Exo graphic novel review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Humanoids - 978-1-59465-458-9
  • Release date: 2016-2018
  • English language release date: 2018
  • UPC: 9781594654589
  • Contains adult content?: yes
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: yes

Over the first twenty or so pages of Exo, Jerry Frissen and Philippe Scoffoni pack in an extraordinary density of both text and art, switching from a manned space station orbiting Earth to several locations across the USA. The conceit is that while astrophysicist John Koenig is excited at finding a planet that may sustain human life and is planning to divert a probe to explore Darwin II, our planet has received a visit from aliens able to take over humans, sublimating their personalities.

Originally released in English as three digital packages equivalent to the original European albums, this hardcover package collects the complete story, and it’s a fascinating action thriller better read in one sitting. Frissen’s plot is tight, with Koenig eventually the central character, being forced to do something against his will, but with a wild card element. He’s been dosed with a psychotropic substance that affects his rational capacity, and for brief moments his basic ability to concentrate. Simultaneously there’s what develops into a deadly situation on the moon.

Since his first published work in 2007 Scoffoni hasn’t established a vast back catalogue, but on the basis of Exo, what we have is surely pure quality. He’s an artist who thrives on realistic detail, populating every panel with signs of life, but crucially without ever overcrowding a scene. Contrasting that is a variable approach to people, mostly resembling the unshaded precision of Leo, but in places the small shading techniques prompt thoughts of Joe Kubert.

The fragility of humans in an artificial environment is accentuated from the start, and continues throughout as we follow a mission on the moon aware how just slight damage to the unwieldy spacesuits could result in death. The simultaneous tension on Earth is generated by the immense capabilities of invaders, tiny, few in number, and with a sophistication well beyond humanity’s understanding. Frissen’s plot is slow release, and escalates the suspense and the wonder with each new revelation, eventually moving into some very big topics indeed, in the process moving from hard science into the unknown.

A few tiny lapses – the hint of a Hollywood style relationship is forced – don’t detract from Exo being a widescreen action plot with an intelligent core, and exceptionally well drawn. As an example of the genre it doesn’t come much better than this.