Collated Rating: 4/5 (Good)
Art: 5/5 (Masterpiece) + Story: 3/5 (Average)
Enki Bilal’s La Foire aux immortels (trans. The Carnival of Immortals) (1980) is the first volume in The Nikopol Trilogy. All three bande dessinée received a 2016 single-volume English translation by Titan Comics. Due to the limited chronological reach of my site, I’ve chosen to only review the 1st volume as the sequels, Le Femme Piège (trans. The Woman Trap) and Froid Equateur (trans. Equator Cold), were published in 2005.
Of the SF graphic novels I’ve read, The Carnival of Immortals proved by far the most successful. Bilal blends his terrifying depictions of decadence and decay with an oblique, if a bit clunky, story that hints at surrealism and otherworldliness. For what I’m comparing Bilal’s vision to, check out Howard V. Chaykin and Samuel R. Delany’s Empire (1978), Paul Gillon’s La survivante (1985), and Gene Day’s collection Future Day (1979).
Thank you Mark Pontin, “Friend of the Site”, for the recommendation.
The World of “Phallocratic” Fascism and Alien Patinas
On election eve in the “politically autonomous and irredeemably fascist greater Parisian area,” two unusual events transpire that threaten Jean-Ferdinand Buglieri’s regime (Mussolini’s politics reimplemented) (5). A pyramidoid spaceship arrives inhabited by the immortal Egyptian Gods–Anubis, Bes, Thoth, Bastet, Sobek, et al.–who immerse themselves in unusual waters and play Monopoly. Their ship looms over the Parisian cityscape, a transformed urban environment characterized by layers and layers of decayed alien patinas, demanding fuel.
On a decrepit boulevard, a frozen astronaut plunges ingloriously from the skies into the filth, leg snapping upon impact. Horus, an exiled Egyptian immortal wandering streets seeking a way back into the pyramid, rescues the body from Buglieri’s militia. Thawed by Horus, the astronaut Herakles Nikopol wakes up in a truly alien future. Nikopol, a consciences objector in a conflict with the Sino-Soviet Coalition in 1992, last remembers his exile into space. Horus hatches a plan–he will co-occupy the mind of Nikopol–and reclaim his place. But Buglieri’s fascists stand in the way… and a nightmarish world reveals itself–a violent hockey game unlike any other, an Archbishop with a levitating crown and cherubs who reproduce at an alarming rate, cybernetic legs, metro stations inhabited by red cloaked cults, telepathic green-striped cats, an array of aliens that dwell in the Parisian mud, and an encyclopedic range of newspapers that indicate a linguistic slide mirroring France’s spectacular fall.
Final Thoughts on this Decrepit World
In Antyphayes’ recent article “In Praise of the Infodump”, I pointed out in the comments that my favorite form of information deluge in science fiction are those that convey a tangible “physicality” found within the world. I listed the following examples: the info dump as children’s lesson, future TV programs, maps of transformed cities, lists (oh how I love lists), a museum exhibit, and newspaper clippings. Bilal’s The Carnival of Immortals is the perfect graphic novel example of the use of visual and textual information deluge that furthers the story and world.
Bilal’s Paris is a veritable compilation of signage (real Parisian streets transformed), alien species, shades of mud, advertising slogans, strange foods, obliquely referenced organizations, and body parts both human and alien scattered amongst the mud. Inserted at various points with the narrative, collections of newspaper clippings from Buglieri’s fascist regime and underground resistance organizations convey a range of perspectives and interpretations of the events that transpire. The culminative effect is an encyclopedic visual documentation of the new fabric of existence that drapes a far future Earth.
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