Largo Winch: Dutch Connection
Written by Jean Van Hamme, Art by Philippe Francq.
(Comprises the original Volume 5: H and Volume 6: Dutch Connection)
Largo Winch is an absolutely cracking thriller. Incredibly cinematic in it’s plot and pacing and essentially it’s a great James Bond movie but without the ridiculously overblown set pieces that rather take something away from the essential brilliance of Fleming’s books. It’s a much underused way of writing genre thrillers, intrigue and planning over action, plot and characters over car chases and it’s a style I’ve always loved. It’s the reason that old Hitchcock films always win the day over the latest blockbuster or the reason that my favourite bits of most action thrillers are the set-ups and once the initial fun of the introductory pieces are over and the explanations are done I lose interest. But in Largo Winch the action sequences are so short and infrequent that I found it enthralling to see the constant set-up, resolve, set-up, resolve, all done through this character manoeuvring his pieces around the elaborate game he’s developing.
(Largo Winch; suave and sohisticated and capable of thinking his way through most of the situations he finds himself in. A most European thriller indeed. From Largo Winch: Dutch Connection.)
All you need to know to really enjoy Largo Winch is the neat little summary on the back cover:
“No family, no connections, anti-establishment, womanizer, wanderer, iconoclast and fighter, he inherits at age 26 the W group, which is worth $10 billion. Largo Winch”
And that’s it. With just those couple of lines you have everything you need to launch yourself into another great bit of European comics thriller. Each Largo Winch story when originally published takes two volumes, with the first putting Largo Winch in some perilous situation and the second seeing him triumph. Cinebook have made the very sensible decision to package each complete story in a single volume. The other important thing about Largo Winch is that essentially each story tells a variation of the same story so joining midway through isn’t a problem at all.
(The James Bond analogy goes far; Largo Winch has that same spectacularly successful way with the ladies, no matter how he’s dressed.)
In H & Dutch Connection Largo Winch discovers his organisation is dirty from the top down and has been acting as a front for drugs for years. His efforts to expose the drug traffickers start badly, with the head of one of his insiders on a platter at a gala dinner, and get worse from there until Largo finds himself on the run from the law, wanted for murder and accused of being the man in charge of the drug trafficking network he’s been trying to take down. He knows he’s been set up, we know he’s been set up, but it’s so well written and so enjoyable that even though you know where you’re going to end up on the final page (pretty much exactly where you started to be honest) it’s bloody great fun all along the way.
(The set-up moment. After this Largo is on the run from the law, wanted for murder and accused of drug trafficking. From Largo Winch: Dutch Connection.)
Jean Van Hamme works his plot masterfully and on re-reading it I couldn’t help noticing that Largo Winch doesn’t actually spend much time on the page, this is all about the characters around him, with Largo taking a controlling influence throughout. It’s very nicely done, a very intelligent thriller indeed. Philippe Francq’s artwork is almost stereotypically European, but that’s never a bad thing in my limited experience. Every page is dispatched with style and flair, whether it’s panel after panel of talking heads or the sumptuous world of cruise ships, casinos and high finance.
The Largo Winch stories appeared originally in French, and have been translated across Europe with annual sales of nearly 500,000 copies (numbers unheard of for oh so many years over in the US – this sort of graphic novel really does represent the real mainstream). From my initial involvement in Largo Winch I can certainly see why it’s so popular and with 16 volumes of material for Cinebook to complete, of which they’ve put the first 6 into the available 3 volumes I can see myself coming back to Largo Winch fairly regularly for a slice of intelligent, escapist European thriller.
Richard Bruton, international man of mystery