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‘Project Arka: Into the Dark Unknown’ – Graphic Novel Review

This story is intense and complicated, with a lot of different threads. By the end of this hundred-page comic, it can – at times – be a little difficult to keep track of what’s going on. The worldbuilding is incredible, though—and it appears that we’re only just getting started.

Arka III is one of several ships that’s been sent to colonize a new world. The Earth has become a barely habitable mess, but after a quick 200 years in suspended animation, the crew of these ships will reach the Earth-like Leonis, where they can start society over and hopefully build a paradise. Except that when they awake, it’s not on Leonis. In fact, there’s no planet to be found anywhere, or even any stars. And they can’t appear to leave.

All is not lost, though. They have a garden on board the ship with plants that produce plenty of oxygen, and minuscule creatures called gardeners are genetically engineered to tend those plants and use them to get the crew whatever they need. While the crew has slept, however, the gardeners appear to have evolved far beyond their original purpose. Are they friendly or hostile?

The question then becomes this: Does the crew of the Arka III continue to explore their new environment and risk their own lives for the possibility of getting free of this new place—whatever it is—and continuing on to Leonis as planned? Or do they give up hope of a new planet and use the resources they have to establish their new society right where they are?

Coming down firmly on the “explore the environment” side of things is Eric Rives, second-in-command of the Arka III and a real hotshot adventurer type. On the other side of the issue is his wife Johanna Rives, an exobiologist who studies the gardeners and who thinks it might just be possible to communicate and even cooperate with them.

This may seem like a lot to take in, but it’s only a small portion of what’s going on in this story. There are a number of different avenues to explore, and it seems like each one introduces us to a new plot thread and a new sci-fi concept along with it. As I mentioned, it’s not always the easiest to follow, but as long as you can just go with the flow, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

This is also only part one of the story. I don’t know how many more volumes are planned, or how much more of this intricate world they plan on exploring before the end, but there’s the potential for a lot of material here.

A French comic translated into English, Project Arka is, in fact, adapted from a French novel, Pyramides, and written by the novel’s author, Romain Benassaya. It makes me curious as to whether there’s an English translation of the novel, as well, because I’d be interested to see how they compare. Is there more detail to this complex story in prose form?

While the world is intricate, detailed, and multifaceted, the characters tend to be less so. Motivations can be shallow and vague sometimes, and people aren’t always easy to like. Previously sympathetic characters descend into black hat villain status rather quickly, which is one of the things that makes the story difficult to follow at times.

Still, despite a few difficulties, this is a really compelling story that was fun and fascinating to read. If you like intricate, worldbuilding sci-fi that explores complex concepts, you’ll want to check out Project Arka.

Creative Team: Romain Benassaya (writer), Joan Urgell (artist), Mark Bence (translator), Jonathan Stevenson & Jake Thomas (English-language editors), Bruno Lecigne and Cecile Chabruad (original edition editors), Sandy Tanaka (senior designer), Jerry Frissen (senior art director)
Publisher: Humanoids
Click here to purchase.

Steven W. Alloway, Fanbase Press Contributor



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