What begins as a futuristic fish-out-of-water story metamorphoses—through Enki Bilal's gritty illustrations and masterful use of the cinematic and textual possibilities of the graphic novel—into a resonant and symbolic rumination on the nature of family, humanity, and memory. The Nikopol Trilogy follows four characters: Alcide Nikopol, an astronaut inadvertently thawed from his thirty-year cryogenetic slumber; the Egyptian god, Horus, who seeks to understand the febrile fumblings of humanity towards meaning; Nikopol's son, who has grown into an identical twin of his time-frozen father; and Jill Bioskop, a blue-haired reporter who appears to be caught in a reversed loop of time. Against a shattered dystopian background reeking of moral corruption and the rapid environmental death of the planet, all four are threaded into a canvas of subverted identities and deconstructed histories.
The beauty of the graphic novel format is that it allows for both the literal transmission of story and the cinematic symbolism of the larger canvas to be laid out before the reader. While the pictures and text march across the page in sequential order, there is room in the margins and interstitial spaces to inject echoes of the past and future. While we watch Bilal twist the threads of these four, we can also see the unravelling of the world around them. We can see the decay of the planet as animals flee their natural habitat in the club cars of transnational trains; we can see the subtle changes in social marking that distinguish class and caste on the naked faces and heads of the humans; we are allowed to dwell on false images that are the efforts of the characters to recreate and recontextualize their damaged memories, a window into the souls that unconsciously allows us to take on their despair and hopelessness. Bilal brings together these wounded spirits, these individuals who have been cut off from the bleak world around them, and tries to give them a future worth living for. He paints a familial tale wherein the nucleus never quite holds, the tiny particles too unaware of each other to really hold together.
"I want to make peace with humans," Horus tells Nikopol, "but they're too small-minded .... You don't live long enough to retain or realize the value of what's really important." And yet, the book's last fading image ("Don't cut! Let it keep rolling until it runs out, until the empty frame, until the end.") holds both the possibility of happiness for humanity and the memory of a past built by an unrealized love. There is even order in chaos, an order which Horus himself admits to failing to understand. Bilal's vision of a future beset by chaos is colored and textured by the tiny efforts of men and women attempting to find solace in the comfort of the other.
Mark Teppo is a writer living in the Pacific Northwest where he works on fiction while he is commuting and when people think he's gone off to the restroom. He has works in progress and is a member of the Misfit Library. You may find him on the web at www.markteppo.com.