By Ben Snyder
Niourk would be hard to describe to anyone. It starts off extremely simple, telling the tale of seemingly Stone Age tribe outcast and his struggles to get back home; but then it becomes so much more and expansive. In theory, this seems great, but too often Niourk seemed to meander and waste time, leading up to an ending that can seem out of nowhere and uninspired. There are also some characters that are underdeveloped and themes that once again seem ungrounded. But Niourk isn’t entirely bad, as the first chapters of the book offer an interesting take on a familiar story and the art can be gruesome and exceptionally cool.
Niourk centers on the main protagonist, only known as Dark Child, and his adventure in this post-post-apocalyptic world. The setting is so post-apocalyptic that humanity has reverted back to their stone age. Throughout the story Dark Child gets separated from his tribe, becomes the village elder, befriends a bear, goes to a mall, meets other more futuristic humans, eats a WHOLE lot of brains (human, animal, and squid thing alike) and quite literally evolves. If any of that sounds funny and outlandish, it’s because it is. And it’s truly a missed opportunity that writer and artist Olivier Vatine doesn’t capitalize on the moment. I’m not asking for a comedy book, but adding certain moments of brevity could have lifted the book from its Cro-Magnon mumbles.
Vatine begins Niourk at a brisk and eventful pace and quickly establishes the risks of Dark Child’s adventure. Initially, it seems like a compact and tight sequence of events that leads into an eventual and fulfilling payoff, but Vatine instead goes way beyond this, and the book suffers for it. Certain sections of the book seemed unimportant to the main story and felt placed in the story to add to the overall page length simply. Niourk’s ending also left a lot to be desired and seemed to come out of nowhere. Once Dark Child begins evolving, the book feels like it jumped the shark and went a little crazy.
There are also a couple of themes and reoccurring character quirks in this story that need to be addressed. The first and most apparent to me was all of the brain eating. For a book that has nothing to do with zombies or parasites or whatever, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with more brain eating, and it seems pointless only to highlight Dark Child and his clan’s savagery; it seems superfluous and gratuitous. Speaking of gratuitous, why is Tomoe’s only clothing bandages the entire story? This representation of women is throughout the book as they are either totally absent or eye candy with no story value. I wish I could say it’s a shame, but we are barely even introduced to many of the side characters; they are just thrust onto the page fully formed, leaving the reader unable to connect to any of them.
Besides all of this, I think my biggest complaint is that the story simply goes on for too long and loses focus. I wish the book simply dropped the latter sections taking place in the titular Niourk, as the early segments are enjoyable. I thought it was cool to see a cave boy running around with a laser gun hunting giant octopus mutants. It was entertaining and it emphasized a theme for caring for the environment (somehow). But the book almost entirely leaves this plot point behind and goes for the extreme like allowing Dark Child to fly, duplicate himself, and clone everyone in the entire story and place them on one of Saturn’s moons.
Vatine is much more successful with his art in this book. His style is very similar to Frank Miller’s. His lines are sketchy but still very defined and his action scenes are very visceral and fluid. Vatine doesn’t do many interesting things with page layouts though which is unfortunate because there is some opportunity for experiment here.
Niourk is nothing if not a disappointment. It had some potential in its earlier pages when the plot seemed simple like it’s characters. But as the story evolved and expanded it became increasingly ridiculous.
Dark Horse Comic