Downward to the Earth is a graphic adaptation of Robert Silverberg’s sci-fi novel, which in turn took its influences from Joseph Conrad’s classic Heart of Darkness (which has famously inspired all sorts of genre-busting journeys into psychosis, most famous of all being mumbling Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now). Downward to the Earth transfers the journey into another unknown jungle on another planet, colonised by humans a decade previously, but since then returned to its native sentient species.
Eddie Gundersen first visited the planet as a low-ranking military officer but eventually became a high-ranking official, until a poor decision made him question his status and return to Earth. Now he’s back, returning to guide a pair of scientists into the jungle to witness a sacred native ritual never before seen by humans. However, this may not be the only reason he’s back — haunted by his past, his own agenda also plays a big role in the story, whether he realises it or not. And, as with any adaptation of Heart of Darkness, there’s Kurtz, once Gundersen’s superior but now a drug-addled psycho, gone native and broken away from society. Gundersen’s third mission is to extract Kurtz and bring him back.
It’s a sophisticated, taught storyline, which weaves entirely around the relationship dynamics of the main characters, themselves so intertwined, sexually charged and deeply complicated that the human characters could be transported to any time or place. They’re grounded and three-dimensional; broken people living lives on the fringes of normal human society.
However, Philippe Thirault and Laura Zuccheri haven’t shirked on the world building, with an attention to the detail of flora and fauna that would make Leo proud. The native species are exotic but believable, the world alien but familiar enough to provide the characters with the backdrop they need to explore themselves. This isn’t an unnecessary twist on the usual landscape for the sake of it, but an interesting extra dimension to an already multi-faceted story.
Downward to the Earth is a great example of a sophisticated, adult sci-fi drama, which the continental Europeans do so well. With a very high expectation of its audience’s sophistication, and proven classic source material, it will have sophisticated sci-fi fans drooling over every page.