Since humans first split an atom to generate power, whether constructive of destructive, we've been trying to figure out what to do with what remains. The waste that follows the most common types of fission remains deadly to all known life for longer than we can conceive, and there's never been a method for removing its lethality in all the years we've dealt with it. It's one more trauma that we've inflicted on the world we survive on. In the 1950s, Stefan Wul posited a world in which an ambitious method of elimination backfires spectacularly over generations - a slow build of poisons that people want to ignore until it's too late - and the tremendous efforts that the human race engages in to save itself from the destruction that it wrought. Olivier Vantine has brought that novel into the here and now with this incredible graphic novelization that underpins not only the dangers that we've been handling for nearly seventy years but with echoes of the higher profile issues we deal with today. Within it, Vantine manages to capture what seems like the entirety of the human experience, wrapped up in a narrative that excites and chills in equal measure.
At the heart of this story is Dark Child, a boy with black skin who lives on the periphery of a village of white "neo-neanderthals," eking out a survival based off of the scraps of those who shun and abuse him. He endures the trials of being the "other" as well as any, and the primitive societal bounds of the tribe simplify the unique pains of this relationship quite vividly. This story is a true mix of sci-fi and fantasy, early man hacking and slashing, making way for a space-capable intrusion, where Dark Child encounters things so far above his ken that he may as well be an ant contemplating the inner workings of a star. His gradual education and growth is incredible to see and reminds me of the hugely successful evolution that takes place in Robert L. Forward's Dragon's Egg. It's a myriad of wonder watching this journey and seeing the story progress from where the reader feels pity and sadness for characters so far below them dealing with forces they can't possibly understand to feeling small and humbled when some of those characters rise so far beyond our comprehension that they dwarf the progress that we revel in. As a writing tool, it's incredible to experience that reversal firsthand, and that's what makes the book so captivating.
I love the blending of styles that creates the unique visual feel of this book. Modern influences abound but underlying everything is a subtle hearkening to the old four-color panels of the '50s and '60s, embedding the piece in both of its times. The fact that the story holds up so well after all this time isn't only the effect of the fact that we're still dealing with the same things so much later, but that also the visual markers make this high-level science fiction accessible to those who may not necessarily be able to build a warp drive in their spare time. As much as the story is fantastic, the underlying humanity is what moves us through Dark Child's journey, the empathy that is gently invited by the warm palette and intricate emotional range on the page.
I'm always one to enjoy stories from beyond my own time and culture, because there's truly a disconnect for me that amplifies the strangeness of these fictional worlds. The sensibilities are just enough removed from my own that it allows my disbelief to suspend itself quite gladly. This is an epic work in the most literal way, a story that truly takes you to every place a human being can feel, and does so with polish and style to boot. Picking this up will affect everyone differently, but there's no way you walk away from this one without finding something new in yourself.
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Creative Team: Olivier Vantine (Writer/Artist), Brandon Kander and Diana Shutz (Translators), Clem Robins (Letterer), Adapted from the novel by Stefan Wul
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
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