When Titan Publishing launched its Titan Comics division in July of 2013 part of their new initiative was to reprint classic stories and bring deserving titles fresh recognition. They couldn’t have chosen a better book than Snowpiercer to fulfill those goals. Originally published in 1984 as Le Transperceniege, and source material for the 2013 film by Bong Joon-ho, this new edition gives a story of class division a timely reboot, and the addition of the English translation expands the possible reader base by roughly a billion people.
Authored by Jacques Lob with artwork by Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer is nihilistic and dismal in a way the French seem to have mastered like no one else. The story is an apocalyptic tale of a massively long train that plows its way through an endless frozen wasteland, carrying the last humans alive on the planet. Divided along its 1000 car length like a luxury cruise liner, those wealthy or lucky enough to live up front indulge in a lifestyle of bacchanal pleasure and comfort, while the “tail-rats” in the rear of the train have been sealed off and left to suffer, starve and freeze in abject misery.
The anti-heroic protagonist of the story is a man named Porloff who has managed to escape the rear compartments by crawling along the outside of the train, and breaking into a bathroom window in second class. Porloff’s story is almost immediately intertwined with that of Adeline Belleau, a young second class woman who is an activist for the rights of those abandoned in the boxcars of the tail. Porloff and Belleau are mysteriously summoned to the front of the train by the power brokers in first-class and so a second, smaller journey begins inside the larger voyage that they take within the Snowpiercer.
As more history is revealed, we learn that this terrible journey may have already lasted some 20 years, with no apparent end in sight. Time before the machine seems to be forgotten and the train itself has become a godlike figure for all that it provides. A machine whose movement is the source of everything left in the world for this vestige of the human race. A machine that is slowing down. And Porloff, it seems, couldn’t care less.
Lob’s world is an unflinchingly dark one, a dystopian and claustrophobic space, crammed with humanity attempting to huddle around the last communal fire. The physical idea of a train could not be more appropriate for the themes of division by class in society, a world of compartments within cars within sections within classes, and always doors in front of you, locked and heavily guarded.
Rochette’s stark black-and-white imagery and use of medium close-up and close-up angles in his panels accent the tiny cramped spaces and tight corridors of the train, and the occasional half page panels of the train cutting its way through the ice-covered world remind the reader of the stakes at play. No matter where the train is, the landscape is barren, dead, and frozen. Even on board the train characters are constantly bundled against the cold, the bleakness of Rochette and Lob’s landscape offers nothing in the way of mercy.
Titan’s publication is a timely voice in an age of Occupy and 99%-ers, and Snowpiercer is a well-timed re-release of a tightly presented, compelling story that considers the plight of one man caught inside a class struggle that has implications for the very survival of the human race. And don’t get me wrong, it may be a dark tale, but it is a well-crafted and exciting one. I’ll be the first one to buy a boarding pass when they release Snowpiercer Volume 2: Explorers.