I’m super excited about Statix Press, the new Titan Comics imprint that’s dedicated to translating some of the world’s best comics for an English-speaking audience. Mathieu Bablet’s La Belle Mort, re-dubbed The Beautiful Death, is one of the imprint’s four inaugural imports. A post-apocalyptic wanderer’s tale set against a maximalist urban landscape, The Beautiful Death depicts a reality in which giant insects of indeterminate origin have conquered Earth and eradicated the vast majority of humans. Issue #2 continues to follow protagonists Jeremiah, Soham, and Wayne as they grapple with hunger, insanity, and the ever-present threat of bloodthirsty bugs scuttling after them.
The Beautiful Death is consumed by an oppressive atmosphere that hammers home the isolation of its characters. Much like the over-sized first issue, #2 utilizes pages with little or no dialogue to establish a pervasively bleak tone. Wide shots of barely discernible figures standing alone against the looming cityscape are placed alongside cramped, close-up panels of people performing mundane daily activities of survival, providing an intimate glimpse into the inner lives of those living this nightmare.
The Near-Future design of the city exists outside of any specific time and place yet still feels familiar, and its construction does much to augment the tone of the book. The modular apartment buildings and skyscrapers form a vast honeycomb of humanity’s desolate remnants that seems to stretch on endlessly. Bablet bathes the city in rich burnt oranges or dreary gray-blues, employing varied color schemes to draw dividing lines between scenes. Besides signifying the passage of time, his choice of palette effectively sets the mood for the action taking place on a given page.
The book shows a lot of restraint in the way it involves its arthropod invaders. Skittering along the floors and walls, groups of smaller bugs are numerous and omnipresent. But the real threat is constantly lurking just out of sight, driving the characters to flee and hide. By refusing to show the big bugs or place the protagonists in direct confrontation with them, Bablet amplifies the tension and uncertainty around them. This omission also conveys the idea that the bugs aren’t the main antagonist of this story.
While The Beautiful Death places the struggle for basic necessity at its core, issue #2’s cliffhanger thrusts the struggle to retain one’s humanity to the forefront as well. After revealing the checkered past of one of the survivors, the book takes a dark turn in its last few pages. The flashback is ostensibly used as a precursor to the shocking ending, but it does little to alleviate the horrific actions of this character. The ending left me unsettled and anxious; while the group has already shown signs of succumbing to savagery, this ending has the potential to cast one of the protagonists as truly monstrous.
The Beautiful Death is a lonely adventure through ruination, and its depiction of survival at the end of the world is a chilling one. With atmospheric art that’s allowed to take center stage, it stands out even among a crowded field of post-apocalyptic tales. 4.5/5
(W) Mathieu Bablet (A/CA) Mathieu Bablet