Originally published in 1974, renowned French cartoonist Tardi paid tribute to his legendary fellow countryman, Jules Verne, in what the publisher describes as “vintage icepunk” and finds social criticism wrapped up in sarcastic satire, but outfitted in some great designs of Vic torian science.
The book opens in 1889 with danger in the arctic and the discovery of a strange spectacle: a grand sea vessel impossibly resting on top of an enormous and foreboding iceberg. What follows is the investigation — and perhaps seduction — of our hero, Plumier, whose seafaring adventures in the arctic and curious investigation of his missing uncle, who is an eccentric scientist with curious abandoned experiments and contraptions, give way to the answer he seeks.
What Plumier finds is Tardi’s way of investigating how easy and amusing evil is. Rather than a burdensome madness, it’s a delicious enticement, a liberating decision that might just be the only sane reaction to a world that embraces injustice as its one reliable constant. New evil plans meant to pick up the pieces and move along with the destruction of life as we know it becomes not just a bridge to adventure, but a continuum to narrative, as well as life.
Tardi’s story is one thing, but his beautiful renderings give it a depth that brings it far beyond satire.
The attention given to the Victoriana — in technology, fashion and graphic layout — functions as a love letter to that bygone world, which keeps the book from ever seeming cartoonish, and that its major strength. Tardi never copies straight the era he captures, but wraps it in modern and literary concerns to make it something more than just another Victorian adventure.