Euro Reviews: ‘HSE’ Volume 3 – The Finale To A Horribly Prescient Future

The finale of a horribly plausible dark vision of the future successfully nails its conclusion set in a world where the global economy rests on listing humans on the stock market and one man’s future rises and falls on his success – but will that be enough for him?

So far, we’ve been introduced to the idea of the Human Stock Exchange, the HSE, and followed everyman Felix in his meteoric rise to the top of the HSE. We’ve seen the hints of how important Felix’s continued success is to the founder of the HSE, Simon Sax, and we’ve been there to see the horrible toll it’s all taken on Felix’s life.

He’s been living constantly on the edge, monitored constantly by his rate watch, and having to follow every order of his shareholders has become incredibly stressful – just as we knew it would. After all, in a market-based economy, the value of your shares can go down as well as up, and history tells us that they not only can go down but will go down.

By the end of volume two we saw Felix’s board of directors demanding that his partner, Rachel, gets an abortion. Yet, despite being repulsed by what they were asking, Felix still couldn’t give up on what he’d gained and, instead of walking out there and then, he merely negotiated an extension, something that, here in the opening of volume three, has left him alone, finally seeing what his life has turned into. And, as he’s about to discover, it’s far, far too late for him to reject the life he’s been given now.

 

But of course, there’s more to it than that.

Because the one thing that he’s never really pushed too hard on is just why Simon Sax chose him, a nobody, to take part in the HSE.

Well, here in the finale, we finally see Sax’s machinations play out, much to Felix’s horror, as well as seeing just how easily Felix’s hard-won successes can be stripped away.

 

The answer to Felix’s way too late question comes early on in this final volume, and it’s a neat twist that we should have seen coming all along, but just because it seems obvious in hindsight doesn’t mean that Xavier Dorison hasn’t managed to pull off something impressive here.

I won’t spoiler it here, but suffice it to say it’s not something that Felix wants to be any part of – but of course, the problem he has is that he’s tied everything to the HSE and extracting himself will cost him dearly.

 

Now, I’ve reviewed both previous volumes of this one already (Vol 1, Vol 2) and loved them both, so I was so damn pleased that Dorison and Thomas Allart absolutely nail the ending here. It’s never a guarantee that the final part will work, especially with things like this that are so high concept. After all, the third volume of Authorised Happiness, with the same great pedigree, same great opening two volumes, still managed to rather fluff the ending.

Thankfully, there’s no such misstep here with HSE3 and Dorison successfully manages to get over all the horror of the situation, all the dark possibilities for the future. And make no mistake, it’s a future that’s a lot closer than we think, as Dorison pointed out in the acknowledgments for volume 1 and the case of IPO Man and the like. Indeed, Dorison’s potential future enslavement of the public by themselves and their lemming-like ability to chase the dream of success is something we see around us every single day.

And just as Dorison’s story concludes everything so well, Allart’s artwork all through the three volumes has been so strong in showing us this near-future world, something you’ll have seen through these three reviews with the art I’ve shown.

In a series where, by necessity, the art has been constrained by the subject, a work of meetings and conversations, Allart has never shrunk from the task of making the pages fascinating, always serving the story yet also making every page beautiful, always looking for a new angle to the visuals, showing us all the powerful emotions of the characters.

His work is rarely showy but just perfect at capturing character and emotions in the artwork, essential in a character-based work such as HSE. For example, this quiet moment in volume 3 when Felix is looking back over the carnage he’s wrought upon his life and the pain he’s caused is just so emotive and powerful…

But even with a character-based work such as HSE, Allart can still find moments to wow us here in this final volume, just as he has all through the story. You get the glorious tonal shift in the final few pages as we see the seismic shift in Felix’s life, with Allart, along with the colourist, Christian Lerolle, shifting styles and palette perfectly to show us a very different world from the tech-infused, business-led one of cold blues and muted tones we’ve seen all the way through.

But for the big wow moment of this final volume, there’s a glorious double-page spread, completely divergent from the art style of the rest of the book, but a moment that’s perfection artistically. All through the volume the tempo has increased with the inevitable fall of Felix, all until this moment where everything comes together and Felix finally rebels against the HSE and against Simon Sax and seals his fate. Everything has built and built to this moment in this volume and having Allart open up like this is just perfection…

 

From something that’s such a high concept thing, literally the entire idea of the series emblazoned on the cover, Dorison and Allart have delivered something thrilling yet never over the top, an intelligent and terrifyingly real vision of a future. It’s yet another excellent example of the strength of the European comic world, one you should be diving into to find some great works.

HSE 3 – (Human Stock Exchange Volume 3)written by Xavier Dorison, art by Thomas Allart, colours by Christian Lerolle, translation by James Hogan.

Published by Cinebook, 2021. Originally published by Darguad, 2016.

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