Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. Intrigued to find something new? Seeking validation for your secret passions? Required Reading gets you.
By Arpad Okay. Carthago is a dense book. Packed with history and science and speculation and spectacle. Spectacle might go without saying when one of the main characters is a gargantuan, battle-worn, proto-shark recently freed from the center of the Earth.
I came in expecting Michael Crichton and Wayne Barlowe, and they’re in there, but I left with much more of a Tom Clancy/Winter Men/Holy Blood, Holy Grail vibe than I was expecting. The megalodon is no mere MacGuffin, and yet there is so much more to this book than shark fights. Carthago is imagination running wild.
This comic is the Halloween issue of National Geographic. There’s a ton of science, a mother-lode of research, history, theories and philosophy regarding the rise and fall of the sea over time. Exotic locales, above and below sea level. Helicopters and submersibles and schematics. Cryptozoology — sort of. For every specialty, there is a scientist who plays a part in Carthago, and it is a diverse, truly unique, uniformly passionate cast of characters.
Dr. Melville and her daughter are at the epicenter of Carthago. What’s interesting is that Melville’s name is hardly the only parallel that can be drawn to Moby-Dick; both books love to feature lengthy, informative tangents on sea life. Splash pages only a nature nerd could love. Even the meals the characters eat (seafood, of course) are sumptuously detailed.
While Carthago owes much to the past, the story concerns itself with the contemporary. Industrial meddling with the ocean floor, which allowed giant sharks and other prehistoric monsters back into the modern world, has repercussions on the surface as well. Shaking the pillars of the earth aggravates ocean storms, and cities on the coast are wiped away on a scale matching the size of Carthago’s other dangers. So there’s Jaws, but there’s The Last Wave, too. And The Abyss. All things oceanic are collected in these pages, from peer-reviewed research, to pop culture, and everything in between. Exhaustive but never tiring. Instead, all these details are just the rare, otherworldly things of the ocean floor barely anyone ever gets to see.
Carthago goes inside instead of out to find its mysteries and madness. So far under the waves, so close to the center of the Earth, it might as well be in space. There is still as much to discover on our own planet as there is outside our solar system. The fear of darkness in this book, it’s not of the alien — it’s primal. Sharks and gators and childish worries grown to a size so unstoppable that it can legitimately reclaim its former menace. For all our technology, we are still a frail thing at the mercy of nature. Think of it as a deadpan, pulpy parable. With kaiju.
That’s what really grabs me. All this hard science and practical reasoning is being employed by madmen to hunt monsters. I get tricked by all the homework behind the writing into thinking it is a serious book, forgetting that it’s also about finding the real Atlantis, that my favorite character is some kind of quasi-Oceanid. The writing is delightfully twisty; instead of planting clues and paying them off, it shows you bizarre things and explains later. It makes for a different kind of ah-ha moment, but they are there, and they are plentiful.
Written by Christophe Bec.
Illustrated by Eric Henninot and Milan Jovanovic.
Colored by Delphine Rieu, Pierre Matterne, Makma, Yvan Villeneuve, and Betrand Denoulet.
Translated by Quinn Donoghue, Katia Donoghue, and Montana Kane.
US Edition edited by Alex Donoghue and Tim Pilcher.