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31 may 2018

Volume I of Enki Bilal's Bug was the most heavily-advertised book in Paris last winter, its ominous cover art appearing on billboards and Métro posters everywhere. Being suggestible, I bought a copy and got around to reading it just now. I thought I was finally beyond hip, but come to find that Enki Bilal is older than I am, a grand old man of bandes dessinées; and that Bug, while undeniably stylish, is a fairly standard postapocalyptic yarn. I liked it all the same, and will now have to pre-order Volume II.

It's the year 2041, not that far in the future, and some sort of phenomenon has knocked out all the digital information on Earth – not just on Earth, but as far away as the International Space Station and the homeward-bound private Mars mission sponsored by the evil-sounding Lifedust corporation. Like all good SF epidemics, this one isn't very clearly explained. Facebook is gone, Siri has finally shut up, the Web is down, cars and planes don't work – but somehow mobile phones are exempt. Analog TV and radio still work (mysteriously, people still have analog TVs and radios to take advantage of this), and of course newspapers can still be printed using movable type. The lack of spell-check makes editors defensive, but the Fourth Estate continues noisy as ever.

The worm has turned. Millennials are not only obsolete, they're positively suicidal. Elderly boomers like me and Enki Bilal suddenly have the world by the tail, since we're the only ones who can drive uncomputerized cars. The only relatively young person who knows anything is Kameron Obb, the sole survivor of that Mars mission. A mysterious cybernetic organism has implanted itself in his spinal column, in the process downloading the entire content of the terrestrial digital universe into his brain, while also lending an attractive bluish splotch to his face. Obb knows your passwords and indeed everything about you, and he's a man much in demand.

Once Bilal has established these dystopian parameters, a rather conventional adventure plot ensues. A megalomaniac Caliph kidnaps Obb. Hoping to lure him into their clutches, a bunch of Venetian mafiosi kidnap Obb's daughter. An obsessive serial killer is on the tail of both Obb and daughter. A fetching physician, herself turning a bit blue, acts as Obb's wingman. It's all good fun.

The most original part of Bug is something called blocage lévitationnel. Evidently, by the 2040s, rich people have access to an app that allows them to hover in mid-air. When the bug hits, a bunch of A-listers find themselves riding high with no way to get down. Bilal exploits this device to show a superannuated billionaire floating above Central Park (an image that features eerily on his back cover). But he also uses it for comic effect, as when a movie star, caught levitating, is gifted a shower-curtain contraption by her fans so that she can tidy up demurely in the sky.

Bilal, Enki. Bug. Livre 1. n.p.: Casterman, 2017.