by Alcante and Didier Pagot.
Published by Cinebook
Cinebook is a British publisher specialising in English language reprints of European/Foreign Language material. Most people reading this will be aware of the often puzzling situation regarding the lack of Euro-comics in the UK with our entire comic industry (with the notable exception of Tintin and Asterix) based on either home grown material or imports from the USA. We’d rather, so it seems, depend on the Americans for our comics than we would our closest neighbours across the English Channel. It’s especially troubling and vexing when we consider the high esteem that Europe tends to hold it’s comics, as opposed to the disdain with which the medium is afforded by the English speaking world, reflected in the phrase “The Ninth Art”, from the classification of comic books as number 9 on the list of Canudo’s plastic arts. The list of arts may be arbitrary – (no prose, yet cinema and television occupy 7 & 8?) but the intention is clear; comics are a respected medium in Europe. The characters sell in numbers most American comic book publishers can only dream of, the variety of styles (artistic and literary) and the sheer demographic range of readers is something we should be looking at not with envy, but with a sense of “how do we do that?”.
I’m as guilty as any; my European comic reading is extremely limited. It’s just too difficult sometimes to go and search it out in English translations. Until now. Cinebook sent me their latest catalogue (it’s online and can be downloaded as a pdf) and I’m looking through it thinking that there’s an awful lot of good reading here. I’m sure that everyone who does actually know anything about Euro-comics will be quick to point out the series that are just as deserving as those Cinebook have picked up, but surely some is better than none? First up: Pandora’s Box
There’s something so immediately recognisably European about this book. For a start it’s an attractive bande dessinée style album (softback rather than the more traditional hardback, but still nicely done); open it up and you’re presented with the unmistakable semi-realistic style of a lot of Euro-comics. It’s extremely well done, confident and expressive artwork designed to serve a good story. And it is a good story; part of a series of 8 books written by Alcante, 7 dealing with a deadly sin and the final one (with art by Pagot again) entitled Hope. They’re described as “Each volume in the series links a deadly sin to greek mythology and to modern technology” which seems a rather dry tagline at first, but if they’re all up to the standards set here with Pride, they’ll be a very good series indeed. Whether each tale functions purely as a standalone or forms a larger, more ambitious series I’ll be looking forward to finding out.
(Grubb, the private investigator, spots the phone call that will eventually lead to the President’s downfall, from Pandora’s Box Volume 1, art by Pagot)
This first volume looks at Pride by introducing us to the current US President: Narcissus Shimmer. It’s a clumsy and rather unnecessary way to produce some instant characterisation. But beyond this slight misstep (one of only a couple of in the book) we get dropped into a thoughtful and detailed political techno-thriller where the action plays out side by side with some impressive characterisation far better than just naming your main character after the Greek myth you’re trying to represent.
The presidential election is five days away, with the incumbent Shimmer just pulling ahead in the polls. His rival hires private detective Ron Grubb to start looking for dirt on the president. And there’s the next misstep – it takes a monumental suspension of belief to think that the opposition would wait until the final week of campaigning to pull in the private detective to find those dirty little secrets. But once you put that aside you plunge into a breakneck race by Grubb to find the dirt on President Shimmer before the election.
And, like you’ve already been told, President Shimmer is our Narcissus, a man solely concerned with his own status. Grubb investigates and discovers what at first might look like a secret mistress and baby, but (and I’m only giving this away because it’s on the back of the book and the website description) the baby’s birth takes place in a biotech lab and it appears that Shimmer is funding the cloning technology involved for his own ends. So the mystery behind Shimmer’s need for the cloned baby, given his Narcissitic desire for self-preservation, is fairly easy to unravel, especially as President Shimmer’s health is called into question as early as page 12. It takes a little away from the story, but not all that much – the thrill, after all, is in the investigative chase, not the mystery behind it.
(The President visits the cloned child that he intends to use for his own ends – but will he have second thoughts? From Pandora’s Box Volume 1, art by Pagot.)
As the President’s health worsens, the investigator uncovers more and more of the big secret behind the baby. And in the end, we’re left speculating on how far this President is prepared to go to ensure his own survival, both political and literal. But Alcante’s characteristaion is such that Shimmer is allowed to be far more than just the narcissist we at first thought. His relationship with his son, his own feelings of ethics, even a little back-story on his driver are all carefully introduced but left without real resolution, Alcant would rather you, the reader, did some of the work there. It’s a good way to build some thoughtful and interesting extra detail into what is, at it’s heart a simple thriller. The ending builds up to a frenetic action sequence climax that sadly seemed slightly out of place in such a thoughtful and well constructed investigative mystery.
Overall, Pandora’s Box may not be the greatest example of Euro-Comics you’ll ever read, but it’s still a capable head and shoulders above so much of the stuff you’ll be able to find much more readily available on the shelves of your local comic shop. It’s a solid, enjoyable techno-thriller whose small missteps are far outweighed by an impressive story and skilled, expressive semi-realistic Euroart.