Book Review: Snowpiercer Vol. 1 & 2 by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette

This French comic is currently receiving renewed international attention thanks to its use as the source material for a new movie of the same name. The film features an intriguing international cast and crew headlined by Chris Evans (Captain America) and directed by Joon-ho Bong (The Host), and while it has already been released in much of the world to positive reviews it’s still stuck in Weinstein limbo in the U.S. As a result, these handsome new hardcover graphic novels from Titan Comics are currently our only legal way to get in on the action.

The Snowpiercer is a train in perpetual motion which serves as the home for the remnants of human civilization. Earth has entered permanent deep freeze, leaving the 1001 cars of the train as the last habitable place. With no destination, but also no way to stop without freezing, the train continues on its endless journey around the planet as its inhabitants come to grips with their new reality. There’s a distinct class system in place, with the lowest of the low in the rear carriages and the elite in the front, with resources distributed unevenly to match. While the logic and science of the story may be stretched woefully thin, it’s a fascinating post-apocalyptic setup that is ultimately only derailed by its lack of meaningful characters.

In Volume 1, we meet a lowlife from the rear who manages to make his way to the more elite cabins before being detained by officials. There he meets a beautiful young woman intent on campaigning for the rights of the lower class, and soon teams up with her as they escape his captors and attempt to help the poor overthrow the rich. Along the way, we learn that resources are so depleted that the government plans to cut loose the rear cabins, neatly disposing of the lower class while hoarding the remaining bounty for the upper crust. With nowhere for our heroes to go but forward, we follow along as they make it all the way to the engine before discovering its secret. The theme of the poor rising up to overthrow the wealthy is well-worn, but the futuristic sci-fi approach gives it something of an Elysium-on-wheels feel.

In Volume 2, which was originally released as two separate books, there’s another Snowpiercer that is also circling the globe. Snowpiercer 2 is aware of the original Snowpiercer but believes it to be out of commission, until a faint radio signal is discovered that brings hope they are not alone in the world. Here’s where the book’s logic starts getting really fuzzy, and it’s best not to think too hard about how a second train was populated and put in motion if all humanity was supposedly wiped out. Regardless of their origin, some of the people on board Snowpiercer 2 have been cooped up so long they’re convinced that they’re not even on a train but are instead in a spaceship circling in orbit. Elsewhere, the chief is determined to find the source of the radio signal, going so far as to outfit the train with wheels so they can go off the tracks in pursuit of the signal. There aren’t any standout characters or plotlines in this book, making the first book far superior in comparison.

In an odd occurrence for a comic book, both books were drawn by the same artist (Rochette), but were written by two different authors. The reason for this is that original writer Jacques Lob died before production began on the sequel. It seems as if Rochette wasn’t as invested in the sequel as a result, because his artwork is much better in the first. Where Vol. 1 has clear, crisp lines, Vol. 2 is drafted in a sloppy wide brushstroke method that looks like an entirely different artist. Since Vol. 2 follows a different cast and adds little to the mythology, it’s best to stick to Vol. 1 for the superior writing and art.

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Steve Geise

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