Sunday, February 15, 2015

Snowpiercer: The Escape

I have read lots of high concept science fiction, but this book might be the most high concept of all. It is set in a dystopian future where nuclear war has destroyed almost all life on Earth and plunged the entire planet into an Ice Age. The entirety of humanity remaining is relegated to the Snowpiercer, which is a miracle of engineering, a train in perpetual motion. Class differences here are stark, with the destitute "tail rats" in the rear cars and the wealthy and powerful in the more elegant cars up front.
The plot follows a man called Proloff who comes from the back of the train. His encounters with guards leave him imprisoned in quarantine, but he escapes with a well-to-do woman who is fighting for better working conditions for the poor. They have a brief liaison, although their relationship afterward is pretty utilitarian and not very romantic at all. The mismatched couple are determined to get to the front of the train, and together they discover many secrets and hypocrisies. They may also be tools in a larger plot to radically change life on the train. I do not want to spoil much but I should say that this is not a happy story, and it does not have a happy ending.
This work was originally published in 1982 in France as Le Transperceneige, and it won the inaugural Angoulême International Comics Festival Religious Award in 1985. It was written by Jacques Lob, a prolific comics creator whose best known work is probably the superhero parody Superdupont. It was drawn by Jean-Marc Rochette, who later went on to create two sequels to this book, an assortment of humorous works, and a number of paintings. His style is sturdy, and where I think he excels is in his clear depictions of action and expression, which you can clearly see with the page below, presented without any words:
This edition of the book accompanies a recent movie adaptation featuring an all star cast that includes Chris Evans,Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, and Ed Harris. I enjoyed the movie pretty well, but I have to say that it mostly uses the central conceit of this book and does not faithfully follow its plot. Personally, both are enjoyable enough, and there are novel portions of the movie I really liked (such as its schoolroom scene), but I prefer the ending of the graphic novel, bleak as it is.

Reviews I have read about this re-issue have been mostly positive. Rebecca Pahle wrote that this book presented an "engrossing, rich world I want to know more about." Bill Sherman praised the book and remarked that it was "dark and more than a little despairing." Rob Brisken called it a "marvelous entry into the genre, and one of Europe's finest comics works." In a more tempered review, Tom Spurgeon wrote, "While I imagine the reviews for the re-release will be mostly positive, the book had a hard time holding my attention."

This edition of Snowpiercer was published by Titan Comics. As you may see in the preview images, there are profanity, adult themes, some nudity, and violence throughout the book, so it is suggested for readers mature enough to handle those things.

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