Largo Winch: The Heir (Cinebook Review 5)

Continuing my delve into the decidedly different world of French and Belgian comics – courtesy of the fine folk at Cinebook – I’ve come at last to Largo Winch.  Now, I’ve heard a bit about this one from Dave and Barry on the Geek Syndicate podcast and I have to say, the core concept didn’t do much for me initially.  I mean, young man inherits billions, lives a playboy lifestyle and sometimes fights bad guys.  It seemed a bit lame.  Stick a cape and a cowl on, I thought, and maybe we can talk…  Well, the boys are pretty damn good at passing their enthusiasm on regardless, so when Volume 1 arrived in the post along with the rest of my stash I was pretty interested to see what it was actually like.

Hot damn.  5 pages was all it took.

Let’s take it from the top…

Firstly, what we have here is actually two volumes in one collection, comprised of The Heir and The W Group.  That’s value for money there for you, straight away.  A comfortable size, it could be happily shelved alongside your Marvel/DC books (I always hated the fact that Asterix and Tin-Tin never seem to fit, always having to lay them sideways in spare gaps).  Crack open the innocuous cover and the title page hits you with an incredible panel showcasing the style of Philippe Francq.  The scope is enormous, the viewpoint is perfect, the action is shocking yet simple and it puts a smile on your face straight away.  One image, but it sets the tone for the whole book.

Our opening five pages set out the old order and prepares us for change, as old rich bastard Nerio Winch meets his doom at the hands of an ambitious assosciate.  It’s a familiar micro-drama but it is handled immaculately.  Jean Van Hamme’s script is taut, giving us all the information we need and not a scrap more, whilst Francq’s artwork astonishes.  I have never seen a cityscape so beautifully and truthfully rendered, incorporating phenomenal linework, silhouettes, electric light, encroaching plant-life and a moon that is just to die for.  With Nerio’s death the scene is set and it’s time to meet his inheritor, our hero, Largo Winch.

Like many fictions this is primarily one of wish fulfillment.  Largo is an orphan, adopted and raised from the mire to unimaginable wealth.  He’s no Oliver Twist though.  When we meet him he is a man grown, striding through the (gorgeous) markets of Istanbul with utter self confidence and looking like a million dollars.  Naturally I wanted to punch him, but he very quickly demonstrates intelligence, wit and a laconic charm.  Dammit, I nearly cheered at his line about how many people there are in the world who are Not American, despite wanting to hate the jetsetting playboy bastard.  It could be argued that the finest trick the creators pull off is giving Winch a personality that butts up against the strictures and ethos of Power, before handing it to him on a platter to see what he does with it.

From the get-go he is in the sights of the villain: an obstruction to remove; an itch to scratch.  He’s framed for murder before he even finds out that his father’s dead.  It’s our own sense of outraged justice then that puts us on firmly on his side.  Shove an innocent man in a prison cell full of thugs, with corrupt guards looking on, and you’ve got yourself a hero you’ll follow to the end.  Now, I won’t go into all the minutiae of plot.  You’ll have to buy the book to find out what happens next.  Suffice it to say that, instead of being eaten alive by the mogul spiders on their corporate webs, he takes the battle to them with his own inimitable blend of determination, strategy and two-fisted fury.

Francq lays out an alluring and rich world for us, filling his pages with sunshine and stunning backdrops.  More than an artist, he is almost a film director with his eye for detail and cinematic long-shots.  In the car chase he swerves the angle of the image around the vehicles giving a real kinetic energy to the piece which culminates in that stunning shot, replicated on the title page.  The fight scenes (though sparse) are similarly well done; capturing movement without ending up in the kind of extreme postures evident in many American comics.  Of particular note is the barney on the stairs in the ambassador’s residence: quick, brutal and brilliant.

The characterisation is tight.  Everybody is unique in look and dress, and their body language speaks volumes.  It’s slightly distracting to notice that at least two of the minor characters appear to be based on famous faces, but that may just be my peculiar mind at work or an in-joke that I don’t get.  The dialogue is sharp and appropriate to character.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t occasionally suffer in translation from the original French, but never to the degree of spoiling enjoyment.  I hadn’t properly considered the role of the translator in my previous reviews but I think it’s worth noting that languages can vary wildly in sentence contruction, grammar, precise meaning and cultural idiom.  It is not just a translation of words that is required but a translation of subtle meaning.  Add in the need to maintain the writing style of the author and you’ve got quite a task.  Hats off, then to Luke Spear who does a cracking job by and large.

Blending corporate conspiracy and globe trotting action, Van Hamme gives his story a huge sense of scope, real cultural breadth and an international appeal only matched by Bond in his heyday.  Throw in a twisty plot line, a sprinkling of lovely ladies (with brains and banter), a straight up villain with simple motives (none of the old moustache-twirling nonsense) and some truly phenomenal artistry – and you’ve got yourself one top-notch book.

Just make sure you’ve got space on your shelves for volumes 2, 3, 4,…


GS Reviewer: 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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One comment

  1. I love this series, probably my favorite of all the Cinebook titles…


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