The Snowpiercer trilogy is an example of the whole being less than the sum of its parts. I was on board after the first volume. It hinted at some very interesting history for its main character Proloff, as well as complex, sinister military and political machinations that precipitated the endless, deadly winter that has engulfed the world and forced survivors onto the Snowpiercer, a perpetually moving train. The reader was left with a number of cliffhangers at the end of that volume. And then we get to volume two. The fact that it was written some 15 years after the first volume and has a different author should have been the tipoff that we were in for some trouble. Volume three has a different writer again, and it feels like each writer took the bare bones of the Snowpiercer story and grafted their own stories onto it, regardless of previous narratives. So many questions are raised without being answered! The overall message is muddled as a result.
When volume two opens, the events of volume one are 15 years in the past (as in real life, so in the story). The protagonist in The Explorers is a man named Puig, a second class passenger who was orphaned in childhood during the first “braking.” This event was the first time the brakes were applied on the perpetually moving train. While the authorities had warned passengers a braking would occur, it induces panic in some. When the train stops, young Puig sees a group of Explorers go outside. Clearly Explorers are very brave and important people, as stepping outside would mean immediate death for anyone else. Puig does become an Explorer and learns exactly what they do outside, and he’s not happy about it. After ticking off his superiors one too many times, Puig finds himself disciplined with “community service,” a euphemism for a suicide mission. He is forced to fly an airplane (yes! Snowpiercer had a small fleet of airplanes used for these missions! Who knew?!) ahead to do recon for the train and report back. He is one of the few to survive a mission like this and he becomes a celebrity. The powers that be, to keep him in check, invite him to join them on their council, but Puig refuses to be co-opted. Rebellion is in the air, as is panic among some due to the frequent “braking” exercises that have been happening. Puig learns that most of the explanations that political, military and religious authorities provide to the masses are lies meant to keep people too scared to question their authority. But there is division in the ranks and rebellion in the air.
My problems with this volume are numerous. First of all, Proloff and his story are just dumped by the wayside. He is mentioned in passing, but his fate is bizarre and the explanation for it is unsatisfactory. Secondly, volume two introduces some inexplicable plot twists. Turns out, the folks in volume two aren’t riding around in Snowpiercer, they’re on Snowpiercer 2! Yeah, somehow they got a replacement train. How this happened is an unexplained mystery, since even momentary exposure to the elements is deadly. And as if that weren’t outlandish enough, the original Snowpiercer engine car, with Proloff’s mummified remains, are inside the engine compartment of this new train. Volume two makes no attempt to explain the reasons for the climate disaster that has led to permanent winter or the manner in which the “haves” manipulated the situation to gain so much power. This was at the heart of volume one but is ignored here.
Terminus (volume three), although written by someone else, does attempt to pick up where volume two left off. The Snowpiercer, now under the authority of Puig and councilors who opposed the religious/military alliance, has lost a number of carriages and their inhabitants. The radar operator has been able to pick up transmissions of music playing. Based on this, the decision is made to go off the rails, somehow putting chains on the wheels (!), in order to cross the frozen ocean toward the music since it must be an indicator of life. Meanwhile, there is a rebellion brewing among some passengers who have elected their own president and want to take over the train.
When Snowpiercer reaches the source of the music, they find an abandoned base. There is no evidence of life, but since the music must be powered by some energy source, Puig and a few others go exploring and eventually discover what appears to be an abandoned underground station. The Snowpiercer enters the station and is met by some oddballs wearing mouse masks. Turns out, they’ve found an amusement park underneath a leaking nuclear reactor. The story get super weird here. Some folks love this new place because there’s lots of food and fun to be had. But there’s also the obligatory weird scientific experiments going on.
The ending to this mash-up trilogy is … hopeful? I guess? I’m not really clear what the overall point of the stories is other than our class structure is unjust and nuclear winter is something to worry about. When I purchased the set, the guy at the comic book store told me that there is a fourth volume, but it’s a prequel. I suspect it’s someone’s attempt to answer the questions I had about how this frozen hellscape was created but I just can’t bring myself to look into it. I also took a glance at the IMDb page for the movie Snowpiercer and I wonder what the hell happened, because the cast of characters is a bunch of names that don’t appear in ANY of the volumes! And none of the main characters from the books are listed in the film. Looks like writer/director Joon-ho Bong might have succumbed to the desire to just write his own damn story set on a train during the new ice age and call it Snowpiercer.
Re: art — all three volumes were drawn by Jean-Marc Rochette. It’s the one consistency you’ll find. I thought it was a nice touch that in volume three, some color is added to the palette as the world changes. I found it interesting that in the afterward to volume three, writer Olivier Bocquet discusses working with Rochette. One of Rochette’s apparently incisive insights was that the book “needs sex.” Every volume features plenty of naked ladies, usually cavorting with the men in power, and volume three has some kind of sex club act, wherein everyone ends of covered in pollen and having an orgy. There are only a handful of women characters in the series — not very well developed, in my opinion. They’re either earnest second bananas to a man, or they’re crazies who need to be put down.
Here’s my recommendation: read Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts. It’s not a graphic novel, but it is set in the future on a spaceship that carries the remnants of humanity after some ecological disaster makes Earth uninhabitable. It deals brilliantly with class and race issues (features slavery and plantations) as well as matters of sexuality and gender. Characters are well developed and there is a coherent and compelling plot. It makes sense, unlike this messy trilogy.