Maybe every generation looks at the state of the world and wonders if the end is near. Humans of centuries past lived through plagues, famine, and genocide, all under the watch of vengeful, merciless gods. Thanks to vaccines, systems of social support, and technology, we’ve slowly freed ourselves from those real and imaginary burdens (at least in the “developed” world, or wherever you’re likely reading this right now), only to find ourselves facing a new set of threats of our own creation. In this respect, the sort of anxiety we feel over nuclear annihilation, global warming, peak oil, or zoonotic flu is nothing new, but with respect to all our ancestors, maybe it’s more deserved.
I know that sounds grim, but it’s hard not to think about such things while the Gulf of Mexico is slowly turning brown right before our eyes. What will happen if this keeps up — “this” being carbon increasingly emitted into the sky, oil released into the sea, superviruses mutated beyond our control, you name it — and what might the world look like afterwards? I’d been morbidly preoccupied with these thoughts for years, and that was before I read Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us. In a way, while I long for a world where society would finally embrace peace and sustainability, a part of me delights in the aesthetic appeal of a post-human planet and the inevitable return of nature to the countless zones where it’s been paved and exterminated out of existence. There’s no shortage of this in the opening chapters of Eden: It’s an Endless World!, and it’s as gripping a portrait of a planet in transition as I’ve ever seen.
Set in the aftermath of a global pandemic, a trio of survivors take shelter in a research lab, scavenging from the ravaged and deserted land around them and living off the provisions of their self-sufficient facility as they ponder the possibility that they might be among the last survivors on earth while waiting for contact from the outside. In what’s probably the longest chapter I’ve ever come across in a single manga volume, their past is revisited in several flashbacks, spanning the creation of the lab, the political and biological events that brought down the world around them, and the personal battles that lead them to the lonely existence they seem doomed to eventually die in. It will come as little surprise to any potential reader that visitors do show up one day, and although I won’t give away just who or what they are — partly because I avoid giving away spoilers just as much as I avoid reading them, partly because the geopolitical details of the plot would need more than a paragraph to recap — their arrival effectively banishes the survivors from their Eden and sets up the rest of the story.
Oh, and that’s just the prologue, as chapter two flashes forward 20 years into the future. We meet the central protagonist (at least of the first three volumes) Elijah Ballard, a teenage boy who eeks out a living foraging and looting on his own in an abandoned South American metropolis. His life is a lonely struggle, albeit a peaceful and idyllic one set against the backdrop of a city in decay, streets slowly being overtaken by weeds and even trees, where wild dogs prowl the block and designer clothes still hang on racks in stores for the taking. There’s an eerie beauty to these scenes, one that’s almost dreamlike until you remember just how real they almost are. Elijah is resourceful enough to make the best of his situation and introspective enough to ponder the meaning of it. For anyone who’s ever wondered what it might be like to have a corner of the world all to themselves, Elijah is a likable and sympathetic hero who you’ll enjoy spending time with. But much like the characters in the opening chapter, his life is soon turned upside down by some unexpected visitors. What does their arrival reveal about life on Earth after the outbreak?
Eden: It’s an Endless World! is a thoughtful and immersive story, an unflinchingly gritty meditation on the ugly business of life and death. Hiroki Endo’s artwork is richly detailed, his characters expressive and emotional, and his settings worth getting lost in all on their own. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the most seasoned reader or comics or manga, but for whatever it’s worth, I don’t know if I’ve read any other title that’s packed so much detail into each page. The world of Eden isn’t for the feint of heart: it’s a testament to Endo’s skill as an artist just how disturbing some of the more gruesome panels in this volume are, and what I’ve seen of further volumes only dials this up. But there are lighthearted moments as well. After an attempt to harvest coconuts from treetops by hand goes bad, Elijah resorts to using a rifle to shoot its fruits down to the ground. “If this were a comic, they would’ve fallen when I hit ’em,” he moans, after only managing to blow his targets to bits.
Eden also incorporates many elements of cyberpunk, a genre that I usually enjoy tremendously, despite how passé it’s viewed these days. So far, it’s one of the only things keeping Eden from being a completely plausible story that could conceivably be set in our own world. Will it play a significantly bigger role in the story to come, or just spice things up along the way? Obviously, it’s too early to tell which way the story will turn, but I’m excited to find out.