LEO – Bételgeuse (Graphic Novel)

Comic book-wise, I am still recovering from the amazing Saga (and eagerly awaiting the second paperback collection). But then I remembered another awesome science fiction comic series on my TBR pile. Léo keeps up everything he did right in the first cycle and adds cool new aspects. We meet old characters and get to know new ones. It is difficult to find fault with these books – except maybe how unknown they are.

betelgeuse integraleBÉTELGEUSE
by Léo

Published by: Dargaud, 2001
ISBN:
Hardcover: 48 pages each
Series: Bételgeuse #1 – 5
The Worlds of Aldebaran #2

My rating: 7/10

First sentence: Papa! Viens voir! Vite!

Follow the continuing adventures of our Aldebaran heroes. Mark and Kim are sent to Betelgeuse to look for survivors of the spacecraft crash that killed 3,000 people seven years earlier. They do find survivors, among them Tazio Menegaz and Colonel Logan, who tell them the colonisers had been divided over whether the Iums (indigenous creatures) are as intelligent as humans. If they are, the humans would have been forced to abandon their colonising enterprise according to UN laws. Kim decides to investigate for herself.

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Once again, the blurb tells a lie. Kim, our spunky heroine from the first cycle in the Worlds of Aldebaran series, is sent on a mission to Betelgeuse in order to look for survivors of the spacecraft Tsiolkowsky. Other than in the first “season” of the series, we don’t follow one single point of view. Instead, we are introduced to other chraracters right away and there is no narration to keep their perspectives together. Inge and Hector get a lot of time in the first volume and I liked their characters well enough. But they fall rather flat in the subsequent books.

The story – and the art through which it is told – are stunning. Betelgeuse is a planet mostly covered in desert land with one lush canyon full of incredible plant and animal life. Léo puts wide shots of flying cars, people walking across plains, to good use by showing us the characters (drawn small) against a backdrop of strange creatures and plants, often in the middle of catching their prey. These images lend a depth to the new planet that would be difficult to establish in prose without sounding info-dumpy. Léo does his world-building almost exclusively through pictures.

betelgeuse creatuers

Because we lack a single narrator, the plot feels somewhat convoluted in the beginning books. The survivors now living on Betelgeuse have separated into two opposing camps – one group who thinks the Iums (the creatures you see on the cover) are highly intelligent and the colonization must be stopped – and one group who believes they are simply smart animals who don’t use tools or create art. It so happens that the latter group have also set up a pretty dictatorial village. Kim is the feminist voice when she enters this place ruled by men, where women are given domestic tasks and used as birthing machines. One child per woman per year – and the partner is picked by the authorities, in order to guarantee a good mix of genes for the future generation. Kim arrives and – within minutes – questions these rules.

The message here is maybe a little blunt but I was happy to see it nonetheless. Betelgeuse also offers a surprising amount of diversity when it comes to characters. It is set in the future so humanity has probably ingermingled enough that you can’t really call anyone an African-Betegeusian or Asian-Betelgeusian anymore, but it was wonderful to see a cast of characters that are not all white. You get POC characters who were depicted as human beings – some good, some bad, some misled in their beliefs, and others ignorant.

betelgeuse kim iiumsThere were a few things I didn’t enjoy and I was hoping until the very end that a good reason would come up for why everyone falls in love with Kim. She is a cool, confident woman, yes, and she is pretty to look at. But literally (I am using that word correctly) every male character in contact with her falls head over heels in love with her. And they like to declare that love by telling her how hard it is to keep their hands off her or asking her to sleep with them. There is no romance to be found, everybody states their love business in as blunt a fashion as possible. At first, I thought these were the repercussions of that pill she is taking from the mantrisse on Aldebaran. But if that is the explanation, we never officially get it here.

Betelgeuse also features a young girl, Mai Lan, who plays a very important role in the beginning – being the only human who can get close to the Iums, talk to them, and even ride on their backs. Sadly, when she makes an appearance in the fourth and fifth volume, her character is downgraded to an anxious teenager who constantly worries about the size of her boobs – and nothing else.

Speaking of breasts. I enjoyed how normal nudity was in Aldebaran and that it was depicted tasetfully. It is still tasteful here, but there is an excessive amount of women undressing and men commenting how – if they looked – they couldn’t hold themselves back. Not only did this do nothing to further the plot it also wasn’t particularly sexy. It’s a small complaint but happens often enough for me to have noticed it.

The last instalment of Betelgeuse finally offers some revelations (which, in turn, create more questions) and paves the road for the sequels. Unfortunately, the most interesting background information on the mantrisse is delivered in a massive info-dump. Pages upon pages of two characters’ faces in conversation. Why Léo didn’t do his signature move and show them in a wonderful environment, I don’t know.

I enjoyed Betelgeuse, but it lacked the character depth and development of Aldebaran – we will see how the third cycle, Antares, will hold up. Because no matter the Kim-insta-love, I will continue reading these comic books. That is, if I can get my hands on the French editions sometime soon.

THE GOOD: A great setting shown through wonderful, if old-timey-looking drawings. Kim is as strong a character as ever.
THE BAD: Too much falling in love, especially with Kim. The relationships take a soap opera spin in every instalment.
THE VERDICT: Recommended. If you’ve read Aldebaran, you will want to learn more about the mantrisse and you definitely do in this cycle. It was nowhere near as good as its predecessor but still offered some fun hours looking at terrifying creatures and beautiful scenery.

RATING: 7/10 – Very good

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There are four cycles in Leo’s comic book series, Aldebaran is only the first one. aldebaran logos

The Worlds of Aldebaran:

  1. Aldebaran (5 volumes)
  2. Bételgeuse (5 volumes)
  3. Antares (4 volumes)
  4. Survivants (2 volumes so far)

Bételgeuse:

  1. The planet
  2. The Survivors
  3. The Expedition
  4. The Caverns
  5. The Other

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