Comics can make superb thrillers and, as we know from the likes of Jaques Tardi, the French make thrillers that are as hard-nosed and simmering with menace as anyone. In fact, Tardis has adapted work by much-loved crime novelist Jean-Patrick Manchette, including his adaptation of La position du tireur couché (published in English by Fantagraphics as Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot).
This adaptation of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s Fatale is another good example, revolving around Aimée Joubert, a noir femme fatale, as beautiful as she is cunning and dangerous. Initially we’re introduced to her via a violent and deadly first chapter, as she single-handedly murders a hunting party of rich old men before disappearing on a train with a bag stuffed with cash. She uses different disguises to move around and to visit her various contacts but the end of her journey is only the beginning of the next job, as we witness her hatching a new plan in a different town.
The pace of the book is relentless as Joubert clinically manoeuvres herself into position. The story is relayed to us from the point of view of a narrator, dryly reporting on her movements, but this disembodied voice doesn’t seem to have that much more information on her than the description of events as they unfold. She lets her guard slip a little in places but it’s hard to tell if this closed character is fully intentional or if there’s an element of subtlety that’s slipped through the fingers of the adaptation.
Cabanes’ illustration is beautiful, evoking noirish drama in a timeless but relatively modern setting, but remaining reverential to the genre. Light and shadow are key, of course, and used brilliantly, especially in the finalé. However, the colour of the book is also brilliantly executed, with different locations flooding the pages with different colours.
It’s a taut, gripping read, that doesn’t shy away from its typically French, slightly existential feel. This can make it challenging for a British reader used to comics that often don’t challenge us as much. However, anyone with a European outlook and an interest in classic French noir shouldn’t be disappointed.