A neverending winter has covered the world in a blanket of ice with one train, 1,001 cars long, carrying the last vestiges of human life.
The Snowpiercer’s long and continuous voyage on its perpetual track is the setting for one man’s journey from the end of the train to its engine. Proloff, a member of the tail-section of the train, dares to escape by breaking into one of the forward cars.
After his capture, interrogation, and quarantine, the order is sent to bring him to the front of the car for more questioning by the train’s head honchos. Adeline Belleau, a tail-section sympathizer, tricks her way into the quarantine to help Proloff and ends up becoming a part of the military cortege to bring Proloff safely towards the front of the train.
Proloff, Adeline, and their armed escorts go from car to car, seeing the growing differences between the social classes which is displayed by what’s being grown for food, how much protection is available, and what’s for leisure. The closer they get to the engine, the better the living conditions, though that doesn’t mean life for those at the front is just as good.
It’s easy to see that Snowpiercer’s story is about more than a walk through a long train. Its perspective comes from its two main characters — Proloff, the man of poverty, and Adeline, the Samaritan — who each have very different goals and viewpoints.
Proloff would love nothing more than to leave his old life behind and begin new memories. His escape from the back of the train happens after a massacre forces the authorities to bar the people from the tail section from ever moving forward — translate that figuratively as well as literally.
Adeline’s character adds extra layers to the story because she works her agenda of opening up the rear section to integrate the poverty-stricken with the rest of the train. Fear of disease and loss of comfort are some of the arguments against Adeline’s ideas, and when people begin to drop dead after being sick, the blame is quickly placed on Proloff.
Snowpiercer is very much science-fiction in that it presents its vision of humanity through a select lens that takes a concept and presents it to the reader. What that lens reveals depends on a reader’s interpretation of the material. Whether one sees the tale as a story about the 99% or a groundswell view of capitalism, Snowpiercer doesn’t come across as preachy because there’s a lack of forceful condescension. Readers will take what they will because there’s more to the story than a black and white visual rendering of affairs — there’s a lot of grey and pendulum swinging.
And to that effect — the story has heavy traction because of its complex ironies. Within Snowpiercer’s starving tail section, people would love to spend some time alone away from the sick and dirty masses. At the front of the train where the upper class is filled with food, its citizens struggle for self-satisfaction with sex and drugs. The ruling class with its military edge maintains control, fearing the power of ideological groups, and the train itself has a basic need that readers can relate to.
Jacques Lob’s scripts translated by Virginie Selavy read like conversation, and the plotting — while jarring in some parts due to quick jumps — feels like a trip through train cars with changing sceneries and locales. The strength of the story is that Lob doesn’t give away too much too fast. Throughout this first arc, Proloff opens up bit by bit about his life in the tail, and each new detail paints a clearer and more horrific picture of it.
The art by Jean-Marc Rochette doesn’t lack in detail, and the black and white panels don’t need color. The tone and visual tension complements the writing, and while it might be hard to tell some of the guards apart, the character design for Proloff whose appearance changes throughout the story gives the book a sense of timing and progression.
Snowpiercer 1: The Escape can be read in one sitting, though its impression will be felt much longer. Like the living meat that feeds the train’s middle class, a chunk of pages here and a chunk of pages there will provide enough fuel for thought. Readers looking for an Animal Farm type story heavy on political and social themes will enjoy Snowpiercer as a discussion starter or something that will attract non-readers to a reading group.
A movie based on the graphic novel has already been released in South Korea to great fanfare. The director, Jong Boon-ho, supposedly pushed the movie into production after finding the graphic novel in a shop and reading the entirety of it standing up in front of the shelf. It’s easy to lose yourself in Snowpiercer because the world feels real. The inhabitants of the train are living characters in a story filled with bitter moments. It resembles life with its swarm of people who act, react, and then deal with the consequences of their decisions.