The Extraordinary Part – Book One – Orsay’s Hands

Creators: Florent Ruppert and Jérôme Mulot
Translator: M.B. Valente
Lettering: Cromatik Ltd.
Publisher: Fantagraphics
Publication Date: February 2023

The Extraordinary Part — Book One — Orsay’s Hands is the first half of a two-part story from French cartoonists Florent Ruppert and Jérôme Mulot, and initially, the book is sort of built around a series of striking visual set pieces. The concept is that a mysterious set of entities called whols have suddenly appeared, and they are having some problems co-existing with humanity. That’s maybe a familiar comics narrative, but what sets this book apart (from its second panel) is that the whols aren’t humanoids. They aren’t really anything you’ve seen before. If I had to make a comparison, I’d say they look more like abstract modern art sculptures than anything — and it’s their designs of the creatures that really make this comic intriguing from the start.

The Extraordinary Part

The designs of the whols are consistently interesting, but past that, there’s no real unifying pattern to them. They are often played against familiar backdrops, scenes of everyday life right out of our own world. By building flexibility into the designs of the creatures, the cartoonists give themselves a heavy degree of freedom to tailor the whols to each setting or scene as needed. It’s a great design choice that works really well for the book. I would wager much of the whol design was done by intuition and feel. I had a sense that while there was no clear way to articulate what a whol looks like, the cartoonists knew it when they saw it.

This visual setup is the foundation from which the larger story of The Extraordinary Part is built. To be a bit reductive, the main narrative here is X-Men-like. Or at least it has elements of the old hated for being different but with superpowers construction. The people in this story aren’t randomly fated, though. Instead, they have (I believe to a person) gotten their powers from interacting with the whols. And their powers are all body horror-adjacent. From there, we get differing attitudes toward those powers — from being ashamed to using them militantly in service of combating whol intolerance — and it is in large part the tension between attitudes that shapes the narrative.

All of these elements came together for me really well. Even the familiar beats didn’t feel tired, and I think it’s because as I’ve noted, almost every page in this 150-page book feels like an epic visual set piece. Just look at the image above. It’s stunning stuff, and the book is always just another page turn away from more work that feels unpredictable and interesting. 

The whols are also useful in a metaphorical sense. At various times in this first part, it felt like they were being used by the storytellers to evoke questions around climate change, police violence, and just general empathy as a society. They were used frequently to reflect the way we all respond (or don’t respond) to issues of import. But again, first and foremost — they just look cool, and with an oversized format comics story, isn’t that really the point?

The other thing that makes this book work is the time spent developing its cast of characters. I suspect we will get even more of this in the second part, but in this first book, the story really builds out an interesting ensemble. It finds poignant ways to play them off each other (including a rather surprising bit where two characters just suddenly to decide to have sex). 

All told, I found The Extraordinary Part – Book One – Orsay’s Hands to be an exciting and engrossing read, and I’d recommend it based on the strength of the artwork alone, the ambitious set pieces the cartoonists strive for and achieve.

Verdict: BUY

The Extraordinary Part – Book One is available now.