A Franco-Belgian science-fiction comic with some very impressive line art, particularly when it comes to the fantastical alien creatures and landscapes on the planet. The plot is in part a motor for driving though the scenery, and the themes it evokes are in some respects standard SF - kicking out against authoritarian religion and politics. However, the comic isn't dystopian. What's interesting about it is that the creator is actually a middle-aged Brazillian, and a quick scan through his biography on wikipedia suggests that he has had some real-world experience of oppressive regimes. Although politics in the comic is still drawn in primary colours (as it were), it is worth considering the comic as a South American, rather than European, work. The story starts in a fishing village on a planet that has lost contact with Earth, technology reverting to 1950s level, and many of the characters dream about the steel and glass civilisation that has left them behind. And what's striking is how optimistic this vision is.

There is something else going on as well. The plot revolves around a very powerful alien sea creature that bestows eternal life on a select few 'disciples' it deems worthy of it. Such longevity is a heavy burden, but the remainder of the group remain committed to investigating and communicating with the creature. The Mantis (as they have called it) is also capable of considerable feats of destruction - you could definitely say it works in mysterious ways. While the symbiotic relationship between religious and political authority is the main evil in the book, the Mantis itself inspires a kind of religious devotion. However, the creature itself is secularised (it is suggested at the end that it might also be a inter-planetary traveller) and none of the characters refer to it as a God. Rather, they approach these miracles in a scientific spirit, reminding me of those 18th century natural philosophers that saw the study of the world as a way of understanding and interpreting its creator, except that no creator is posited here.

A note: I read this in the English translation published by Cinebook, which has modified certain panels "in order not to upset our more sensitive readers", apparently with "the author's consent". I haven't been able to find all the uncensored panels on the internet (let me know if you can) but I understand that a lot of them are related to covering up nudity. Perhaps I'm not an attentive reader, but this didn't break up the continuity while I was reading. Then again, since the story does involve people sleeping with each other, the coyness is a bit misplaced. The book is tonally a bit weird, in that in the first volume the two main characters are teenagers and sometimes it does read a bit like teen fic.* But the book also has a 15+ age-rating at the back, so it's clearly being marketed at an older readership which shouldn't be 'sensitive' to a bit of tits and shagging.

*The only slightly creepy bit is when an older boy chats up a 13-year-old girl, although she decides she isn't ready for sex and he remains a gent about it.

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