Mankind has fallen into despair and desolation in the newest graphic novel by Humanoids Inc., Savage Highway. Helene treks across the French countryside, her only ally is a violent loner, Mo. Will they be able to trust one another long enough to find what they’re looking for? Is it good?
Savage Highway (Humanoids Inc)
Savage Highway is a gritty post-apocalyptic story about Helene, a woman in pursuit of her kidnapped sister, and Mo, a silent brute of a man with a damaged past who takes Helene under his protection. The comic, based off of the novel of the same name by Julia Verlanger, has been brought to life by writer Mathieu Masmondet and artist Zhang Xiaoyu.
The book eschews any introduction to the world, dropping the reader directly into the plot. This creates a sense of tension and mystery, as Masmondet feels content to simply let the readers experience the wasteland as Helene and Mo do. This allows the reader to focus more on the characters rather than the setting – though the setting is interesting as well.
The U.S. edition has been translated by Cristy Stiles and Montana Kane, and with very few exceptions, the translation flows perfectly. There are a couple places where the dialogue feels a bit clunky, but without the original text, it’s impossible to tell if that’s due to the translation or Masmondet’s script.
Savage Highway has one other thing in its favor, and that’s the artwork of Zhang Xiaoyu. From the outset, Zhang’s artwork with its hatched lines gives the world a rough texture and this carries over to the characters. Mo is a gargantuan figure–think Marv in Sin City and you’ll have a good idea of what you’re getting here. Zhang shows a talent for action here, and Masmondet makes sure the dialogue never flows over the artwork here. This synergy leads to a brilliant intensity in the comic. As Masmondet’s dialogue begins to lessen, anticipation builds for what is always an entertaining set piece.
The artwork is brutal – Savage Highway earns its mature audiences labeling. There’s a bit of nudity here, and it is in the comic’s treatment of sexuality that it stumbles a bit (at least with a modern American sensibility). It’s never shown on panel, but the fall of society means that all of the female characters have dealt with rape in the past. When Mo and Helene first meet, he gropes her, treating her like a piece of property. There’s certainly a subtext of the savagery of the world being due to the nature of men, but it’s handled neither deftly nor deliberately as it is in something like Mad Max: Fury Road. This makes some sections of the graphic novel awkward to read, but it doesn’t hurt the overall enjoyment of the story.
Is It Good?
Desolate post-apocalyptic settings are no strangers to comic books, but Savage Highway carves its own niche thanks to its origins as a novel in the 70s. The tone here that Masmondet and Zhang strike here is unique, resembling a grindhouse film. Detailed artwork and a taut script will keep readers engaged as they embark on the journey with Helene and Mo.
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