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Trouble with Comics, Christopher Allen Reviews Adele Blanc-Sec Vol. 1

Christopher Allen Reviews Adele Blanc-Sec Vol. 1

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec Vol. 1

Writer/Artist - Jacques Tardi

Publisher - Fantagraphics Books. $24.99 USD

Fantagraphics continues their collection of translated Tardi with this fourth release, which collects the first two albums of what would become a celebrated French literary heroine. The stories collected here are Pterror over Paris and The Eiffel Tower Demon, both of which Tardi produced in 1976.

I enjoyed a nice Christmas Eve morning reading them, but was a bit puzzled by the tone. One could call it “all ages” with the understanding that that would mean something quite different to American readers than it would to the French, who after all allow children to drink wine with meals. In other words, it’s a story that doesn’t glory in violence, but doesn’t shy away from it, and the story is not particularly dumbed down for children, nor is the character of Adele made likable for mass appeal.

In the first story, Adele Blanc-Sec, a young woman of means and with two male assistants in tow, travels from the countryside to Paris for reasons unclear, but becomes embroiled in the case of a pterodactyl whose million-year-old egg had been hatched by groundbreaking new science, and which was now terrorizing Paris and eating animals and citizens. Enter a bumbling detective trying to make a name for himself, and a plot involving the hatching method that leads to the betrayal of Adele by her assistants, and you’ve got a fairly involving, if somewhat confusing, yarn. 

The second tale picks up right after the first, which is interesting in that one expects adventure albums of this sort to be more self-contained a la Tintin. But no, in this one, one of Adele’s former assistants is front and center as a member of an evil secret cult in Paris that worships an ancient Assyrian demon, Pazuzu. There’s police corruption, and more bumbling, and again, the calm and tight-lipped Adele plows through the mystical nonsense and red tape to save the day.

The chief reason to recommend the books is Tardi’s art. Though I prefer his black and white work in You Are Here and West Coast Blues, his photorealistic vistas of early 20th Century Paris are lovely, especially in the pastels and autumnual hues used here, and his cartoonish characters with their bulbous noses and waxed moustaches are a treat. Best yet is the design of Adele, with her period pulled-up hair, slit eyes and only top lip visible, which makes her appear more business-like and asexual, yet somehow more alluring because of the barriers presented.

The shame of it, though, is that Tardi doesn’t give the reader much reason to really care about her yet, so for all her steely competence and bristling anger she is still something of an object rather than a character. I’m not saying she needs to be more likable; I just want to know more to get more of a handle on her. That said, with the artwork and the affection I have for the other Tardi books I’ve read, I would certainly like to keep going with this series to see how it develops.

—Christopher Allen

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