Devolution, written by Rick Remender (Low, Black Science) is a post-apocalyptic story about a world that was purposefully infected with a virus designed to de-evolve humans. But the virus gets out of hand and ends up affecting creatures of all walks of life as well, turning them all into a prehistoric state. There is one girl, named Raja, who embarks on a mission to find the remnants of a cure that can reverse the worldwide insanity that ensues from the virus.
The art style is strange, yet quite fitting for the tale it’s depicting. It is visceral and real, with images that can take you into a world gone wholly primal (giant sharks for the win). However, this depiction does not carry over very well into the overall writing. Remender, whom I have always adored for his out-of-the-box science-fiction narratives, just felt too focused on the barbaric nature of man rather than telling a cohesive story. The general idea that popped out at me over and over again is that man, no matter what his state of evolution, shall always be a barbaric beast of sorts; a battle for the throne of alpha is inherently man’s natural state of mind. This doesn’t mean that the result is a bad one. With a bit more attention to detail on the actual effects of the virus, or the politics behind creating such a threat in the first place, would have really rounded off Devolution rather nicely.
The female protagonist, Raja, presented an idea that I found rather fascinating: a feeling of doing something out of a sense of duty versus wanting to do it for yourself as an individual. You can see Raja have this struggle, but it’s given such miniscule focus that it gets lost in all of the raping and plundering. I also really liked that she was a brown-skinned, South Asian woman. However, one thing that I found very offensive and a bit disrespectful, as a South Asian woman, was Raja’s name. Raja is a boy’s name. It’s not unisexual and it can’t be modified to be a girl’s name. It is a male name. Raja is also translated as “king,” or given as a title to those with respect and status equal with that of a king. If Remender’s purpose of naming her Raja was to portray a strong, independent woman, a simple Google search would have provided him with the relevant Hindi terms that would have been respectful and appropriately fitting for a South Asian woman. Maybe that’s not it; maybe her parents had a legitimate reason for giving their baby girl a boy’s name. Yet if that is truly the case, then that needs to be stated somewhere along the journey. Otherwise Raja is just another South Asian lady written incorrectly by those who are too lazy to do some minor research about a culture with which they are terribly unknowledgable about. This is something that I found to be a bit unacceptable on his part, and significantly affected my rating for the title. Respectful representation of PoC (people of colour) in literature, whatever the form, is something that I take extremely seriously.
Overall, Devolution is not a bad graphic novel; it’s not great, but it’s not bad. With some minor improvements to writing style, and an exploration of something outside of man’s natural beastly tendencies, I feel the story would be rather good. Oh, and to appropriately represent said South Asian female protagonist would also be greatly beneficial. If you are in search of something that is visually appealing, then check it out. But if you are looking for something with more depth, then I would not recommend it in it’s current state.