Welcome to the end of the world!
Snowpiercer is the comic that inspired a now-iconic piece of 2010s sci-fi and a brand spanking new Netflix prequel series about the end of the world: a global freezing event straight out of The Day After Tomorrow and what happens afterwards. Snowpiercer, a French graphic novel series, split into a trilogy of volumes and created by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette, is perhaps best known for its film adaptation, a haunting American-led sci-fi social thriller helmed by Korean phenom Bong Joon-Ho (now a household name himself after his multi-Oscar winning masterpiece Parasite swept the 2020 Academy Awards), but on the heels of its new Netflix incarnation it’s time to examine the work that started it all, beginning with Volume 1: The Escape.
The first volume shows the world several years following the cataclysmic event that froze the planet and left humanity all but wiped out – save for the globe-spanning train, the eponymous Snowpiercer, that acts as both a snapshot of post-apocalyptic society and a speeding symbol of class itself, with the upper classes enjoying luxury towards the front of the train and the lower classes pushed into the back and life-endangering squalor.
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Our pair of protagonists for this journey are Proloff, a mysterious bearded man who manages to complete a seemingly-impossible run, escaping along the side of the train from the back carriages and breaking into a middle one, and Adeline, an advocate for the lower classes, who wants integration, resources, and ultimately justice. Soon paired together, the couple find themselves on a grand journey that sees them make their way through the train to meet its commander, Colonel Krimson.
The world of Snowpiercer feels distinctly fantastical and bleak in equal measure – like a Luc Besson-directed dystopia – as our heroes try to uncover the secrets of the train, escape their captors, and bring change to an authoritative regime. Viewers of the Joon-Ho film adaptation will see a vague similarity in the structure here, as both versions of the story see their protagonists attempt to journey their way through the train, finding a spectrum of cultures and experiences surviving – and in some cases thriving – on the titular train.
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The artwork is stark and monochrome and all the more effective for it, rendering the world in brutal shadows and shocking brightness. A suicide is framed in haunting silhouette within the first dozen pages, as is Proloff’s journey in the deadly snow during his desperate suicide attempt to enter the train at a higher juncture. There’s little warmth in the volume and this is shown in the bleak, endless swathes of white that make up the world outside, although the developing relationship between Proloff and Adeline offers some respite from the characters’ overall chilliness, as well as moments of humour from a cavalcade of supporting characters.
Overall, the first part of the Snowpiercer trilogy is stark and shocking and immediately enthralling, setting out its edicts about class and society and the enduring castes that can remain, even as the world collapses down around us. The first volume’s final sequence is especially haunting, simultaneously ensuring that its images will remain after you have closed the book and that you will be eager to pick up the next instalment.
Snowpiercer #1: The Escape is out now from Titan Comics.