Thursday, December 22, 2022

Venezia by Lewis Trondheim and Fabrice Parme

This is a series: I don't know if there's any more to it than this, but it's definitely a series. It was constructed so that there could be (the market willing!) dozens of albums, rolling out regularly over the decades, building an Asterix-level empire and making creators Lewis Trondheim and Fabrice Parme very contented and successful. OK: they're already both quite successful, and who can say about anyone else's contentment? But you know what I mean.

But what we have here are two albums; they have half-titles as Triple Cross and Codex Bellum, but the copyright page doesn't indicate what their French titles might have been. It does tell us that this 2019 English translation, by Jessie Aufiery, is of older books than we might have thought: these two albums are from 2001-2002, a whole generation ago, which might be why they made me think of Asterix rather than something more contemporary.

So: that's Venezia. Don't expect any more of it than these two stories, at this late date, though the set-up was designed for a dozen more albums to hang off it, and the core conflict is nowhere near resolved. But, then, it would probably never be, in a long-running series: will the Romans ever conquer the indominable village?

The equivalent relationship here is between those two characters on the cover. Both are secret agents of foreign governments, in Venice in the early 16th century. She is Signorina Cantabella, a famous singer, and also the Black Scorpion, working secretly at night for the King of France. He is Signor Pintorello, a renowned painter, who is equally the Eagle, yadda yadda for the Germans. My guess is that "Germany" here actually means the Holy Roman Emperor. but I'm not going to bother look it up: the book is very breezy about who they actually work for, in order to let them take action on their own all the time.

They have both just arrived in Venice. They are both staying in the same lodging house. They are both secretly trying to stop the Doge of Venice (its leader) from allying with the Turks, who have sent an envoy. They hate each other on sight as Cantabella and Pintorello, and are enamored and impressed with each other on sight as Eagle and Scorpion, and of course run into each other in both guises constantly.

The first story here sees them trying to put the kibosh on that Turkish peace plan, which should be easy: the Turkish envoy is mercurial, massively demanding, and deeply corrupt. Of course, it's not that simple, since Venice desperately needs Turkish protection, so there's a lot of running around on rooftops, getting captured by large burly Turks, fighting, and so on.

The second story sees them chase a mysterious lost book by Leonardo da Vinci, and here their aims diverge a bit more: they can't both send the book back to their respective masters, can they? So, even though they do come to respect and rely on each other in their spy forms, there's an inherent matter of trust and cooperation they can't get past.

Venezia, in its English-language form, was published by Europe Comics. On the positive side, Europe does a lot of good Eurocomics, of which this is one, providing a much wider window into that entire world of graphic stories. On the negative, they're electronic-only, which means trying to view these large, action-filled, dialogue-clotted pages at their original size will be exceptionally difficult. So, if you do read Venezia, you may at times feel as if you are looking at it through a small window.

But it is worth reading. Trondheim is, as always, great at complex people-running-around plots, and his villains always have a little more cruelty and nastiness than you expect for the supposed age of his readers. Parme has a very distinctive style, with exceptionally caricatured people and energetic, mostly realistic background details - his people, who are each unique, seem to always be emoting at high speed in front of complex cityscapes as they race to accomplish their ends.

But do know that this is it. As far as I can tell, the Eagle and the Black Scorpion hung up their tights after these two outings, and have never been seen again.

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