Writer: Jerry Frissen
Artist: Philippe Scoffoni
144 pages – HC
Since time immemorial, humanity looked to the heavens and wondered what exists in the vast expanse of space. As mankind’s scientific understanding of the universe got more concret, and the distance between galaxies and star clusters became better known, the possibility of extraterrestrial life became a certain part of reality. The possibility of human interaction with lives from beyond our planet is the foundation of countless stories; that goes without saying. In the realm of science fiction, nothing has fascinated or terrified writers more than what would happen if people and aliens met. Would the first reaction be hostility? Would it be mutual understanding? Perhaps, without even knowing it, sentient extraterrestrial beings are walking among us now, blending in and studying our species without us even knowing…
While this last point definitely strains credulity from the best of scientific knowledge, in the mind of master storytellers, it is fertile ground for exploration. Indeed, a subterfuge alien invasion and the human response is front in center of the recently-translated Franco-Belgian graphic novel Exo from writer Jerry Frissen and artist Philippe Scoffoni. interestingly, while creating a story that looks out in the void beyond the Earth, Frissen and Scoffoni take the time explore the inner worlds of their characters (or, at the least, their main character). So while Exo is defined as a “hard science fiction” tale, it is also an ambitious, multifaceted comic that explores the humane and mystical side of contact with beings from other worlds. It’s near-future setting and character-driven narrative combine in such a way to presents a fascinating look at the many layers of what might happen if humanity were to push ourselves deeper into the cosmos.
The central figure in Exo is Dr. John Koenig, a star (forgive the pun) researcher and scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Cal Tech, who announces that humanity is closing to find sentient life on an exo-planet, dubbed Darwin II. While this declaration would surely be met with piqued interest from reporters and politicians in today’s work, Dr. Koenig’s discovery is met with diffidence. Concomitantly, peculiar events begin to occur: a meteor rips through a space station, military personnel find bizarre, ancient robotic structures on the moon, and strangers with no connection begin band together on a shared mission. It’s a wild ride, with many page-turning cliffhangers added in for good measure. Throughout the book, Frissen does an admirable job balancing metaphysical character moments with bombastic action sequences. Although slow to start to introduce all the primary characters, the book picks up considerably and with each beat gets curious. New mysteries are introduced, explored, and resolved in quick succession, so the pacing never feels bogged down by technical details.
If there is a shortcoming with the book, it’s that it does feature a number of sci-fi clichés: gruff and roguish military commanders, a brilliant scientist father trying to reconnect with a wayward daughter, a civilian and military leader following in love. While these elements make more sense in context, their presence is a bit distracting. The book itself does go out of its way at times to break down the suspension of disbelief with odd explanations for certain character decisions (i.e. is tripping on peyote the best way to spend time in a military submarine), but then again, it is all part of the charm of the book. Scoffoni’s art, meanwhile, more than makes up for any wonkiness in the story. While it is lush and heavy on the minute details of various spaceships ordnance, and alien tech, the art convincingly conveys the paranoia and intrigue within the plot.
Minor quibbles aside, there is much to admire here. The creative team of Frissen and Scoffoni have put together a handsome tome packed to the gills with enough plausible scientific scenarios to keep readers glued to the page. And notwithstanding the aforementioned points of common tropes inherent to the genre, this book is a mighty fun and thrilling read. Lovers of a good sci-fi yarn will surely be quite at home with the thrill-ride which is Exo.