Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I guess you can call me "Sir Happy"

Chevalier Malheur – Pascal Bertho – writer, Stephane Duval – art, Isabelle Cochet – colours. Printed by Delcourt.

I picked up Chevalier Malheur because it has this great cover of an older bearded dude resting his hands on the hilt of huge and bloody sword while looking down in disappointment, and a back ground with this huge battle. All the while it’s drawn in that classic French cartooning style, which makes me happy. If this were North American it would be twice as gory and way more realistic. If I were to give you the Hollywood pitch I would say this is Bone but done with people and instead of a young guy finding his place in the world it’s about an older guy attempting to reclaim his former glory.

Loosely translated, Chevalier Malheur means either The Unfortunate Knight or The Knight of Misfortune. Either way, you get to the crux of the title. It’s about Sir Groene who is a old fat drunkard who spends his time with his unfortunate and long suffering squire Cazzazus singing his story in local taverns to pay for another drink. Along comes a stranger who asks for the last few verses, which Groene sings despite the other patrons grumblings about hearing the song all night long. We’re given a recap of the last battle of the Knights of the Three Peaks where Groene loses the love of his life, The Lady in White, (or White Lady). The stranger says that when he last heard the song there was another verse and sings it to Groene about how the Lady in White survived the battle.

One thing leads to another and Groene sets out on a quest to see if this last verse of his tale is true. Off he goes with Cazzazus in toe, complaining, to the lands that have long since banished the knights but come hell or high water Groene will find out if this story is true. The end up at a cottage near the edge of the great battlefield where an old woman says that a knight carried the Lady in White to her home long after the battle was over. The Lady was wounded but also pregnant. The Lady refused to die until she gave birth, and she did, giving birth to a son. The old woman raised the boy as her own until his third birthday when a man came to claim him.

So now that Groene learns he has a son, he’s off to find him in the capital city of the realm. This is a bit dangerous what with being banned and all. But they go anyway and in the process run into some celtic looking rebels who join him because he’s a legend to them and is a figurehead to their struggle against oppression. Groene also runs into his old friend Olaf and the giant Martus, who was also a knight with them. All the while there is a dying king and a grand vizier who is awaiting a great alignment of planets so he can fulfill a prophecy. The volume ends with the old ragtag group heading towards the tower to see if they can find out more about Groene’s son, who may or may not be the son of the grand vizier – I’m guessing that’s the plot twist here.

Now the interesting part, is that throughout this quest Groene keeps dreaming about his past, which allow the readers to understand why he is considered once great but it also makes it look like his dreams affect reality. Whenever he dreams something different his current situation changes to accommodate it.

I really enjoyed this, even though it ended rather suddenly. This volume is all about introducing the characters and their world, which is fine but leaves me wanting more. The language wasn’t too hard to get around even without my French-English dictionary which seems to have disappeared (or to have been stored a little too well). There was only one or two words that had me a bit stumped but I could more or less figure it out because of the context.

In the end, this was a great escape from the comics I tend to gravitate towards and it managed to sate my desire for a fantasy story that isn’t beholden to Dungeons and Dragons or Tolkein. It also wasn’t aimed at a younger audience like that whole Narnia and Eragon stuff that’s out there now. This is a very old feeling story in that it’s familiar what with the quest and the old guy out to redeem himself and reclaim his old glory. Yes, it’s a story that has been told a lot but will continue to be told a lot more so it is a treat to get a version of it that is told well. It is bright and clear and straightforward which is what too much fantasy comics tend to lack these days. I really enjoyed this little escape and I’ll recommend it to anyone who knows a bit of French. I’m just really happy that there is at least some books out there that treat fantasy in the manner I like without being melodramatic, too gothic-lame, or too “realistic.” I love my comic characters to be expressive and representative and that’s what we’re given here. Fun stuff all around.

If only there were more translations of this type of stuff I'm sure there could be an audience. I'm just unsure if we're ready to only buy books in trade form yet. I am, I just don't about the rest of the industry.

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