Snowpiercer is a post-apocalyptic dystopian French language sci-fi graphic novel originally created by Jacques Lob. The first volume ‘The Escape’ was released in 1982. In 1999, nine years after Lob’s death Benjamin Legrand continued the story with ‘The Explorers’ and in 2000 with ‘The Crossing’. Two English translations have recently been published following the release of the ‘Snowpiercer’ film. The first book gives us Lob’s original story and the second combines Legrand’s ‘The Explorers’ and ‘The Crossing’.
In the stories a mysterious ‘catastrophe’ has transformed planet Earth into an unliveable frozen wasteland. Snowpiercer is a perhaps nuclear powered train which is in perpetual motion and has an unspecified destination. It carries in its 1001 carriages the last of humanity.
In the first book the main character Proloff escapes from the rear carriages where the lower classes struggle to survive and is taken into custody when he breaks into the middle of the train. The ‘love interest’ Adeline is a member of a group who want to see the reintegration of the rear carriages back into society. The bad guy is Colonel Krimson who wants to disconnect the rear carriages of the train to stop it slowing down. Before he does he wants to coax Adeline and her do-gooder buddies into the rear carriages. Instead she moves forward through carriages with Proloff and the story unfolds. To say any more would be to give spoilers and as usual I don’t want to do that.
The first volume is rather disappointing. It is fragmented in its storytelling, scenes jump unexpectedly and incoherently in time, and there is little explanation as to why the relationship blossoms between the main character Proloff and Adeline, what the ‘catastrophe’ involved, who laid all the tracks, and why Proloff does some of the things he does. The central idea of the train alone does not make a good enough story without a well-developed plot and unfortunately there isn’t one. The culmination of the story has some obvious similarities to the Matrix trilogy but predates those films, however none of the plotting is strong enough to be anywhere near comparable.
The second book (second and third volumes) contains the story of the inhabitants of a second train. The general inhabitants fear a collision with original Snowpiercer which they lost touch with some years previously. The inhabitants of the original train are all assumed to be dead. However we find that there has been a cover-up over what exactly happened to the original train.
Explorers are sent out when the train has ‘braking exercises’ and they return with mementoes from the frozen world. Vallès is one such explorer and finds himself being plotted against but emerges as a hero. The secret of the original Snowpiercer is ultimately revealed. This book is more satisfying than the first and for me had a more interesting and artistic drawing style.
In much the same way as Battlestar Galactica did the three volumes put the class system and the savagery of the military, politicians, religious leaders and common man in the face of possible annihilation under the sci-fi spotlight. I was reminded a lot of Planet of the apes and have a feeling that the final pages of the book have been done somewhere else before.
So in summary the graphic novels are interesting, contain a few original ideas but ultimately don’t build enough good story on these foundations and the reader is left feeling a little confused and short changed. That said there is certainly a good amount of subject matter for a film. When I get to see it I’ll let you know what I think.