Blake & Mortimer – getting (a little) better each time I read one…
By Yves Sente and André Juillard
A quick recap – Mortimer’s the beardy nuclear physicist, Blake’s the dashing agent of MI5, and through a series of 11 volumes, from 1950 to 1971, their creator Edgar P. Jacobs set them against every manner of science threat the cold war could muster. Following Jacobs’ death in 1987 Bob De Moor completed Jacobs’ final story and from 1996 Jacobs’ legacy fell to the writer/artist teams of Jean Van Hamme & Ted Benoit and Yves Sente & Andre Juillard.
It’s just too static, too overly wordy for me. I wish I could like it. I really do. But so far, no luck. I really should, at some point, pick up one of the Van Hamme written volumes – seeing how much I love what he does with Largo Winch and XIII – maybe he’ll manage to thrill me with his version of Blake & Mortimer?
But this time round, with Sente & Juillard’s follow up to The Voronov Plot, although I still find it a hard, relatively unsatisfying read there’s either less of what annoyed and frustrated me last time from Sente, or I’m simply getting attenuated to the way it’s meant to work.
Sure, the wordiness of it still has me balking slightly, but it’s wound down just a little. The start, with an extended flashback to India of the 20s brought much needed freshness and pace to the story. Here we see a young Mortimer return to his family in an India in upheaval at the beginning of the independence movement, meet Blake for the very first time, and even manage to get rescued by Gandhi himself…..
(A young Blake & Mortimer get accidentally embroiled in elements of the Indian uprising, and a young Gandhi makes a timely intervention. From Blake & Mortimer: The Sarcophagi Of The Sixth Continent Part 1, by Sente and Juillard, published by Cinebook.)
Mortimer’s return to India in the 20s skirts the complex social and political issues of the time, and concentrates on a young, naive and hot-headed Mortimer managing to fall in love with the daughter of the all-powerful, reputedly 200 years dead mystical Indian Emperor Ashoka who is intent on stirring up hatred and encouraging Indians to take back their country.
Their love is brief, controversial and destined to end in tragedy. Mortimer leaves India a haunted man and Ashoka swears revenge. Revenge that will take shape three decades later.
(Mortimer’s guilt over his Indian adventure – expressed simply and effectively without too many words. From Blake & Mortimer: The Sarcophagi Of The Sixth Continent Part 1, by Sente and Juillard, published by Cinebook.)
However, as the story gets back to 1958 we’re back to familiar B&M territory – and it slows once again, some of that initial promise I found falters and fails. Blake & Mortimer are present at the Brussels Universal Exposition and walking into the middle of a science plot involving the Russians, Antarctic bases and a seemingly reborn Emperor Ashoka plotting to test a new ultimate weapon with B&M in his sights.
The Brussels Universal Exposition has Professor Mortimer exhibiting his radio link to the Antarctic (the sixth continent). But this radio link is up against a Russian replica of Sputnik that’s busily orbiting overhead. The British pavillion fails to inspire – it’s pedestrian where it should soar with adventure. Sort of sums up my indifference to the series really.
Anyway, the ultimate weapon of Ashoka’s is a uranium powered sarcophagus shaped cerebral transmitter, powered by a reluctant Colonel Olrik and based in the Antarctic. it magnifies brain waves to great destructive power and by riding the British test signal causes havoc at the Exposition. Blake and Mortimer spend the story tracking down the various elements of the plot and find themselves, at the end, with a lead that will take them to Antarctica and a showdown with Ashoka.
(Ashoka’s cross-continental weapon cause chaos at the Exposition. From Blake & Mortimer: The Sarcophagi Of The Sixth Continent Part 1, by Sente and Juillard, published by Cinebook.)
This one does show promise, and it’s certainly more than a glimmer. Maybe the improvement between The Voronov Plot and this bodes well for the future? There are still faults and it’s still more of a chore than an enjoyment to get through Sarcophagus Part 1 but there are glimpses of promise in my reading that does make me wonder what Sente’s going to come up with in Part 2 where B&M head to Antarctica and the identity of Ashoka is revealed.
I hate myself for sounding this uncharitable to a recognised classic, and yes, it’s far more enjoyable than my previous Blake & Mortimer reading, but it’s still not doing it for me completely. Maybe it’s going to win me over in the long run?