Graphic Novel Review: Snowpiercer Vol 1: The Escape


When Bong Joon-Ho announced that he was making Snowpiercer as his English-language debut, Americans let out a collective, “Hmm?” Nobody had any idea what Snowpiercer was, because it had never been released in English. But thanks to the good people at Titan Comics, those of us waiting for Harvey Weinstein to stop destroying what will undoubtedly be the greatest film ever created have the chance to see what inspired the project in the first place. 

So this is only film related in the vaguest sense, but the new cover does have the word “film” on it. So you know what? 

Snowpiercer, guys. I’m so freaking excited.

Snowpiercer Vol 1: The Escape
By: Jacques Lob (Writer) and Jean-Mark Rochette (Artist)
Release Date: January 28, 2014 (Titan Comics) 
MSRP: $19.99 

If someone told me that Snowpiercer had been written in 2013, I would have believed them. It’s fascinating just how relevant Snowpiercer is to modern day America. The original graphic novel was produced back in 1984 in France, but its themes fit well into the current political narrative about the “have”s and the “have not”s. 

The Snowpiercer is a train, 1001 cars long (as the story reminds us at least half a dozen times). On it is the entirety of the surviving human race. Outside the train is winter (likely though not explicitly nuclear, definitely a product of its time) It’s made up of three sections: each of which represents to a different class. The first class at the head of the train is filled with rich men and women enjoying lives of liesure and debauchery on a never-ending vacation. The middle class is less posh, but it’s a reasonable existence, all things considered. Then there’s the lower class, which has actually been sectioned off entirely from the rest. The final cars have no insulation, no food, no support from the upper classes. Years ago, there was a bloody uprising by the lower class attempting to reintegrate with the rest, but it was crushed, and ever since the conditions in the tail had been nothing more than myth. Everyone knew they were there, but no one knew anything else about it. Some would try to make it into the second class cars by braving the outside cold, but all would be killed upon re-entry into the train.

Until our protagonist enters the picture, anyhow. Proloff makes it in, and is not killed on site. Instead, he is brought to the train’s president for political purposes. Accompanying him are some armed guards (very unhappy about their work) and one Adeline Belleau, a woman who is part of an aid group for the lower class. The existence of such a group is fascinating because as far as I can tell, no one has seen a living member of the tail in some time, so everything they do is entirely theoretical. In fact, it’s not even entirely clear how they’ve blocked off the final cars (which were hitched to the better sections at the last minute) or how they would go about unblocking it and doing the integration.

But I digress.

Proloff is from the very end of the train, the final car in the tail. He braved his way there, and by the end of the story he will have braved his way to the front. And on the way, readers get to see what the world has become, but with an important exception: there’s almost nothing from the tail. Like a man who’s been through war, he doesn’t talk about his experiences. He left for a reason and has little interest in dredging up the past. For the most part, the horrid conditions of the starved, unwashed masses are left up to the imagination, with just a few little tidbits there to stoke the fires. Instead of the way it’s broken down, Snowpiercer is interested in how it’s built up, how an entire race can survive in only 1001 train cars.

Snowpiercer is short, only 110 pages, so no particularly large amount of time is spent at any one location. For a few pages, we see the car where all of the train’s meat comes from; a few more feature its plants. They are rapidly shuttled through all of these places, and seeing what sorts of people live amongst all the squalor.

And those people don’t particularly like the people in the tail. In fact, they’ve got a word for them, and it’s probably my least favorite thing about the book: “tail-fucker.” You’ll read that one a lot. The problem isn’t that the language is offensive so much as it’s excessive. I can’t speak to the French equivalent of “tail-fucker,” but my hope is that it just has fewer… syllables. “Tail-rat,” the more socially acceptable turn of phrase, just sounds better. The extra syllable from the “er” completely throws off the rhythm of the dialogue as it’s being read. This is exacerbated by the existence of “tail-fucker-lover”s like Adeline Belleau. Seriously. Nobody would take the time to call somebody a “tail-fucker-lover.” It’s just silly.

Although, it’s hard to argue with that latter one, since Belleau almost immediate jumps on Proloff for no reason whatsoever. In his case, I guess there could be something about animal-ish instincts taking over at the sight of a woman or something, but what she’s getting out of the deal I have no idea. It seems like it’s there just because someone thought there needed to be a romance. There’s no chemistry between the two. It’s just unexplained lust. Lust isn’t interesting, and it has no place in this story (at least, not in the way it’s presented here).

But even though its flaws are undeniable, there is a lot to like in Snowpiercer. It may be heavy-handed, but the fascinating premise gives it a lot of milage. Is it worth your $20, though? That’s hard to say. There’s a second volume coming, titled The Journey, and we’ll have a review of that closer to release (I haven’t read it yet), but The Escape is a complete narrative in itself, even if it ends a bit abruptly. I’m excited to see what else there is, though. The train is 1001 cars long; there are a whole lot of stories left to tell.