World Comic Book Review

4th February 2023

GENU volume 1 (review)

Creators: Tommaso Todesca, Alex Franquelli, Giulio Tomassy

Markosia Enterprises Ltd; Illustrated edition (20 April 2020)

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We, Homo Sapiens, represent the evolutionary zenith of the genus Homo: we have created scientific and technological miracles in less than 300,000 years.

Before us, however, another Homo species lived on Earth for almost 2 million years. That species was Homo Erectus. Yes, you heard about them. You know: those grotesque cavemen whose greatest technological achievement was carving stone hand-axes. 

Or… was it?

“Science fiction”, per se, does not mean much. If we simply state that science fiction deals with science from a literary point of view, this would not be enough. We talk about worlds that do not belong to ours, products of the imagination of a writer whose goal is to use science as the main basis from which to jump into a story. A description yet completely lacking: what is science, after all, and what is fiction? Where do we draw the line between what is actually scientific and what is not? What is, more importantly, the goal of such works of art?

In the case of GENU, the idea at the basis of its plot is humanity’s progression towards a future where a minority of our species find themselves living on Mercury, whereas the majority is still dwelling on our mother Earth. There is, then, the question of what technology is (and what it does to humanity), just as other mysteries are unfolded, such as how man (our present species) has come to be, not simply culturally but also (especially) biologically.

From this point of view, the novel does manage to insert itself flawlessly into the world of science fiction. It does so by following one of the waypoints of this genre. Do not simply tell a story: make sure the readers are given food for thought.

If we take the idea of fiction and try to analyze the novel from this point of view, there’s little to be complaining about. The structure is well developed, and the dialogue always swift and intelligent. There might be a few issues with some characters’ actions. This is not due to their acting contrary to what we would expect of them, but rather not being given enough space to have us appreciate the inner (and outer) dynamics.

The way the story unfolds, just like the movement from one stage to the next, is deftly woven. The end result is a pleasant read which easily leads us through its many pages without ever us feeling the weight of turning page after page. It is, in fact, a gratifying action the one that has our eyes move, left to right, from one panel to the next. The drawings themselves do show a solidity and an aesthetical intelligence insofar the tale is told through the medium of visual narration.

Yet, the novel does not stop from simply entertaining. It tries, over and over again, to have us readers come into contact with questions that we should be asking ourselves in this present time. What is, for instance, the meaning of technology? What is, for example, our relationship with reality and the virtual world the net offers us? Questions, of course, that do bear heavily on us as members of a community that has been going through so swift a progress that it might seem we haven’t had enough time to actually ponder over such issues.

Yet, in some parts the novel seems to veer towards preaching. The world is divided into good and bad characters, without the chance of letting grey be part of the spectrum. The end result might be a bit too stiff. The major antagonist is bad simply because he is evil, nuances and depth being sacrificed at the altar of stereotypes. The same can be said about good guys.

Such dichotomies are not always a problem. But, given the structure of the novel and the importance it gives to the issues it raises, the result might end up being detrimental although not in such a way to deter readers from finishing the book.

The real issue, anyway, lies in what the novel is actually telling us. There is a strong element of the writers engaging in a monologue where we are supposed to simply listen. Monologues are not something we are not used to in dialogue-heavy comic books, and, to be honest, many works of art are nothing more but artists explaining their point of view regarding many an issue.

Technology (or, better, too much of it) is bad because, as we have been told for centuries, it ends up dividing us, turning each one of us into a modern hermit detached from reality, unable to feel the connection we are supposed to have between all of us and nature.

Surely, technology might be good, but that is possible only if we first understand that our spiritual nature is more important than the virtual world we are given in the form of artificial paradises. The end result is, as stated before, the uneasy feeling of being in front preachers who try to peddle what is, after all, a message that might need more time to be discussed, analyzed and, perhaps, rejected. A modern form of existentialism, maybe, that does not manage to fully deliver.

That criticism aside, the book is an enjoyable read. Those elements of science fiction that we see develop through its pages are treated in such a way that we, as readers, end up feeling vastly satisfied. If taken as a simple narrative structure, then, GENU does manage to entertain. If analyzed as a medium through which the writers are trying to hammering in their point of view we are put in the position of responding to their statements by taking a stand and reject or accept what they present us. But, after all, isn’t it what the art of narration should also be?

Concerning the art, the graphic novel is graced by the artist’s keen eye for how to structure a visual story. There is, then, a simplicity which is not due to a lack of more daring points of view, rather the beauty of having a story being told not just by words but also by the pencil tracing new worlds inside the closed borders of the panels. The result is such an aesthetic clarity as to what we are being presented as readers, an element that is more than welcome when the story being told takes so many pages. Yet, we should not forget that the same should be said about how the authors managed to narrate the events. While at first things might seem a bit confusing, it all becomes quite clear as we progress in our reading. That feeling of “not understanding what is going on” that permeates the first pages reveals itself as a deft mechanism to have us interested in the story. 

Characters are presented with depth and/or a sense of mystery, so that the overall structure benefits both from what is said and what is left unsaid. Genu is, in fact, a story about the enigmas that we can find in the universe. If read as a work of fiction, there is little denying that the way it has been set in motion makes sure that the plot flows clearly and fluidly as we turn its pages. We recognize, then, that although hefty, the book is quite an enjoyable experience and it can be read in a single sitting without noticing how time flies away.

Post Script: the writer of this review would also like to add that once the end is reached, there could be a high chance of not being completely satisfied. Not in a negative way, all the contrary: gripped by the story, we simply hope it will go on in the future.

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This title is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com.au/Genu-Tommaso-Todesca/dp/1913359484