XIII – This time it’s a prison, next time he’s going to be a soldier – every time it’s a thrill
by Jean Van Hamme and William Vance
“XIII is a saga where the reader should expect me to pull out the one rabbit he did not expect” Jean Van Hamme.
I queued up once for 3 hours for a rollercoaster ride in America. I saw the ride go over my head upwards of a hundred times. By the time I eventually got onto it I knew almost every possible twist and turn it was going to take. And more than that, I knew the entire 3 hour wait was for a ride that took just a minute and 15 seconds to complete. But I really didn’t care, the ride was incredible, the sensation amazing. And the three hour wait of repeated viewings of other people experiencing the thrill for me – it just made it better.
Which is exactly what I can see happening with the entire 19 volume XIII series. I know exactly how each volume is going to pan out (or at least I think I do) – setup, new identity, questions, action, more questions, resolution, disprove new identity, move on to the next.
But it doesn’t matter one bit, because, at least on the evidence of the first three volumes, because with each new volume I get the same incredible rush, the same amazing thrill as I had from that rollercoaster. And better still, each volume of XIII takes a damn sight longer than 1 minute 15 seconds to get through.
(Colonel Amos and General Carrington discuss who XIII could be – but like them, I don’t think we’ll really know the answer until Van Hamme tells us. From XIII Volume 3, published by Cinebook.)
XIII could be a mystery man, an assassin, a killer of presidents, a military man, a husband, a son, a special forces operative – in fact he could be all of the above and many more.
But we’re not going to know. Not yet. Each volume is going to tease and twist us around, throwing new potential solutions, new potential identities at us. And then by the end of each volume we’re going to have them disproved and we’ll be moved onto the next potential candidate for the “who is XIII?” quiz.
(I’d bet serious amounts of money that XIII wont turn out to be Ross Tanner at all. But I don’t care, I’m along for the ride. And it’s a brilliant, thrilling, incredible ride. From XIII Volume 3, published by Cinebook)
Like I said when reviewing Volumes 1 & 2, there’s very little point me going through any plot details for you here. But just to give you a quick flavour of what I’m talking about:
XIII is washed ashore, wounded and amnesiac from a bullet wound to the head. No identity at all, except for the XIII tattooed below his left collarbone. That and his incredible fighting skills when he’s attacked by men obviously looking to kill him are the only clues to his identity (yes, I know that’s the plot to The Bourne Identity, I covered that in the first review).
His only clue is a photograph with a young woman, whom he sets about tracking down, finding more questions as he goes. Could he really be the man to assassinate one of the most beloved US Presidents of all time as shadowy Colonel Amos can prove with photos? In which case could he also possibly also be Captain Rowland of the Special Assault And Destruction Squad as General Ben Carrington, a man who says he taught XIII everything he knows about combat, is claiming?
A trip home as Captain Rowlands lands XIII in even more trouble, thanks to the machinations of his new “family”, and at the end of Volume 3 XIII was knee deep in bodies, having just discovered that his/Rowlands’ wife wears a XVII tattoo, just like his, and she’s claiming that he isn’t Rowlands after all.
Before he can find out anymore he’s captured, tried for the multiple murders of the Rowlands family and sent, framed and innocent, to a maximum security facility.
(XIII attempts to break out of his high security prison – brilliantly claustrophobic artwork from Vance. From XIII Volume 3, published by Cinebook)
Which is where we are at the start of volume 3; All The Tears Of Hell. And in this volume we go through all the intrigue, all the questions, all the possible multiple identities for XIII again, just this time against the backdrop of him trying to get out of prison, all the while wondering when the next assassination attempt is going to happen. One things for certain, there are a lot of people interested in XIII and most of them seem to want him dead.
And although it’s obviously going to be formulaic throughout the 19 volumes Cinebook are going to be putting out, although I know that the answers wont be there until the very end, when Van Hamme draws it all together, I really don’t care.
It’s the absolute thrill of experiencing every new volume that I’m enjoying. Ridiculously enjoying. XIII is simply brillaint, out and out excitement, writ large on the comics page. If my other favourite Van Hamme series Largo Winch cranks the excitement up to 10, then XIII just did a Spinal Tap and set everything to 11.
Next Volume is SPADS, when XIII becomes a soldier (again?). Same basic story, same brilliant thrilling adventure. See you in a couple of months.