Saturday, June 30, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #181: The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, Vol. 2 by Jacques Tardi

Adele Blanc-Sec is the star of nine album-length stories in French -- with a tenth supposedly upcoming (promised for the past decade) -- but she's had less luck on this side of the Atlantic. The first attempt in the 1990s to translate the series as individual volumes almost caught up -- bringing out five of the then-six books -- but faltered there.

And this more recent project from Fantagraphics -- to collect the books two-by-two -- announced a third volume for 2014 (to follow the first two in 2010 and 2011), but that has still not appeared, I think because of the tragic death of Kim Thompson in 2013. [1]

That's unfortunate, because these are fun stories, and Adele herself is a great prickly character. I want to read the rest of her adventures, but it seems like even the recent Luc Beson movie -- which I haven't seen; it didn't make much of a splash in the US -- didn't do anything to raise her profile.

But we do have The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, Vol. 2: The Mad Scientist and Mummies on Parade, as we had the first volume, and, frankly, if a reader didn't know there were more in Europe, the ending of this book would seem pretty definitive. (I reviewed the first volume twice -- once in print in 2010 for Realms of Fantasy, and then here in 2014 during my last Book-A-Day run.)

Adele is a novelist in early 20th century Paris -- the first two books took place in 1910, and these two (original French titles: Le Savant fou and Momies en folie) start in the wintry January of 1912. She keeps getting caught up in mad-science plots -- the first two stories had a Pteranodon and what we might call a bridge troll, while this one has a reanimated caveman and the mass awakening of all the mummies of Paris -- and is usually in danger from one scheming group or another shooting at her or trying to kidnap her. Personally, she's grumpy and self-sufficient and pretty damn competent without turning into a Superwoman -- but still a woman in her time, and taken only slightly more seriously by men than any other woman then.

The books are madcap, and move just a hair too quickly: they're forty-eight page French albums, and Tardi wants to cram the maximum amount of action into them in that traditional Euro-adventure-comics style, so there are a lot of panels to the (large) page, a lot of explanatory dialogue, plenty of names shouted out in shock or surprise, and many quick plot reversals before we reach the ending.

The Fantagraphics volumes are in the large album size, which is best for this kind of Euro comics -- it gives everything more space to breathe and lets the action flow more smoothly.

Frankly, the Adele stories are a little silly -- they're adventure stories, not meant to be taken entirely seriously, full of bizarre complications and Byzantine plots and fiendish scientists who all but cackle and wring their hands in glee. But they are gloriously true to themselves, and commit entirely to telling that kind of nutty, danger-filled story in what's only a slightly cartoony version of the real Belle Epoque era.

If you do read the Adele books, note that the ending here is not as final as it seems to be -- Adele returned in five more books set after The Great War. And maybe we'll even get to read those books in English, once of these days.

[1] Thompson was co-publisher of Fantagraphics, and the motive force behind their European comics program at the beginning of this century. He also translated most of those books, and all of their Tardi books, himself. (And, frankly, he was really good at it: the stuff he translated reads cleanly and colloquially, as if it were written in English.) I've seen books published as late as 2017 crediting translation by Thompson, which makes me hope he left a stack of scripts for all his "must-do" European projects and that they'll all see the light of day eventually.

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