Imagine a world where an aging king out of fear for Death prepared a large number of traps and, after a heroic battle lasting several days, finally managed to trap her in a large mirror – a world where now ordinary humans don't die, but merely age and eventually start to rot. A world where the only solution to this is to transport people who've outlived their "best before" date are taken to a giant death factory, where their head is separated from the body. This is the only, grisly, way of releasing the soul, and said soul then unfortunately then takes up residence in the body of the person who did the deed.
If you don't want to imagine such a nasty world, you're in luck; you don't have to. Jean-David Morvan and Yann Legal have already done that for you. Then, Morvan scripted the BD ("bande-dessiné", that is "comics" in French) album series about Zorn & Dirna, two kids growing up orphaned in this terrible world. They've been brought up and trained by the king's man, Master Erken, under whose tutelage they've learned how to, really and truly, kill. When they simultaneously touch somebody, human or animal, and concentrate, they can kill that person, releasing the soul without it taking up residence in either of them.
If you think that is somewhat creepy, you'll have to be prepared for worse, because at least one of the kids really likes her awesome power, and wants to use it for fun. Also, being kids, they don't have quite the self-discipline not to use that power when they get really angry with somebody...
Complicating things is an extremely ruthless, ronin-type bountyhunter who is supposed to escort the kids to the king. Turns out not only has he issues of his own to deal with, horrible enough to explain how he became the near-monster he is painted as in the first album, he is also not entirely successful in his mission; instead, the kids end up in the very death factory they're supposed to make superfluous.There, they end up under the axe of the man who severed their mother's head from her body...
The back story to this album series is powerful, if somewhat grisly and ugly. It's also disturbing to see a kid's glee at her power to kill, and the bloody business of killing (and some other distasteful stuff) is perhaps depicted a tad enthusiastically. And the coloring, especially in the first album but also to some extent in the second, is done in an often rather insensitive, flat manner, even when the colorist is trying to "paint", and sometimes even drowns out the line artwork – a cardinal sin. It gets better in the second album, but I'm still not happy with it. It might be a problem with the Swedish printing, or it might be that the coloring is done on computer and looks different there (where the light comes from behind the colored art, and isn't reflected from it), but either way, it's not really satisfactory. (Take out your old Tintin albums to see an excellent example of how one does coloring that really supports the storytelling instead of overpowering it.)
But the good things about this series are stronger than the mainly minor complaints I have. The artwork is a bit on the cartoony side (somewhat compensated for by the coloring though, despite my reservations about it), the characters are strong, the back story (as I've already said) powerful, and the storyline is – once it gets really going in the second album – not merely interesting but quite fascinating. (And in the second album, the translator also handles the difference between the French "vous" – the plural or respectful "you" – better in the first, so there are improvements in all respect – story, writing, color, translation.)
The setting, this world where Death has disappeared, strikes me as something that could have been created by some of the more imaginative sfi-fi writers of the fifties-sixties golden age, like Philip José Farmer for example. These days, with the rise of the fantasy genre, it becomes a fantasy story instead, and one that is well worth reading.
Recommended. You want to judge the look of the story for yourselves, you can find samples from the Swedish editions here.