Mathieu Bablet’s graphic novel The Beautiful Death combines the desolation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend with the bleak pessimism of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It starts following an unnamed young man, who’s internally reciting a poem that ends each stanza with, “For I am the last man on Earth.” After fifteen or so pages, it switches to the protagonists. Wayne, Jeremiah, and Soham are young men who survived the apocalypse. They spend their days traveling an unnamed city, scavenging for supplies. Wayne points out that the expiration date on the can is their expiration date too.
His and Soham’s spirits are broken. That’s precisely why Jeremiah is such a breath of fresh air. While Wayne and Soham wax poetic on the meaning of life after the apocalypse (“Do we have a duty to survive for all those who died?” Wayne asks through tears on page 73), Jeremiah builds snowmen. He maintains a sense of play, and a story this dark needs the light of hope to see everything else that’s going on.
And there’s a lot. What The Beautiful Death gets right is the way that humans are hardwired, stuck to traditions and routines. It’s most evident when Soham stops to look both ways before crossing a street and explains, “Just a dumb old reflex” (35). It’s a lot like the excellent Ravenous, a zombie apocalypse film that spent as much time reflecting on what the characters missed from their lives before as it did eating-flesh.
While the post-apocalyptic setting is familiar, the way the world got there isn’t. Since it’s something that the characters discover as the story progresses, let it suffice to say that the primary antagonists are bugs, very much like “They’re Creeping Up on You” segment from Stephen King and George A. Romero’s Creepshow.
Bablet also does a good job of making the viewer wait to see the monster. It’s a classic horror technique, because whatever readers see in their imagination is infinitely scarier than what Bablet can draw, although, when he does finally draw the bugs, they’re terrifying.
Bablet wrote and drew The Beautiful Death. He’s confident in his work, and unlike a lot of comic writers, he’s not afraid to let a few pages go by without a word at all. It’s effective for moving the plot forward, but also for underlining the sense of loneliness there is in this world. After all, the main trio goes for years at a time without seeing anyone else.
Originally written in French, Edward Gauvin does an excellent job translating the book. He not only gets the words write, but he does it with style, keeping the tone in sardonic passages like: “Sadly for the culinary world, the gentle Mrs. Jones perished in a tragic mishap at the Zoo, determined to save a poor adventurous child from the hands of a rutting orangutan” (17).
The Beautiful Death does exactly what it wants to do. It’s a somber apocalypse story, imagining what the last days of the last people on our planet will be like. It’s miserable because that’s what it wanted to be.
The Beautiful Death is available from the Statix Press imprint of Titan Comics now.
Wicked Rating: 6/10