The French and Belgians churn out hundreds of graphic novels each year, many of which pass the English-speaking world by. However, when Luc Besson, the French director who brought us Nikita, Leon and The Fifth Element chose a graphic novel as the inspiration for his recent film, you’ve got to sit up and take notice of the source material.
This Fantagraphics edition collects the first two French albums of Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec (Pterror Over Paris and The Eiffel Tower Demon) in a large format hardback edition, and it’s beautifully presented. First released in 1976, Jacques Tardi’s story has a timeless quality, set in an alternative, steam-punk universe, shortly before World War I.
In this first volume, the head-strong, rebellious and independent Blanc-Sec finds herself wrapped up in a pair of mysteries. The first sees Paris threatened by a pterodactyl; the second sees the world under threat of a plague epidemic, set to be released by a lunatic group of occultists.
Blanc-Sec, researching for a novel she intends to write, manages to get pulled into both situations, helping solve the problems but operating outside the law to do it.
The first chapter is a relatively convoluted affair, which the characters seem determined to explain at every opportunity. This may be because it was originally serialised in shorter chunks and needed the recaps to keep its readers on board, but it gets a bit wearisome. The overall story is a great concept though, bringing a flying dinosaur back to life over the streets of Paris, with echoes of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue. And with characters’ motives keeping the reader guessing to the end, it’s a sophisticated piece of story-telling.
The second carries through many of the characters and themes of the first chapter, solidifying Blanc-Sec’s character as she finds herself in the midst of a muderous religious cult. Again, there’s a mystery to solve, which capably brings the magic of science fiction into a historical setting.
Tardi’s art recreates the scenery beautifully, with stunning backdrops bringing the architecture and beauty of Paris to life. His characters are harder to distinguish between though, as gaunt men with wireframe spectacles and thin moustaches seem to feature heavily.
However it remains a compelling and enjoyable mystery story with an alternative Victorian feel. Well worth a look if you enjoyed the film, or feel you ought to check out the original, especially given that two more movies have been promised.