Writer: J. Van Hamme
Artist: W. Vance
Editor: Ben Avery
The popular European comic book series XIII finally receives its American debut! A man with a gunshot wound to the head washed up on a beach. An old couple finds him and heals him. Two months later, he still can’t remember who he is. His only clue is the tattoo “XIII” on his shoulder. When the couple is killed by people looking for him, he begins a journey to discover his past--a journey that may lead to crime.
My first exposure to XIII was the videogame published by Ubisoft last year. (Great game, and cheap too.) Its cel-shaded graphics and visible sound effects gave it a classic comic-book feel. Ironically, that style is completely different from the actual comic book. Vance strives for realism rarely found in the “funnybooks.” I would swear these characters are based on real people. He also does a wonderful job creating and maintaining suspense. The scene where XIII improvises his defense against two attackers shows perfect control over the reader’s expectations and reading speed. Very difficult to do, but Vance does it well.
Van Hamme’s story builds slowly but logically. One step follows another. He also drops little clues about the “bigger picture.” Like XIII, we don’t know any more than what we’re shown. We’re solving the mystery with him. Great works are made of little details. The self-pitying old surgeon and the flirtatious clerk add color and character to the story. I always thought little things like that show the story is taking place in a larger world. Things that don’t relate directly to the main plot are signs the story is taking place within a larger environment. It adds depth and breath to the series. And since XIII is a mystery, we want a large, rich world for our hero to explore.
I’m assuming Ben Avery was in charge of translating the comic into English. Overall, it’s a good job. The dialogue is natural and has a good rhythm. My biggest complaint involves page 23, where XIII reads names off of a blank paper!
It’s hard for the comic not to show its age. Originally published in 1984, clothes and computers are hopelessly out-of-date. But even more interesting is how the comic evokes the vibes of the 1960s. Everything has generic names, like “Eastown,” and “National Trust Bank.” The pages are divided into rigid, rectangular panels. They don’t overlap each other, or change shape to match the action. It’s a very old-fashioned way of making comics. Compare it to the preview for Imperial Dragons in this issue and you’ll see the difference. And there’s something else about the comic that feels like an old spy film. It’s cool, laid-back, and yet violence can erupt at anytime. There are secrets being kept and games being played. I have an idea what happens later on, but there’s clearly more to the story than I thought.
For 75-cents, this is a hell of a deal! The art and story are good enough to warrant paying full price for the series. I certainly hope the complete stories are published in their original graphic novel format. XIII could be the sleeper hit of the year.
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