Enki Bilal is the Velvet Underground of sci-fi comics: a French auteur whose influence vastly outweighs the sum of his currently available works. Titan Comics is redressing the balance with the publication of Monster, a deep, complex epic, that grounds itself in the wars of Yugoslavia, Kosovo and Bosnia, but extrapolates off into a bizarre, sophisticated sci-fi tale that makes Blade Runner look like a children’s story. Originally written as a tetralogy, this volume collects all three books together in English for the first time.
I initially found the plot chaotic and overly-complicated, until things finally start slotting into place as I progressed through the book. This takes a significant amount of time, requiring a certain level of patience from the reader. Bear with it, though, it’s worth it. Set in a 2026 that’s almost certainly more futuristic than the 2026 we’re actually going to get in a few years time, there’s a lot going on here: clones, space travel, alternate dimensions and more.
The art, too, throws curve balls at the reader throughout, showing more of the future the characters live in than is ever properly explained. It’s like a separate science fiction fantasy in its own right. It’s worth pointing out that it’s also stunningly beautiful. Dark and violent though it is, Bilal’s illustration and subtle colouring add more depth to an already seemingly bottomless well of imagination.
As a result, this isn’t an easy book to get into. It’s an investment of time and effort, but I found it ultimately more rewarding than any other science fiction comic I’ve read this year. If you love the conundrums of story thrown up by sophisticated tales of the future, and the dark, adult nature of European sci-fi in particular, then there’s a real treat to be had in this dense, claustrophobic tome.