Comic Review – Aldebaran/Betelgeuse – A sci-fi epic

I’m a comic fan and I’m a science fiction fan. For a while I forgot that there was more to the comic world than American comics.  This is shameful considering I grew up reading 2000AD and the European comic Heavy metal.  The problem was that American comics never really had a solid science fiction offering, however, my rediscovery of European comics has filled me with delight because it seems the Europeans love their sci-fi.  Funnily enough the series I’m going to review here is by a Brazilian writer/artist – LEO.  Leo or Luiz Eduardo de Oliviera, a mechanical engineer  fled a military dictatorship in brazil and ultimately came to France where he eventually put his artistic talents to use and hit the jackpot when the French publish Dargaud agreed to publish his first solo work, Aldebaran.  Cinebook have now brought us the English translation of this.

This story cycle deals with the consequences of humanities attempts to colonise other planets.  Aldebarans fourth planet being very similar to Earth in size and rotation and being only 64 light years away from Earth is the chosen planet for this story.  The first book “The Catastrophe” is set 100 years after the colonists have lost contact with the home planet.  We see what the humans have made of themselves and their planet. Strange events have been happening in one particular seaside village which a stranger named Driss has recently visited.  Within days a catastrophe occurs, that destroys the village and everyone in it.  There are only a small group of survivors, A young man called Mark, and Kim, the young girl that has a crush on him are amongst them.  Who is Driss, and what is his connection to the ‘Mantis’, the strange creature that caused the Catastrophe and how the fates of Mark and Kim are entwined with his mission.  Over the next 4 volumes the story expands and we witness not just an exploration of Aldebaran but the growth of Mark & Kim not just into adulthood but also as people coping with adversity.  A strange cast of protagonists including the irascible Mr Pad, an amoral old trickster,  begins to surround our 2 heroes and the interstellar influence of the Mantis is hinted at.

By the end of the Aldebaran cycle, we have a lot more answers but none regarding the origin of the Mantis.  This has to wait for Betelgeuse, in which we see Kim exploring humanities 2nd disastrous attempt at colonisation.  The results of this are far more primitive as these colonists, who have also lost touch with Earth started their lives in a far more precarious situation than Aldebaran’s inhabitants.  For 5 volumes we explore Betelgeuse and humanity’s effects on it. The story hits its climax as we finally discover the truth about the Mantis.

This story is in all aspects a sociological sci-fi epic and it performs that function magnificently.  As such though, it can tend to be a little slow in terms of plot development and this may make it more palatable to sci-fi purists.

I have come to learn through my own travels and attempts to translate a French comic called Yoni, that there is a real art to translation, and while I have found some books translated so well I could never have guessed they were originally in another language, that is not the case here.  The script felt a bit clumsy to me, now whether this is actually the fault of the translation or the original script I can’t know for sure but it is a noticeable flaw to me.

The other problem I had with this story was that the relationships, or rather the way in which the characters express their relationships all seem rather simple to me, especially the way they interact with each other sexually.

The final problem I had with it was nothing to do with the story but the fact that Cinebook has adapted the original art to “make it more palatable for a non European audience”.  This means that there are scenes that had quite obvious and fairly tame nudity, which now have bizarre underwear.  It’s really obvious and tends to jerk you out of the story a little.

However this being said, the art is beautiful and clean and where this series triumphs for me is in its examination of a world alien to ours.  This exploration of flora and fauna is one of the things I loved about the movie Avatar and there is such an attention to the detail of this world that it is not just stunning to behold but stunning in the breadth of its creators efforts to realise it.

Despite all of this i just learned that there is a 3rd part to the series called Antares and I am hoping desperately that Cinebook are going to publish this.

Aldebaran comes in 5 parts collected by Cinebook in 3 books.  Confusingly the next part of the cycle ‘Betelgeuse’ begins in the last Aldebaran book.  Betelgeuse also has 5 parts collected in 3 books.  Look it’s just simpler if I give you the list

Aldebaran 1 – The Catastrophe inc The Blonde

Aldebaran 2 – The Group inc ThePhoto

Aldebaran 3 – The Creature inc The Betelgeuse Planet

Betelgeuse 1 – The Survivors inc The Expedition

Betelgeuse 2 – The Caves

Betelgeuse 3 – The Other

These are all available at www.cinebook.com and as far as I’m concerned, worth the investment. and while your checking that out, have a look at this animation some fan did for an example of the Aldeberan fauna.

GS Reporter: Monts

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