Review: The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec Volume 1
Posted Wednesday, April 06, 2011
Writer and artist: Jacques Tardi
Review by John Anderson
What is it about?
In turn-of-the-century Paris, Adèle Blanc-Sec finds herself caught up in bizarre adventures featuring a murderous pterodactyl and a Babylonian death cult.
Why is it good?
Tardi is one of France's most famous creators, and Adele Blanc-Sec, the cynical author turned adventurer, is his most famous creation. I first read her adventures when they were serialized in Cheval Noir, then again when the first story (called Adèle and the Beast) was published by NBM. I am very happy to see that Fantagraphics has decided to republish the first two stories in a beautiful hardcover book, with another book to follow next year.
When a pterodactyl egg in Paris's Museum of Natural History inexplicably hatches, Paris is subjected to a reign of pterror! Adèle, who is in the city on mysterious business of her own, quickly becomes entangled in a web of shady characters and double-crossings, all centring on the one or more pterodactyls that are terrorizing Paris. In the second story, Adèle investigates the theft of a Babylonian idol and mysterious disappearances on the Pont-Neuf, leading to her confronting a weird cult and uncovering a conspiracy.
The adventures are by turns funny, weird, and surprising. They are reminiscent of Tintin, if Tintin was a cynical Frenchwoman instead of an idealistic boy. What I like about Adèle is her practicality. Initially she is trying to accomplish her own goal, but she gets drawn into the adventure when she realizes that people have been using her - so she decides to get even.
The art is also reminiscent of Hergé. It perfectly captures the idea of turn-of-the-century Paris (to me, anyway), with its detailed architecture and muted colours. A prehistoric monster flying over this skyline is not at all out of place.
Originally it was the idea of monsters in turn-of-the-century Paris that attracted me to these stories, but reading them again, I find the story to be focused rather on the web of intrigue and double-crossings. Tardi seems to love introducing one mysterious character after another, characters who turn on each other, characters in silly disguises, characters who die just when you think they're going to be important. There is a humorous scene towards the end of the book that suggests that all these minor characters are involved in their own adventures and conspiracies, and we only encounter them when their story intersects with the main plot. The plot itself is very complicated, and in fact at one point a character says, "Not even fodder for a penny dreadful… Too complicated! No one would understand a word." However, by the end of this volume most loose ends are neatly tied up. The plot gets even more complicated in later stories, so it will help to read these stories in order from the beginning.
This new publication uses a new translation, which is better than the old translation some ways and worse in others. There are times when I find this new translation not as idiomatic and a bit more stilted than the old version. There is one scene in particular where some of the humour is lost. But the old version sometimes left speech bubbles empty, a mistake this new translation doesn't make.
Luc Besson, director of The Fifth Element, adapted Adèle's adventures into a movie, which was released in the spring of 2010. Here's hoping it will see a North American release soon. And here's hoping for many more volumes of Adèle's adventures from Fantagraphics.
You can find The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec in store at The Beguiling, or you can buy it online at beguiling.com.