This is part of our series The Reading List, a monthly column in which we encourage you to take your enthusiasm for a particularly groovy film and direct it into a wide array of extracurricular studies.
Uncovering a franchise that’s both a critical and financial success across multiple mediums is challenging. Looking exclusively toward stories that began as comic books, characters like Batman and Superman have a strong standing on television and film, with more fans erupting from their 1990s animated adventures or their 1940s serials than their four-color origins. More often than not, you’ll encounter flaccid endeavors like Swamp Thing, who gave his best shot in film, live-action television, and cartoons but never found firm footing outside the panels of his comics.
No doubt, most folks are aware of Snowpiercer through Bong Joon-ho‘s 2013 adaptation rather than the 1982 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob and Jean–Marc Rochette. Comics are about as niche an art form as you can get, and with each passing year, despite the blockbuster success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, their audience seems to be shrinking. Or, at least, that’s how it can feel sometimes from the inside of fandom. Despite all my horrendous screaming, I just can’t seem to convince my MCU friends to crack a spine on Jason Aaron’s epic run of The Mighty Thor.
Hey, those friends aren’t reading this, right? No, you’ve joined me because you’re one of the curious. You’re looking to spread your enthusiasm for Bong’s film into other arenas, or you’re stoked about the upcoming TNT adaptation airing on May 17th, or you’re simply stunned that a Snowpiercer Reading List could exist. Well, thank you for hopping aboard. Thank you for not being the boring dolts that I’ve seemingly surrounded myself with.
What you’ll find below is a brief rundown of the five graphic novels available from Titan Books, and a few extra suggestions for those eager to extend their comic book reading into other apocalyptic adventures. Happy times? You won’t find many. This month’s Reading List is designed for those looking to lean into their pandemic lifestyle, and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone who would rather explore safer, less relatable waters. Maybe jump back to the Spider-Man Reading List; that should keep you busy for a few months.
Snowpiercer: The Escape
The world has entered a new ice age. All that remains of humanity exists on Snowpiercer, a speeding bullet train carrying 1,001 cars and three times as many people. Those living at the front of the train experience the last remaining bits of wealth and all the pleasures that come along with it. Those that live at the back of the train are tasked with making sure their world keeps speeding forever forward on their track, and it is a hell barely imagined by the blissfully ignorant stationed near the engine.
Much of the film follows the ideas, if not the exact events, of this first graphic novel, but the names of the characters are different, and their outcomes are slightly askew. As the comic begins, Proloff is jailed away from others after attempting to escape the confines of his train car. A woman named Belleau sits in a cell nearby. Eventually, they are collected by Colonel Krimson, who drags them through a selection of cars that they never thought they’d ever see. In these chambers, they encounter fresh vegetables, fruit, and many other delicacies they believed we’re the stuff of myth.
Krimson explains that the train is beginning to slow, and he requires Proloff and Belleau to encourage their friends at the back of the train to move forward so they can disconnect their cars. Everything seems hunk dory until treachery reveals itself, and the comic rushes to a much more personal apocalypse.
Snowpiercer: The Explorers
Spoilers! Snowpiercer is not the only train on the track!! Icebreaker races on a collision course with Snowpiercer, and as a result of the tragic events from the previous graphic novel, they cannot make contact with their sister vessel. A small group of workers is sent out onto the tracks, ordered to put a stop to Snowpiercer’s engine. Only one worker returns, but quickly disappears, seemingly vanishing from existence.
Seventeen years later, Puig Vallès joins a small team of workers who routinely venture away from Icebreaker for a halting exercise to slow Snowpiercer and prevent a collision. Vallès is another rule-breaker. In an effort to separate him from the group, he is framed for murder, and punished by being assigned to pilot a plane on a suicidal scouting mission. What he finds from the skies shatters his understanding of the world.
Published alongside The Explorers is the short story, “The Crossing.” Vallès detects a radio signal originating on the other side of the ocean. He decides to trace the signal, and he learns that Icebreaker can actually leave the tracks on the backs of giant caterpillars. Yep, you read that right: giant caterpillars. The further into Snowpiercer you read, the weirder and wilder the universe becomes.
What occurred before on Snowpiercer is now happening on Icebreaker. Temperatures are dropping. Food is running out. Life aboard the train will soon be impossible. The passengers rebel against the ruling class and elect a new leader in Laura Lewis.
Vallès will soon be a father. More than ever, he needs to find a safe habitat away from Icebreaker. Through an exploration of the radio signal, Vallès discovers a massive skyscraper with a train station in its basement. The citizens of the tower allow the passengers access to their building, but they require the children and pregnant women to undergo “special treatment.” As you can expect, all is not what it seems.
In the world of Snowpiercer, escape is always possible, a new home can always be reached, but a new apocalypse is always on the horizon. Terminus takes the reader far into the future, all the way up to the end of Vallès’ long life, and reveals a little hope for the human race. However, hope is a dangerous weapon and can be easily manipulated by the wealthy to control the poor masses below them.
Snowpiercer: The Prequel — Extinction
The first prequel series reveals how the world of Snowpiercer came to be. The new Ice Age has not yet occurred, but it is an inevitable reality for the citizens of the world to contemplate. Who is to blame? We are, of course. We refuse to acknowledge the realities of climate change. Everything is political, and no party can understand the point of view of the opposing side. Of all the Snowpiercer comics you can read, this is the one that might be the most painful.
Snowpiercer: The Prequel – Apocalypse
The Ice Age strikes. The world’s population rapidly shrinks. The last remnants board the trains that will protect them from the elements and establish the caste system that will maintain the order of power that rocketed Earth to its end times. This title is not yet currently available in the United States but will land on our shores on August 25th.
If you’re still hungry for European post-apocalyptic narratives after devouring Snowpiercer, my next suggestion would be Koma by Pierre Wazem and Frederik Peeters and published by Humanoids. It’s a one-and-done story, containing a much more (legitimately) hopeful tone. The driving narrative focuses on a chimney sweep and his daughter. One day, when she ventures too far into a soot-filled chasm, she encounters an unrecognizable creature operating a machine in the deep bowels of the Earth.
The beast is not alone. There are many monsters tinkering on just as many gizmos. Depending on how they operate the gadgets, the health of the humans above increases or decreases. As the young girl and the creature attempt to flee capture, a large, fantastical realm is exposed. We are not in control of our lives, and maybe a new reality is required. Only this child can grant such escape.
Sooner or later, every comic book or movie nerd gets to The Incal, written by Alejandro Jodorowsky, illustrated by Jean “Moebius” Giraud, and also published by Humanoids. The massive comic book saga was the result of Jodorowsky’s failed Dune adaptation, and it would go on to influence numerous other creators and spin off into the epic canvas of Metabarons. It’s hard to watch any modern science fiction film and not see hints of Moebius’ grand design.
The set-up is fairly basic, blending film noir and sci-fi tropes. Detective John Difool stumbles into discovering the ancient, mystical artifact known as “The Incal.” He may want nothing to do with it, but hundreds of others do. He becomes the target of numerous politicos and their hired assassins, and his flight from them leads the reader down a fabulous, phantasmagorical wonderland. The story is fun enough, but it’s the kind of book where the words matter less than the pictures. Moebius was more god than man, and his work can withhold your attention for years, not just days.