Detail of cover to Drones v1

Drones, v1 and v2: “Hellfire” and “PTSD”

War is Hell

It drives people crazy.  There are no heroes.  Nobody is left unscathed.

“Drones” is a two part series, with a definitive ending.  It’s a bit simplistic at times, but I suppose that helps to more clearly put forth the point of view I believe the author is trying to present here.

Good people can get sucked into war and glorify it when they shouldn’t, and not all bad people are all that bad, though they may do bad things if they feel they must. And, hey, everyone’s the hero of their own story, right?

It’s the most uncomfortable yet satisfying part of the series, actually.  The way the writer, Sylvain Runberg, turns the tables on all of your assumptions and creates likable people you don’t completely trust is a neat trick.

The Back Story

In "Drones," Louise tries to balance life and work.

Louise Fernbach is a soldier in a European military organization.  She’s one of three in an elite squad who flies armed drones in the theater of battle, helping to protect the ground troops and taking out the bad guys with more ruthless efficiency.  She’s trying to balance her family life with her military life.

She loves her job. It’s all consuming. She’s been dragged into a bigger battle and has become obsessed with it.  This strains her relationship with her husband — who has a civilian career of his own — and her kids, who are being raised mostly by the robot nanny.

But is she fighting on the right side?  It’s complicated, like all good fictional wars.

The "bad guy" prays in off hours. in "Drones."

On the other side, we have Yun Shao.  She’s the leader of a separatist movement in China that leans on Catholicism as its motivating factor.  (Franco-Belgian comics often lean on religion the way American comics like to lean on Big Business and rogue government agencies.)  She wishes for a more democratic society (well, more like a friendly socialism) and for her group to have its freedom from the more totalitarian regime that runs China.

Europe, for various reasons including economic, isn’t siding with this freedom-loving group.  They’re on China’s side.

Shao’s group becomes more militant and wiley. Her attempt to create a free and open society gets lost underneath the tactics that define it. Even when she’s handing out free food to local villages, it’s a political move as much as a charitable one.

The European military becomes more dogged in its pursuit.  The years drag on in this battle and everyone loses their way just a little bit.  The European soldiers, in particular, become unquestioning tools of destruction, looking forward to every chance they get to head out there and blow things up.

People get caught in the crossfire, and we see that happen on two different occasions, on both sides.  This book doesn’t shy away from showing it somewhat graphically, either.  (It’s not quite “The Walking Bad” dead, but there’s no convenient cutaway on the occasions it smatters the most.)

There are repercussions to these actions, of course, and they’re the most dramatic parts of the books, right up to the last page.

War is not simple, and there is no winner and loser.  There is only a change in power and the tactics of the losers. And that’s what this series has to confront.

Those Drones

The drones fly over the water in the Drones BD

These aren’t simple remote control drones.  Oh, no.  Flying these machines creates a nearly parental form of love and respect on the part of the soldier.  The soldiers act as much like pet owners as they do soldiers when it comes to their drones, which are named and everything.

It takes a lot to fly one. They’re complicated and well-armed machines, requiring a complicated and futuristic looking interface. The book is set only 20 years in the future, but given the pace of technology these days, perhaps it’s not such a crazy view into the future.

How to control a drone in the Drones BD

The bond between flyer and machine is made clear by the end of the first volume, when one goes down and the reaction is personal and visceral.  It’s hammered home in the second volume when a replacement is brought on-line, as well as in the end when — well, I’m not going to spoil those last couple of pages.

The designs for the drones by series artist, Louis, is sleek, no-nonsense, and just plain cool.  They look like small scale spaceships from Star Trek, with great maneuverability.


More on the Art

Louis’ art has a couple of quirks to it. The biggest is just the angular and somewhat stretched out style he uses. Characters look skinnier than they ought to, and the side effect from this is that women’s breasts sometimes look incredibly low, but then pop out at the last moment.  And their shirts often wrap way too tightly in that area. For the most part, though, this is a stylistic thing, not a gratuitous attempt to woo more male readers.

Maybe nobody wears bras in Drones?

If I had to compare his style to an American artist’s, I might make vague comparisons to Jim Calafiore or Eric Canete, both of whom are strong stylists.  Canete’s characters are far more animated, though.  Louis’ people act in ways that feels more literal.  He doesn’t stretch them out too far for a dramatic pose.

He doesn’t need to, though, as he uses very specific camera angles throughout the book to heighten the drama. In particular, he chooses a lot of low angle shots to make things appear larger and more dramatic. Looking back at both volumes while writing this review, I think I’ve discovered that Louis never met a low angle shot that he didn’t love.  They’re everywhere.

The colors from Daviet are terrific.  They’re bright and colorful.  The hide none of the art and don’t overcomplicate things.  There’s some minor texture work and some shadows, but nothing that shows itself off too strongly.  I love the blues in the room where they pilot the drones, in particular.

The best thing I can say about the coloring is that it’s done to make the book readable and vibrant, not to show off what the colorist can do.  There are plenty of opportunities in the series to make things dark and grim. There are scenes in caves and back alleys in cities that could easily have obliterated the art with too much coloring work, but Daviet does none of that here.  He only adds to the art.


The Politics of “Drones”

Obviously, this series is inspired by the projection of how military drones are being used in recent years, and then projecting that out into the future where they play a bigger part, are more agile, and can have more fire power.

The story reflects some of the concerns of this, though doesn’t serve as a battle cry one way or the other.  This isn’t a treatise on the horrors of killing remotely. If anything, these drones are just a replacement for the Air Force, effectively. The story is more interested in the way these futuristic drones, in particular, become such a personal thing for their pilots, and what that does to them in the long run.

There’s brushes with politics, particularly in the second volume when the Chinese resistance starts a strike at an auto manufacturer in China.  Plot mechanics are such, though, that this doesn’t becomes a victory for one side or the other of the political debate. It’s more a stepping stone towards more violence and the grand finale of the two-part series.



Drones v1 coverDrones v2 PTSD cover

I’m not going to jump up and down pointing to this one and saying you have to read it.  It has enough faults to keep me away from a blanket recommendation.  Readers will debate the last few pages  — is it too far out of left field?  A natural consequence of the events in the series?  Another political statement?  A good couple of twists? I enjoyed the book on its own merits, though I cringed a few times at the lack of subtlety and nuance.  But I enjoyed the read, and it’s a relatively quick one for a BD book.

If my description above sounds interesting to you, then go ahead.  If you’re not looking for a military sci-fi comic, then no, not really. Find something more in your preferred genre.

Under no circumstance, however, would I recommend reading the second volume without reading the first along with it.  Right now (through Sunday 2/5 at 11:00 p.m.), comiXology’s sale is only for the second volume, and I can’t even find the first volume in its store.

Over on Izneo, both volumes are available for $2.99. until Sunday night. Buy them both there, if you’re interested in this story.  Or, just buy volume 1 and read it before you decide if it’s interesting enough to carry on through the second half of the story.  You only need to place a $2.99 bet.  That’s less than a typical 20 page comic from America.

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #17 of 100 for 2017.)


  • JC Lebourdais February 5, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    Have you ever read the first three volumes of BLAKE & MORTIMER; it’s a self-contained story tiled Le Secret de l’Espadon (Secret of the Swordfish, in english, I’d guess?) I see parallels to it in this review and I wonder if the authors didn’t do it deliberately to present a sort of modern take on a classic of BD.

  • augiedb February 6, 2017 at 10:33 am

    I’ve not read any Blake and Mortimer. I read a page of it once and it took me a half hour . I quit after that. I’d rather read a novel. There’s probably less prose in a novel…

    i’ve not read any interview with the creators or any background on the series, but now I’m curious, too, about that.

    (And, yes, I do believe you have that translation right. It sounds like a familiar title…)

  • The Ultimate Guide to Reading Digital BD: - Pipeline Comics May 4, 2017 at 7:19 am

    […] January 2017, only Izneo had the fourth book in the series, so I bought them all at Izneo.  When “Drones” volume 2 went on sale in February, only Izneo had “Drones” volume 1 on sale.  comiXology […]

  • "Motorcity" by Sylvain Runberg and Philippe Berthet - Pipeline Comics November 22, 2017 at 7:09 am

    […] If writer Sylvain Runberg’s name sounds familiar to you, it might be from the two-album series, “Drones,” that he wrote previous.  I reviewed it earlier this year. […]


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