17th Mar2013

Cinebook Graphic Novels Review

by Jack Kirby

Cinebook are a comics publisher that specialise in European fare. I’ve been lucky enough to receive a handful of their latest titles for review. The selection seems to cover pretty much every genre of boy’s own-style adventure you could think of, from space opera to World War II tales, via pirates and spies, stopping off at Viking and cowboys. Without further ado, let’s dive in.

I began with Sylvain Runberg and Serge Pellé’s Orbital 1. Scars. This is a sci-fi adventure, set in a future where humankind has recently been inducted into a pan-galactic UN-type organisation. Human Caleb and Mezoke of the Sandjarr race are paired together as part of the organisation’s spec-ops-cum-ambassadorial-peace-keeper branch (essentially like the Jedi in the Star Wars prequels), which is contentious due to the two species’ previous conflict. Pellé’s grimy and detailed artwork suggests a fully realised world and Runberg’s writing is confidently indicative of a vast and complex universe and I was left wanting more.

Berlin – The Seven Dwarves by Mark van Oppen came next. This was the story of the crew of a Lancaster bomber and their missions during the Second World War. I liked the attention to historical detail, though the characterisation is a little light. The dogfights are excellently portrayed. The book reaches an unexpectedly moving emotional climax, which was strong enough for me to overlook the slightly cheesy serendipitous denouement. I was surprised at how much I liked this one.

I used to really love playing XIII on the Gamecube, one of the more inventive first-person shooters of its generation. As such, I was pleased to see the first edition of the original comic, The Day of the Black Sun amongst the books for review. W. Vance and J. van Hamme’s Bourne-esque tale of an amnesiac secret agent struggling to rediscover his identity moves with the pace of a greased Scotsman in an ventilation shaft and is exciting, violent and engaging.

Van Hamme also wrote Thorgal Child of the Stars with Rosinski illustrating. It’s a Superman/Thor type affair that sees the titular Thorgal rocketed to Earth as a baby to live amongst a Viking tribe as his race pose as Norse gods. The focus is less sci-fi than mythology as the tales included in this collected volume focus on dwarves, serpents, Viking tribal politics and ‘real’ Norse gods. Get past the slightly kitsch feel of the thing and you’ve a got a reasonably enjoyable clutch of stories that’ll probably please both young and old readers.

I’m not really that impressed by literary spin-offs (Oz the Great and Powerful being a recent example that springs to mind, along with Kim Newman’s Dracula and Moriarty novels) so I wasn’t really looking forward to Long John Silver; this first volume subtitled Lady Vivian Hastings, which posits itself as a post-Treasure Island saga. Wisely, the titular character is not introduced by writer Xavier Dorison until late on in the book, which allows it to establish its own identity. Instead we’re introduced to Lady Vivian, a saucy, spirited and brattish yet likable heroine who seeks to restore her spent fortune by employing Silver to recover some buried treasure. But of course. Being a forward-thinking 18th century woman, Lady Vivian goes along on the voyage too. Mathieu Lauffray’s artwork is simply wonderful and easily the most impressive of the selection here.

Finally I read the two least enticing-looking titles. The Bluecoats No. 1 Robertsonville Prison is about two Union soldiers captured by Confederates during the American Civil War who then try all manner of wacky stunts in order to escape. Call me crazy, but I just don’t think that this particular war is an especially rich vein of humour to mine, particularly not from a European perspective. The book was first published in 1975 and whilst nothing is outright offensive, its (very) sub-Asterix tone just seems like poor taste. It was written and drawn by Raoul Cauvin and Willy Lambil.

Lastly I read the thirty-fifth Lucky Luke Adventure, The Singing Wire, drawn by Morris and written by Asterix-creator Goscinny, which is loosely based on the historical feat of joining the two American coasts by telegraph line. Whilst wild misadventure is the name of the game here, the vague history lesson underneath the caper is impressive. Lucky Luke is a likeable hero and I was wrong to expect another dose of rubbish. The Singing Wire had heart and some mild humour and proved to be something of a palate-cleanser after The Bluecoats.

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