In 2014, there are only two volumes being released, but they tell the entire story. The Surveyor and The Crossing, which were part of the same story (one taking place long after The Escape), have been combined, making each of Titan's volumes functionally complete. It also means that The Explorers is a bit longer, and as such it carries a $5 premium over The Escape.
Snowpiercer Vol 2: The Explorers
By: Benjamin Legrand (Writer) and Jean-Mark Rochette (Artist)
Release Date: February 25, 2014 (Titan Comics)
At the end of my review of The Escape, I noted that it was a complete narrative, and it didn't make sense that the next story would follow the same characters. Without any knowledge of the actual setting, I simply assumed it would delve into other events on the Snowpiercer train. It's a massive thing, and the glimpses at its interior events were tantalizing, with much clearly glossed over. It was a train 1001 cars long, and the entire book probably didn't even have that many panels.
For better or worse, I was wrong. Set some unspecified number of years after The Escape, The Explorers detail the events of another train. The Icebreaker (aka Snowpiercer 2, they're used interchangeably, which is odd) runs along the same track as the original train, and the people on board live in fear of a collision that their leaders tell them is always a possibility. Unlike the Snowpiercer, which ran and ran and ran, the Icebreaker stops every so often and lets out Explorers to survey the landscape. One particular Explorer, Puig, serves as this story's protagonist.
Although Icebreaker is actually quite different from Snowpiercer, it was a smart decision to give a little bit of the outside world. At a few key moments, Puig (and others) leave the train and go out into the wilderness. There they find artifacts or see things from a world that has long since been destroyed. More could have been done with that, but it's nonetheless an interesting touch. In fact, my only real complaint about these segments is the fact that the Explorer suits make the characters look like Lego men, and it's really hard to take Lego men seriously. And that's actual an issue with some of the art in general. It seems more childish than it did before, with the gunshots especially creating a bizarre explosive ball around their targets rather than doing any overt damage. It seems that Jean-Mark Rochette changed his style in the intervening years, and it hinders the darker material that he's working with now.
But it works during the VR experiences, which were another clever addition to this dystopian future. These VR trips are raffled off to denizens of the Icebreaker, allowing them to have a vacation in any place the creators allow them to. This makes sense for a lot of reasons, both as a way to satiate the masses (who would obviously be unhappy about being in the exact same location for eternity) and also as a form of control, since revolts could potentially remove the one bit of joy a lot of these people get. Genius, right? The Snowpiercer didn't have anything like that. But it was also a much less cohesive world than the Icebreaker.
While classist undertones play a part in The Explorers, it's less overt than in its predecessor. There is no real poor class as there was before (although there's a religious extremist group that fills the void a bit), but there's not a massive rift between classes leading to obnoxious phrases like the over-used "Tail-fucker-lover" that bothered me so much in The Escape. Perhaps that's a function of the change in writers. But unfortunately, little has changed with regards to the story's treatment of women.
Like its predecessor, The Explorers has only one main female character (Val), and she has an interesting job (she designs the aforementioned VR experiences). This has the potential for some sort of interesting character arc, but it goes nowhere. Unfortunately, she is also the daughter of one of the train's leaders, and her power over anything begins and ends with the fact that she's Daddy's Girl. But even that could have been interesting, if she used her status to do something other than have total immunity. But when Puig comes into the picture, she is completely sidelined as a character. She becomes His Girl, and the two of them just go at it, and even the one thing she does do for him (which is admittedly important) happens and then is barely acknowledged (because, again, Daddy's Girl). It's a waste of a potentially interesting character, just as The Escape wasted Adeline. Most other females, as before, play the role of prostitutes or generally unhappy passengers.
And why? Maybe it was more sensical in the 80s (maybe), but in 1999? Come on, guys. American comics aren't known for their brilliant treatment of female characters either, but why do both of the characters follow basically the same sort of path? That's not interesting. And it takes away from the rest of the narrative, which is a shame, because despite its mistreatment of females, The Explorers is fascinating. The world it creates is really worth experiencing, and while I expect Bong Joon-Ho's film focuses on The Escape, I would love to see him tackle this.
If you liked The Escape, you should definitely pick this story up, and if you held off on the last one, this is definitely the better story of the two.
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