COMIC REVIEW: Lady S. Vol.1, Here’s To Suzie (Cinebook Reviews #27)

Lady S Vol 1Welcome back to our regular feature exploring the Gallic comics scene, as translated by Cinebook.  Each month we pluck a new fruit from the vine, give you an overview on the all-ages range, or update you on the ongoing series, depending on the state of my BookStack.

One of the things I love about European comics over their American counterparts is that they tend to come as complete narratives.  This focus on plot makes for a much more satisfying read, and you can part with your money safe in the knowledge that you’re not being bled for pointless crossovers or low-rate filler material.  The story is the thing and when it comes to deep, involving plots I’ve come across very few to match Jean Van Hamme.  He’s created yet another great character with Lady S. (ambassadorial aide, enigmatic beauty, spy, thief) but can this series possibly match the action and mystery of XIII, the conspiracies of Largo Winch or the epic scope of Thorgal?  Read on to see what I made of it.

Plot-wise this book is a real cat’s-cradle, so don’t make the mistake I did.  Reading it bit by bit over an extended period of time with leave you in a proper tangle, so settle yourself in and take in the whole show in one sitting.  The first volume is very much a set-up tale, putting the strands in place for future adventures but there’s no need to fear.  Van Hamme knows how to spin a yarn.  He hits the floor running with a mysterious intruder at a diplomatic soiree and from then on we are lobbed back and forth through time as the story unspools.  The two main threads involve Shania/Suzie’s tale from orphan thief to high-class professional, and the politically disastrous theft of a critical file from the Turkish Embassy.  There are connections between the two, and the way the story wraps is almost entirely predictable, but it remains a delight to watch it all unfold.  Tonally I’d place it more in the realm of young Modesty Blaise than a ‘Jane’ Bond, though there are elements of both to be found inside.  The character is something of a cipher to be unraveled at this stage rather than a fully fledged icon, but the potential is definitely there.

Now, I’ve not come across Philippe Aymond before, but there is a marked similarity in his artistic style to that of Philippe Francq’s in the iconic series Largo Winch – so much so that I wondered briefly if they were one-and-the same person.  Suffice it to say, if you liked the way Winch looked you’ll be equally happy with Lady S.  If you’ve yet to encounter either artist, I’ll elaborate.  The layouts are clear, with a smooth panel flow and Aymond frequently demonstrates a sharp intuition for story and character beats.  For those not used to European comics it can sometimes feel like the colours are a little drab.  Don’t let it put you off though.  While there are rarely any super-hero shades popping out of the page, the European palette grounds the tale in a believable reality, adjunct to our own.  The line-work is sharp and detailed, but not too intrusive.  I was particularly impressed with Aymond’s weather effects which added real texture to the outdoor scenes, and his sun-dappled tree on the first page shows just how effective simple techniques can be.  Finally, I must applaud his character design.  The use of the beauty spot enables us to effortlessly recognise Suzie regardless of her alias or age, while the artist uses a fine variety of facial and body shapes, hair-styles, age and posture to populate his world.

Although I very much appreciated the form and the style of this book, I did have a few reservations.  For starters, I can’t say that I was particularly enthralled with the cover art, which does little justice to the book inside.  Secondly, the whole mystery of Lady S seems to be revealed in this first volume, which I found more than a little surprising.  Identity and secret history form a thematic backbone to most of Van Hamme’s stories but he seems to toss them in the can by the end of this book.  It’s unclear what’s left to explore here.  Will it morph into a standard series of missions, a cat and mouse game against the organisation ‘employing her’ or will new secrets come to light?  I’m not sure which I’d prefer, but it’s definitely left me wrong-footed.  (Which can be a good thing too, I guess.  Shut up, Dion.)  Sad to say, but Lady S. doesn’t quite do it for me in terms of characterisation.  Although her personal history is something of a tragedy, I find it difficult to particularly empathise with Suzie.  The motions are gone through in terms of engendering an attachment to her, but to me she felt more like the idea of a character than a person in her own right.  Of course, there’s bound to be a certain amount of bedding in with any new protagonist, so we shouldn’t judge too harshly here.  All in all I found it a solid, if largely unremarkable start, but I look forward to where Van Hamme decides to take Lady S. next.

Rating: 3.5/5

Reviewer: Dion Winton-Polak

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