COMIC REVIEW: XIII Vol 10: El Cascador (Cinebook Reviews #10)

Here we are again back in the Franco-Belgian comic scene courtesy of Cinebook, and what a corker I’ve got for you his time!  The set up will be familiar to anyone who’s read, seen or heard of The Bourne Identity, which the unfailingly accurate Wikipedia cites as the direct inspiration for this incredible comic series.  A man is washed ashore suffering from acute memory loss.  As he tries to unravel the secrets of his past he faces danger, finds he has extraordinary skills and knowledge and, in the process, discovers he is embroiled in conspiracies of the highest level.  Played by all sides for all kinds of reasons, he just wants to get to the truth about his past.  How he does so is just the beginning of his epic story.

I first came across this amnesiac mercenary about ten years ago when I picked up a Playstation 2 game called XIII.  It was a first person shooter but it had a real style all of its own, using comic-based graphic design and cel-shading, oodles of storytelling tricks and a plotline to die for.  I never fully completed it (and have long since passed it on) but the opening scenes always stayed with me.

I was excited to discover that the story was an adaptation of a comic book series, and thrilled to be sent a volume for review.  The fact that it is written by the spectacularly talented Jean Van Hamme puts the icing on the cake.  However, the fact that this is Volume 10 gave me pause for thought.

Jean Van Hamme does a bang up job in bringing us up to speed from page one though.  The whole saga is a long complicated story, and should ideally be read in order, but it was great to discover that everything I really need to know for the tale of ‘El Cascador’ is contained in this one volume.  Sure there are mentions made of past events and one or two assumptions that have to be made about character relationships, but the quality of the writing makes that a pleasure, not a chore.  The whole point of this kind of tale is unravelling the truth after all…

The artist here is William Vance and he does a fabulous job throughout.  His opening page has all the detail and realism of Philippe Francq’s work in Largo Winch, but with the added beauty of a painted skyscape against which the evil corporate empire stamps its mark.  Once the big bad business boys have set up where McLane (a.k.a. XIII) is, we are plunged straight over to the hellish island prison of Roca Negra for a bit of hero-torture.  Rain drenches the first twenty pages, dirtying up the action to cinematic effect.  I have never seen the environment characterised to better effect, and the ensuing rescue mission beats the hell out of most POW movies.

Once free and clear, XIII and fellow prisoner Maria (a woman who may or may not be his wife) run the gauntlet of pursuit through crocodile swamps to meet up with the Costa Verdean resistance.  It’s all going on here!  ‘El Cascador,’ the figurehead of revolution, is needed to restore justice to this tropical nation and whether he likes it or not XIII is being cast in that part.  With betrayal and dirty politics muddying the waters he’ll be lucky to survive, let alone escape the country to pursue his own agenda.

The character work is solid in the hands of both writer and artist.  The difficulty with this kind of story is the swift turnaround of guest characters, each needing to be given a sense of personality without a vast explanatory backstory.  For the most part they do a grand job (crazy priest guy being a particular stand out for me) but when half the people are keeping secrets from the other half and the main character doesn’t know who he is, it can be pretty trickly to portray fully-rounded people.

The twists and turns keep the old grey matter humming along as the story shifts gear from POW to revolution to courtroom saga, and the personal revelations at the end will have a solid impact on readers who have been tangled up in the journey since Volume 1.  Look, I could go on forever about plot intricacies and cinematic set pieces but I don’t want to waste any more of your time.  You need to buy these books and read them as soon as humanly possible.  I am certainly eager to return to the beginning and catch up to date.  I strongly suggest you all join me – that is if you’re not one of those people stamping their feet and shouting at me for being so slow to the party.

5/5

By the way, I was absolutely thrilled to discover that you can pick up a digital download of the videogame dead cheap from Great Old Games.  I’m giving it another pop now.  You should treat yourself and do the same whilst you wait for the trades to come in the post.

You WILL be getting the trades, right?

GS Reporter: Dion Winton-Polak

You can hear me blather about books on Scrolls, the podcast for literary geekdom here on the Geek Syndicate Network.
Follow me on Twitter @Dion_Scrolls too if you like.

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