Snowpiercer Volume 1: The Escape
by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
“Across the white immensity of an eternal winter, from one end of the frozen planet to the other, there travels a train that never stops.”
It’s a little alarming when something written decades ago that captured a certain zeitgeist still maintains a very real resemblance to modern times. Le Transperceneige was a trilogy of French comics that may not receive as much attention as Watchmen, but it’s message is equally as galling. Now, that work has been adapted into a feature film that’s directed by Bong Joon-ho and is being released with an English translation by Titan Comics. The updated work is called Snowpiercer Volume 1: The Escape, written by Jacques Lob, illustrated by Jean-Marc Rochette, lettered by Gabriela Houston and lettered by Virginie Selavy.
The world has become a barren, winter wasteland, devoid of any human life, save for what’s on an endlessly traveling locomotive named Snowpiercer. The train features the more elite (1%) in the front cars and everyone else in the cars in the back. The further back in the train, the lower you are on the social ladder. It’s enough of a disparity to prompt Proloff to make his way from the back to the front, being joined by an idealistic young class warrior in Adeline Belleau. The two of them become linked in ways more than either of them original imagined and embark on a devastating journey the length of the train in an effort to change what is stubbornly resistant to change.
To delve into the intricacies of Snowpiercer Volume 1: The Escape would take a lot more than a simple review. Lob’s work is—at its heart—a treatise on the existence of classes and their disdain for one another. The elite turn their noses up at the poor, as they fear their lack of attention to personal care will ruin their dinner. The poor are angry with the rich, mainly because they take for granted the bare necessities of life. The social dichotomy is revealed in a very elegant way, as the reader is introduced to the class systems of the train as they follow along Proloff’s journey towards the front of the train. Lob doesn’t just offer a cheap introduction to the situation at hand.
He demands that the reader pay attention and invest him or herself in the book to fully appreciate the beauty of the class warfare. Not much time is spent on actually looking at how the other half lives; rather, the story unfolds at a methodical pace through looking at the interactions between the rich and poor. Both have very real fears about the other and many of those fears come to fruition through the anarchy wreaked by Proloff’s appearance before the President. And the President himself adds a very interesting wrinkle to the entire saga as well. Why the President is, in fact, the president is something that Lob doesn’t explain, but there really isn’t a need to either.
There are very open-ended questions about the story itself, primarily surrounding the status of the planet, why those on the train are the last and how it was decided the train would be set up the way it is. The thing is, explaining those things would probably hurt the story more than help it. Lob relies on the reader drawing on their own experiences to surmise as to why the back of the car is poor or why the front cars eat real meat (as opposed to artificial meat). What’s more is that there is clearly an established government for the train, yet even that always seems to be superseded by the military presence, supposedly preserving order.
Rochette’s illustrations are just as haunting as the tale itself. The book thrives on the gloomy shades of gray that pollute the book, much in the way that the newly formed society pollutes the minds of all its inhabitants. The color palette offers a book that speaks to a different time and is still vividly effective at conveying the destitute situation that many in the train endure on a daily basis. Facial expressions do a powerful job of conveying the significance of a conversation and prompt the reader to investigate their own failings as a member of society as well. There’s an abundance panel layouts that ebb and flow with the mood of the story at that time as well, keeping things fresh.
Over the course of Snowpiercer Volume 1: The Escape, an entire civilization’s rise and fall is on display, presented in rather inglorious fashion and as a commentary on society’s shortcomings when it comes to social goodwill. Lob’s tale is both frightening and very real, depicting a world that will always be present despite the time or place. He offers a very sobering inquiry into the collective human psyche when it comes to lending a helping hand and even goes so far as presenting a scenario where—even faced with a rapidly dwindling situation for the human race—people still can’t seem to help one another out. Rochette’s illustrations are equally as enthralling and superbly capture the essence of the script itself. While the book predominantly paints a dark picture, it does offer rare moments that masterfully encapsulate emotions such as joy, pain and anger, something that speaks volumes to the work’s ability to captivate.
The graphic novel is available in stores January 18 and is currently up for preorder.