SNOWPIERCER VOL 1. THE ESCAPE (OGN) (January 2014)
Writer: Jacques Lob
Artist: Jean-Marc Rochette
Publisher: Titan Comics
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t it Cool news)
Imagine if you will a train. Not a super train, that shit is soooooo 1970s. I’m talking about a train that embodies all of society, each car a sub-facet of our own culture carrying the virtues of and vices of humanity through a frozen wasteland, a train that is in a desperate search for salvation that could be nothing more than a fairytale. Sound familiar? Good, that means you are a fully actualized human being who will understand the allegory for the current and future state of mankind that SNOWPIERCER draws through this haunting mirror of a comic.
When I first saw the movie trailer for SNOWPIERCER before it was released in South Korea this past summer, I didn’t get it. That’s Hollywood for you though, taking everything meaningful from the original work so it ends up just being about a big fucking train plowing through snow. I also didn’t quite understand why humanity would rush for a train in the face of imminent doom and destruction and won’t the rails end pretty quickly? Then I remembered I’m an American and there’s other continents like Europe where this book was written, and Asia where the book takes place, and train travel is still quite popular in . I’m used to riding NJ Transit and SEPTA, with train cars barely fit for short durations much less long term living. Apparently though, there are trains that take luxury into account at every turn. Given this cultural education, I found the hyperbolic stretch about a train 1001 cars long complete with ghettos, aristocrats, synthetic meat vats and a religion that deifies the sacred life baring engine, much more palatable.
Our story starts with Proloff, a man condemned to the rear cars of the Snowpiercer. This area is starkly reminiscent of the trains that shuttled Jews to the concentration camps during WWII. Living conditions are deplorable, people sustain themselves on rat meat and little else. Proloff is able to escape this area, and we’ll learn at the end how and why, but for now he escapes and begins a long journey towards salvation at the front.
We don’t know how long since the cataclysm that made the land uninhabitable, but it has been less than a full generation. The train’s inhabitants still remember life before the endless winter and still imbibe some of the dwindling stock of pleasures like wine, food and cinema that make life worth living. It might not sound like a Herculean task to get from one end of a train to another, even a really big train, I mean hell hobos do it all the time. Imagine a train though, where every square inch is occupied, where narrow cars become even narrower. Also add in the human propensity to protect squatter rights and you get a feel for how arduous this journey will be. If you can’t imagine this scenario, Rochette’s fine black and white pencils will gladly paint the picture for you.
Rochette also portrays quite aptly the horrors of all classes when left with no ambition to better society and merely fritter away the days engaging in our most carnal instincts to pass the time. As Proloff moves to the front, with military escort and our enginue, a lovely liberal looking to help the ghetto cars named Adeline, we see how different classes in this future and today are all disgusting simply in different ways. The ghettos kill for staples, the upper class kill brain cells and their genitals for fun.
Eventually after some diversions past the vat grown meat car called Mama and the horticulture car, Proloff and Adeline meet the first class, specifically the President. This was the only part of the book I found predictable. The train is slowing down and must lose some cars to continue its journey. Even though it’s a perpetual motion engine, inertia will win unless the load is lightened. The President assures Proloff he will move the back passengers, but I guessed pretty quickly this guy was all evil and was going to simply cast the cars off without moving their residents forward.
Like WALKING DEAD, this is apocalypse done right. It focuses on the human reaction to abandonment of societal constraints rather than the inciting event. The rest of the book is a big surprise, nothing ends well for anyone. Yet, there’s still a glimmer of…not exactly hope, but the belief that humans can overcome any adversity. Or perhaps we would rather suffer in the known rather than shuffle lose our mortal coil and roll the dice against eternal darkness. Either way, I have no doubt this team will tackle both possibilities when volume 2 is translated to English for those of us who used to fall asleep in French class.