in a state of such disrepair, it’s immediately clear Delta’s efforts are not born of aggression. The robots walk stiff-legged, their large eyes wobbling about with each step. Their hollow, cylindrical torsos sit atop twig-like legs barely capable of propelling themselves forward.

Delta’s composition is remarkably simple, being only a few jagged lines signifying electricity with a face animated in the core. In Morbus Gravis I, during Druuna’s visit to The Mutant, we saw another representation of Delta. The sculpture seen in the Mutant’s home builds his portrait through pipes and metal plates. Comparing the two portraits is interesting, seeing as Delta does not actually exist in a three-dimensional physical plane. He is a part of the ship, its energy personified.

Thoughts

Whereas Morbus Gravis I dedicated its pages to familiarizing readers with The City via a whirlwind tour of locations, Morbus Gravis II spend more time settled in specific locals, while also expanding the reader’s comprehension of its true scale.

From Druuna’s wandering of the forbidden zone, her stint in jail, and even her time spent in Lewis’ dreamscape, Druuna is built up as a character in Morbus Gravis II. We see her forced to make decisions based on newly acquired facts regarding both The City and her place in it – and often with a split second’s notice. She proves herself more than vessel this time around. Druuna makes decisions on her own and adopts a more active role regarding both her survival and that of The City. While she’s not exactly Red Sonja by book’s end, Druuna’s thinking evolves, and she becomes braver and bolder as a result.

While she bows to the orders of Sarge and Monk, urging Hale to follow suit, she isn’t without compassion, asking Sarge to keep his subordinate from harming Hale. Later, we see Druuna reach the brink of desperation upon finding The Mutant in her cell. Even after The Mutant reveals it was her who gave the authorities her name, Druuna forgives her. Her resilience often manifests in kindness as opposed to anger.

Finding renewed vigor thanks to the Gnome’s intervention, Druuna not only fights her captors, but she (literally) pulls back the curtain on the Priests’ ruse, revealing the truth by stripping one of its cloak. Where Druuna may not have discovered the truth about the Priests or The City, she was burdened with carrying that information, and ultimately delivering it. Though she is often used as a tool by others in Morbus Gravis I, the prison break in Morbus Gravis II is one of the rare situations where Druuna not only fights back, but make the active choice to use her power.

Unlike the Gnome’s first appearance, the book’s quick transition from downbeat horror to the clueless quips of Druuna’s companion are a welcome morale boost.

While Schastar deceived Druuna, it was not in an attempt to use her for his selfish pleasure or personal gain. Rather, he passed his assignment on to Druuna after he could no longer complete it himself. Lewis on the other hand deceives Druuna for wholly selfish reasons. He gives her visions of comfort and pleasure, but only insofar as he can take pleasure as well. Furthermore, tasking Druuna with finding Delta does nothing but put her in further danger, and all for Lewis’ goal of self-annihilation (along with the rest of the ship’s population by default).

Druuna’s evolution is especially curious when compared with a confession Serpieri made in Druuna X:

When I conceived Druuna, she was very different from the woman we know today. I had, in fact, wanted to draw a very short erotic story in a highly caricatured style, about a voluptuous, curvaceous woman. That’s all. I was at the beach at Ostie, in Italy, one day when it was completely destroyed. As I watched, a naked woman splashed out of the waves. Her body glistened with golden droplets that sparkled under the sun… The woman I had been looking for, for so long, was there before me, in all her naked splendor… At that precise moment in time, I had no idea I would create an almost unending saga from that one vision.

Serpieri 1993

What could have been a one-off series of comedic cartoons instead transformed into a multi-volume horror epic. Druuna it seems was not simply born of muses of lust alone. Druuna, and that woman on the beach, seemingly stirred a throng of questions, fears, and inspirations in Serpieri.

The beginning of Morbus Gravis II takes on a new meaning in this light. How much of his personality he put into Lewis is debatable – especially considering he literally brings himself into the story as a character in the next volume – but in retelling the story of his muse one can only assume part of Serpieri’s searching for Druuna is mirrored by Lewis’.

Later, in Druuna X, Serpieri extrapolated on these fears, rooting his inspiration in the conservative sexual attitudes of the 1980s.

Quite recently, a journalist asked me if the evil I refer to throughout my work was in fact a metaphor for AIDs. This could be true, since this is a problem that has been weighing on my mind. Attitudes towards AIDS have changed since 1983, although I realize that anything to do with sexual pleasure is still being condemned. For some, it has become synonymous with the illness. “If you are ill, that’s ‘cause you were evil. You were evil ‘cause you had sex. So, you have to be punished.” I am in absolute horror of this kind of thinking. Being quite traumatized by this horrible illness, I wanted to describe it. Today, people are trying to understand the victims, and accept them for who they are. At the beginning of the ‘80’s, AIDS was considered to be the ultimate horror. Victims were isolated from and abandoned by everyone. “You have sinned, you have made love, you must be a homosexual, a junkie. So, you have to be put into a ghetto… and you must die.” That’s the attitude I wanted to show.

Serpieri 1993
When Snake begins to mutate from the plague, Sarge and Monk make chase after him. Druuna scoffs, wondering how they could be so eager to kill a man who was their friend moments earlier.

Conclusion

The Morbus Gravis story ends with Druuna exiting stage (or rather, page) right, a free woman. The Gnome, against his better judgment (whatever that looks like), opts to tag along, intrigued by Druuna’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of adventure. The City safe(ish) for now, Druuna sets out in search of her love, Schastar.

If Druuna had a tagline…

The series would shift lanes slightly in the coming volumes, with Druuna reintroduced as a force of nature among a new cast of characters. She would eventually return as the protagonist, but the character and circumstances established in Morbus Gravis I and II are, in spite of being wholly enjoyable as self-contained stories, just the setup for Serpieri’s broader universe. The themes of life in its biological, ethereal, and temporal forms drive the story onward. Serpieri’s artistic style too moves to these new planes, which we will explore in volume 2 of the saga, Creature and Carnivora.

References

Serpieri, Paolo Eleuteri. 1993. Druuna X. New York: Diva Graphix.

Serpieri, Paolo Eleuteri. 1993. Morbus Gravis 2. New York: Heavy Metal.

Serpieri, Paolo Eleuteri. 1995. Serpieri Sketchbook. New York: Heavy Metal.

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