The Bird Caller, a graphic novel by J. F. Martel and Dominic Bercier, is a story told with minimal words about the last physical man on earth. The world has been decimated by a nuclear war, and the consciousnesses of all mankind have been uploaded into a hard drive called the Ark, which Dennett, the last man, is responsible to keep safe until at last he is able to leave his body behind and join them in a “digital Eden.”
As the novel opens, one of two mainframe facilities (or what mainframes have become in the future) has suffered a meltdown, and Dennett is trying to get to the second mainframe as quickly as possible to re-establish communication with the satellite AI that keeps watch over a planet still being ravaged by robotic, unmanned weapons leftover from the nuclear holocaust. On the way, he stops for food, and finds something completely unexpected.
There are many layers of meaning in this book. Dennett is the last name of the man who wrote Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, which points out the deep rooted, far reaching cultural consequences of the idea that a design may not require a designer. Whether or not this is the reason for Dennett’s name in The Bird Caller, I cannot say, but given the symbolism of many of the panels or pages and the names of places and items, it would not surprise me.
The Christian symbolism especially was not lost on me. The hard drive is called the Ark, and the plan to upload all human awareness onto it is known as Exodus. He lands his plane in a place once called Ephesus, in order to stop and eat, since, as his inner monologue reminds the reader, “The flesh is weak.”
The story is told with very few words, which leaves the reader to draw the rest of its meaning from the beautiful artwork. Bercier gives the reader a peek at a monochromatic, post-apocalyptic world with as much suggestion as concrete drawing. I especially enjoyed the foreshadowing of the first sixteen pages, and the hints at broader themes throughout the art.
In the end, I appreciated that the authors left interpretation open to the reader to find their own meaning in a story about the end of the world. Is it true that “Whoever uses machines… loses touch with the soul” or is it possible for humanity to continue, unhampered by physical constraints? I give this book four out of five Death Stars.