Renaissance 1: The Uprooted
Written by Fred Duval
Illustrated by Emem
“Humans lie! To themselves and each other!” an alien commander yells at Swann, a well-meaning soldier from the planet Nakan who is part of the approach on Earth by the Complex. The statement is the central theme of what Renaissance 1: The Uprooted, which was an official selection at Angoulême this year, portrays. In all the history of alien invasion stories, I’ve personally never encountered one in which I root for the aliens — at least, I’ve never seen one that portrays the aliens in such a way that a viewer is drawn to do so. But Renaissance 1: The Uprooted does the work to create a society that anyone could root for.
As the story opens, we are taken to two locations on a dying Earth — one in Paris, one in Texas. Earth is flaming out, literally thanks to out-of-control fires, but also flooding, disease, violence, and evasive governments not willing to step forward for much-required action. Hopelessness hangs in the air and refugees are merely seeking to hang on a little longer, unless they are greeted with hostility.
But upon witnessing the first assault of an apparent alien invasion in both locations, the story circles back to Nakan where Swann is taking part in a traditional hunt when he gets news of an intervention on another planet that both he and his fiance Satie will be deployed in. Their plan is to get married so they can serve together on the same part of the mission.
This isn’t a brief flashback though and, in fact, is extremely meaty, offering a pretty thorough backdrop for this intervention to take place in, covering social, political, and cultural elements of the intervening party — that is, the planet Nakan and the larger governing body, the Complex — and giving Swann and Satie a fullness, so developing characters that are much better realized than the typical alien invaders. What Duval and Emem engineer is a society presented as advanced in terms not just of technology but maturity in that it plans to approach the Earth in terms of giving aid, and offers two characters who embody this concept.
Back to that quote, though. Once on Earth, things don’t go smoothly. Irrationality appears as the main emotional trait in humans — a defensive irrationality that overrides any analytical approach to danger and functions to escalate danger rather than minimizing it. Irrationality functions like a vacuum that sucks others into the drama it creates, and that is no different for Swann and Satie, who are both getting a hard lesson in the behavior of Earthlings.
Renaissance 1: The Uprooted starts out as yet another apocalyptic style science fiction comic and I almost didn’t read it because of that, which would have been a shame. It’s brimming with mature ideas that aren’t grounded in tired tropes or genre sensationalism, but rather in service of credible drama that is bolstered by Emem’s full realization of the planet of Nakan and the culture that lives on it, as well as the crumbling Earth that turns out to be the stage not for over-the-top spectacle, but for more quiet, interpersonal discovery between inhabitants from different worlds.