The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec: Pterror Over Paris and The Eiffel Tower Demon
I don’t read enough European comics. I like many of their visual styles, but I’ve found often that the package seems expensive for the amount of story you get, or worse, they’re written from and for a very male perspective. (The science fiction books, for example, tend to have lots of undressed busty robots.)
When I saw The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec: Pterror Over Paris and The Eiffel Tower Demon at the Fantagraphics table at SPX this year, then, I jumped at it. A creative historical adventure starring a woman? With the kind of detailed, setting-based art I associate with European works, but with minimal cheesecake? Looked like just what I was searching for.
It turns out that the comic was originally created in French in the 1970s (!). There was a previous attempt at American publication by NBM in the early 90s, but Fantagraphics has relaunched the series in English in attractive oversized hardcovers with new translations and the intent “to collect every one of its nine (soon ten) volumes.” (Note that this volume contains the first two, thus the lengthy title.) There’s also a media tie-in. Director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) released the first in a planned series of French films adapting the comics in April 2010.
Some call it “steampunk”, but there’s a lot more mystery and adventure than retro technology in this series set pre-World War. Adele starts as one of many players, but she’s firmly in charge by the second chapter. When we first see her, she’s kidnapped another woman in order to steal the use of her father’s invention to break an innocent out of jail.
There is a pterodactyl, as promised, plus changing loyalties and attempted murder and socio-political commentary, with a police bureaucracy, doddering professors, and a cowardly gentleman hunter. In the second story, a mysterious Assyrian statue of a demon leads to a secret society, an on-stage killing, and revenge on the double-crossers from the previous story. I was reminded, in the way events inexorably become stranger and stranger in an historical setting, of Rick Geary’s Adventures of Blanche.
I enjoyed Jacques Tardi’s art, which made me feel as though I was visiting 1911 Paris. It can be difficult keeping all the characters straight, what with the similar suits and bowler hats, but that was the way fashion worked, and it contributes to the feelings that everything we know might change any moment. The stories are dense and packed with outrageous events, providing a sense of adventure. The recaps, as characters explain what’s going on to each other, were both a help — I often got lost in terms of who was allied with whom at any given moment — and a satire, reinforcing just how much Tardi is playing with the conventions of the genre and layering event upon event, a kitchen-sink approach to plotting that keeps the reader interested in a world that seems so sedate but where anything can happen.
The publisher’s blog has some preview pages, as does Publishers Weekly. The second Adele volume, The Mad Scientist/Mummies on Parade, is planned for Fall 2011. It will be difficult to wait that long, but in the meantime, I can reread this book. I’ll likely discover more in its pages each time. It’s fun, but with the knowing remove of self-awareness and satire.