We all know people who have given up reading comic books, not because they disliked the format, but because the content no longer appealed to them. They didn’t give up reading though. They just moved on to books by Tom Clancy, John Grisham, J.D. Robb, and Robert Jordan. For those people, who don’t dislike the combination of words and pictures, Cinebook’s translations and reprints of popular European graphic novel series might be just the thing to reintroduce them to the comic format and its possibilities. The idea behind this column is to look at some of the series available and introduce them to readers who might not be aware of them. First up is Largo Winch.
Jean Van Hamme and Philippe Francq’s series has sold 12 million copies, launched a fairly good TV series, and recently had two movies starring Tomer Sisley, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Sharon Stone based on it. It’s an easily accessible story, offering intelligent plots, action, and cheesecake and beefcake.
The first four volumes of the series, The Heir, Takeover, Dutch Connection, and The Hour of the Tiger, were double-sized, giving a complete story in one book. Beginning with volume five, See Venice, each storyline is divided into two volumes.
While the volumes can be read and enjoyed in random order, it is best to begin with The Heir and follow through, as Van Hamme further develops the character of Largo and his relationship with his friend Simon in each story.
Largo is a young man who’s seen the seamier side of life. An orphan, he’s wandered around the world and been inside more than a few jails. He makes no secret of the fact that he likes women and they like him in return. He follows the beat of his own drummer and his own definition of justice. He’s not afraid of a fight and he’ll do what he has to to win. At the age of twenty-six, he inherits the W Group, worth ten billion dollars. Becoming a billionaire changes Largo’s life very little. He’s still fighting; he’s just fighting on a different level. If you think about it, Largo isn’t that dissimilar to Christopher Nolan’s take on Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, only Largo doesn’t need to wear a batsuit to get the job done.
The regular supporting cast is limited mainly to Simon and Penny, Largo’s secretary. Like Largo, Simon has seen the underside of life. While he’s not as intelligent as Largo, Simon has a better sense of humor and he’s more willing to shoot or fight his way out of a situation. Penny is an older woman who’s part den mother/part kick butt action heroine. As Simon says at one point “Are you sure she didn’t work as a CIA agent?”
The Largo Winch stories are power fantasies with a realistic foundation. They’re written for men and women who come home after a long day of trying to make ends meet only to be confronted with more bills. Losing themselves in the pages of See Venice, they can tour the city and try to recover a kidnapped woman or make their way through the jungles of Southeast Asia and aid rebels in The Hour of the Tiger.
In the series’ latest volumes Golden Gate and Shadow
Largo uncovers a plot to take over his TV station. In trying to stop it, he discovers a human trafficking ring in Reno, is thrown in prison, and later buried in the desert with scorpions and fire ants for company.
But no matter how exotic the location or adventure, Van Hamme keeps it all this side of believable with stories that read like they come straight from Yahoo headlines. Corruption, graft, coups, and company takeovers are all part of Largo’s world. A former student of economics and management, Van Hamme grounds these aspects of the stories in authentic economics, while making them easy enough for the lay reader to understand. He also makes his heroes human. They get hurt. They bleed. They faint from exhaustion.
Philippe Francq creates a real world for the characters to inhabit. While the books are full of “pretty people,” they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and nationalities. They smile, smirk, and express worry and fear. Backgrounds are rendered with detail, but never overwhelm the action in the foreground.
The action sequences are dynamic. Adhering to the grid format, Francq creates clear, easy to follow scenes. Without using extreme shots, he varies the angle and point of view on the individual moments in each scene to create a sense of movement. There’s a two and half page sequence in Shadow that begins with the killer breaking into the house, leads to a motorcycle-car chase that looks as good as the classic chase in Steve McQueen’s Bullitt, and ends on an understated moment of tragedy.
Those tired or disappointed with recent superhero stories might want to check out Largo Winch. It’s power fantasy adventure of a different sort.