From a young age, I’ve been curious about the ethics of bullfighting, a sport that pits man against beast. Coming from a Hispanic country, I have seen continuous debates of whether it is a form of art, a beautiful dance that evokes our wild nature, or an abusive practice where an animal may get killed for nothing.
There is an endless discussion about the role that animals play in our existence. Is the planet theirs, and we are the invaders? Or have we conquered them, just as we have conquered each other in the past? Do animals deserve rights? Or are rights exclusive for humans? Should they roam free, independent of us? Or is it acceptable to eat them or use them for our entertainment? Human development has harmed our ecosystem, causing the extinction and endangerment of many animal species over the past fifty years. Fortunately, there is a continuous effort in preserving animals’ lives. But again, the debate continues: how do we ethically do this?
There are two aspects to this whole discussion: the number of animals and how we treat them. The first one refers to the fact that there are multiple critically endangered and endangered species1, so we have to protect these animals by taking actions such as making their haunting illegal and monitoring black markets to avoid their commercialization. The second one refers to treating an animal in the correct form. For example, chickens and cows, two pillars of the food industry, exist in enormous quantities. But, because of this, the life of each individual doesn’t matter2.
But what if? (a question comics like so much), what if we took the first aspect out of the conversation? If there was a technology that could replicate and create every animal in existence without limits? Then, we could focus only on the ethical aspect. Would humans care about animals if they were infinite? Or would they treat them like replaceable objects, even when they are alive? These questions are explored in The Preserve.
The year is 2120. Packard Industries developed a cheap cloning technology that could create any animal. They solved the food crisis and became the number one company worldwide. As part of their diversification effort, they created The Preserve, a televised sport that pits man against beast. The teams competing are conformed by a hunter, who fights against the other team’s creature, and the artist, who designs the creatures. It is the best form of entertainment and has created a media empire. But the cost is the complete desensitization towards animal life.
We follow the story of Winston Abara, a high school teacher, formerly the youngest Preserve league winner, who abandoned the competition and disappeared from public life. He is forced to return to the Preserve to help his town, joined by one of his students, Rachel Lin, a promising artist. Together they aim to win the whole thing and get a wish from the Packard Industries CEO.
The world-building of this story is beautiful because it has many layers. On the one hand, it makes you reflect on animals, monopolistic companies, and consumerism. On the other one, it gets you excited because of the epic competition, where our protagonists are the underdogs. In a Hunger Games fashion, you want to see Winston and Rachel beat everyone in their own game. But the book also gives a sneak peek of who is competing, including the son of Packard Industries CEO, and everyone has their reasons to be there and will give their absolute best.
Speaking of the protagonists, both of them are compelling and relatable. They come from distinct places, so the contrast in their interactions is clear. Winston is older, tired of this horrible culture towards animals, forced to return to a sport he excels at but hates. And Rachel is younger, more innocent, and excited to be a part of something bigger than herself. We have seen this dynamic time and time again, and I’m excited to see it in the context of this new world.
Artistically speaking, there is a focus on the creatures, the characters, and their hometown. First, because we are dealing with fictional creatures that combine traits of existing and fantastic animals, the art of the beasts has the potential to be the highlight of this series. Second, each character has a unique design and voice, even the secondary ones, so everyone is easily identifiable. Finally, the details of the school, diner, and Rachel’s house set a personality for the town: it is small, cozy, and full of heart, which is crucial because saving this place is the main objective of the protagonists.
In conclusion, The Preserve is the beginning of a new world, with compelling characters and easy-to-follow art. It is perfect for new and old readers because it has a bit of everything: on a superficial level, warriors fighting fantastic beasts in a tournament-like fashion. It is pure fun, epic entertainment. On a deeper level, a discussion on the ethics of animal treatment and how we play a part in it. As with all futuristic tales, the reader reflects on how far, or close, we may be to this reality and how we feel about this fictional world. We have seen many comics regarding how we humans treat each other, and it is refreshing seeing one about how we treat other species that inhabit the planet with us. Perhaps it will lead to different and equally important types of reflections on our behavior.
1For more information visit: https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/directory?direction=desc&sort=extinction_status.
2For a didactic examination of the chicken industry, where unethical treatments are shown, watch the documentary Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! (2017).