Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Project BD - books 2 through 5

I’ve managed to get a lot of reading in over the last few days but at the same time I seem to have missed a lot of the little details that make reading comics so much fun. It comes partially from reading in my secondary language and partially from my wife watching So You Think You Can Dance reruns and flicking between that and Men In Black or What Not to Wear. It’s friggin’ distracting.

Anyway here’s what I can sort of paste together.

Le Loup, L’Agneau, et Les Chiens de Guerre.
Translated, this title says The Wolf, The Lamb and The Dogs of War. The Hollywood pitch is that this is Lord of the Rings meets The Suicide Squad. The protagonist is an older gentleman who is the count of a disgraced family who spends his night dressed in a leather mask and robs from the corrupt rich. The mask looks like an owl and he, shockingly, goes by the name The Owl. Anyway, he gets caught in about the first four pages and chucked in prison with a lecherous dwarf.

The count is brought in front of a tribunal with a bunch of other criminals including the dwarf he was locked up with. The others include a Halfling sorcerer, a rogue, a female martial artist, a monk type of guy and a huge disfigured giant type of dude who is all tied up like Hannibal Lecter. They are informed that they have been chosen for a suicide mission and poisoned. They have 60 days to complete the mission and return for the antidote. All they are told is that to get the rest of the instructions the group needs to meet up with the Brotherhood of the Lamb at some mystical plateau/island place, that may or may not be a prison (I’m not too clear on the translation).

The idea of the floating island full of scoundrels and holy-men is a solid one. When our group gets there they instantly kill a bunch of guards and the only bridge crossing the huge chasm to the mainland is cut down. Then they run afoul of pretty much everyone while trying to find a guide. In the middle of this the giant dude is put into a gladiator fight and kills the champ while the rest of the group comes up with a plan to rescue him because they think having a tank is a good idea. This book is pretty much just the setup issue for the larger adventure and while full of a lot of good, as well as standard ideas, it left me wondering what the hell happened next.

What struck me most is the different approach to fantasy art here. There is a much more light hearted approach to the material here. The dwarf is a lecherous unshaven man with a twirly moustache, the hobbit looks like Tommy Chong, and everyone is sort of the cartoon representation of the fantasy stereotype. It’s this great mixture of American comic book traditions and French approaches to cultural production. It’s both good and light-hearted, familiar and foreign. It’s a bit too Tolkein-esqu for me to like as much as the Chevalier Malheur but was good nonetheless for simply being an approachable and familiar fantasy take on the get criminals (who are more like Robin Hood and his Merry Men than actual brutal criminals) to do a dirty job for the good guys story.

Professeur Bell: Promenade des Anglaise

I got this because Joann Sfar’s name was on the cover. I’ve enjoyed his other works quite a lot so thought this would be interesting on some level. Okay, I didn’t enjoy Vampire Loves all that much but Rabbi’s Cat and the Dungeon series were both real treats to read and look at.

The only thing that had me a bit confused here was that I didn’t realise the professor was meant to be Scottish and based in Edinburgh. There are apparently other Professeur Bell collections out there.

Much like my last description this one seems a bit manic to try and describe coherently. Basically, Humpty Dumpty’s daughter is done school for the summer and is jealous of her friends who are all going on vacation. Her father works for Professor Bell, who she finds creepy. At Professor Bell’s place we see a crazed man attack the professor while there seems to be a jar containing his head on the professor’s shelf. The guy stabs the professor who turns out to be a ghost and the real professor is in bed injecting morphine to experience dreams where a council of queens keep judging him.

Turns out there is a plot to assassinate Queen Victoria so the professor and his crew spring into action and go to the Cote d’Azure to an underwater beach. It turns out that the professor’s arch nemesis is plotting against the queen (I can’t recall his name right now). But the bad guy has given the queen new glasses where he can use a second set to see what the queen sees. He is also the leader of a cult and has these fish-men as bodyguards.

As the professor discovers this plot he finds a sex-dungeon in the bad-guy’s house and rescues a naked woman who doesn’t want to be untied, so he knocks her out. He brings her home and when she wakes up he wants to know if she’s okay and what she knows of her kidnapper’s plans. She won’t speak to him until he’s naked and they spend the next few pages having sex and she won’t speak until he has sex with her, ties her up or at least pulls her hair.

The professor’s cronies in the meantime break up the underground cult meeting and discover the plot to replace the queen with a double and in the escape the professor’s student stumbles upon an orgy of nuns and monks, of which he takes part.

Anyway, the professor concocts a plot to get revenge by turning the second pair of glasses into a gateway to hell, or something like that. And it works all to horrible results for the little girl’s friend, who is the daughter of the professor’s nemesis.

Yeah. That’s about it. It was pretty awesome. Weird, but good.

Asterix le Gaulois
The first Asterix story that explains the whole concept of the last village of Gauls holding out against the Roman legions because of their magic invincibility potion. The names are all puns or just simply funny words that follow a pattern. From Asterix and Obelix to the blacksmith called Fullyautomatix, to the Roman outposts called Laudinum, or Petibonum, which translates to little gentleman.

This is expressive cartooning that we in North America have come to associate with children’s books, comics and cartoons. The short characters are midget sized, the moustaches are all huge, long beards are long enough for characters to trip over them, and the reader can understand what is happening by simply looking at the images. There is enough storytelling in the imagery themselves that anyone unable to get a translated version of the book would understand the plot.

That feels like a rarity these days, but I may just be looking in the wrong works. This is a lovely and simple piece of work that reminded me of why I got into comics in the first place.

WEST: La Chute de Babylone
Translated it’s titled The Fall of Babylon and it’s basically Hellboy done with cowboys in an art style that reminds me of Joe Kubert’s. So yeah, it’s about as cool as you’re thinking. Still, it’s not the best comic I’ve ever read because it does follow a set of genre rules but damn, it’s still pretty awesome.

The plot is that there’s a clandestine group put together to stop some mystical killer who is knocking off America’s elite, who all apparently belong to a hidden, literally, underground club called The Century Club. There is the mystical tattoo thing that keeps appearing as the members basically sell their soul to the club and will obey without questioning. The dead members have all left suicide notes that say things like I’ve purchased my place in Hell and I’ll keep your seat warm. Then these guys generally kill their family and themselves.

Enter the slightly mystical cowboy who we first see pulling a Deer Hunter version of Russian roulette for money. Then we follow the whole, putting the team together montage, and all the extraneous storylines coalesce while they fight an indestructible guy in an old fashioned coat and cape with a huge nasty sword. A few rounds of the six shooter don’t work so they level the building around him with a hunk of tnt and we’re given a “to be continued.” Luckily I have the second volume waiting at home.

The dialogue seems bit more “off” to me in this volume and the artwork feels way more American influenced but it’s still a heck of a piece of adventure storytelling.


Fortress Keeper said...

Asterix is indeed a rare treasure, no matter what era of comics you're talking about.

Brandon said...

WEST: La Chute de Babylone

Le Loup, L’Agneau, et Les Chiens de Guerre.

Please tell me there are english translations of these. Unless it's in Spanish I'm lost.

joncormier said...

There may be Spanish translations, I'm not too sure. I'm fairly certain that you can get most of these Bandes Designees in continental European languages like Spanish and Italian.

From what I can see, there are no English translations. However, you could always contact Chris from Comics212 and Toronto's The Beguiling comic shop (in the sidebar). He's more likely to have a definitive answer.

I'll double check on the publisher's websites but my google-fu hasn't turned up anything but the French versions.

Anonymous said...

I just recently re-read all amy Asterixes. Something you forgot to mention is that in addition to being great examples of storytelling, the pictures are extremely beautiful as well. I've spoken before about the gorgeous use of colour in Asterix...compare if you will to any Big Two comic. Someone isn't paying attention to what pleases the eye.

When I'm finally sober. I'll be reading through all your remarks most carefully, Jon. An interesting series, to say the least.

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't that show up as a comma, instead of as a period? Surely it can't be me...