By Yves Sente and Andre Juillard
I’m learning to persevere with Blake & Mortimer and thank goodness, because it’s staring to pay off. Despite my continuing problems with the exposition laden heavy dialogue and plotting, the whole thing came together rather well, a spirited and thrilling ending to the adventure started in the last volume.
A quick recap if you need it; The story here continues from Volume 9, and although there’s a handy “story so far” included, I’d still say it’s necessary to read them as a pair. Anyway, the last volume saw Professor Mortimer (beardy nuclear physicist) and Captain Blake (dashing MI5 agent) taking part in the 1958 Brussels Universal Exposition and discovering a dastardly plot to destory the Exposition (and quite fitting too – all the plots in Blake & Mortimer should be dastardly – it just feels right!).
To add a little spice to the mix, lead villain, the seemingly immortal Indian Emporer Ashoka, has history with Mortimer, history that goes back to India in the 20s, when a young Mortimer met Ashoka’s daughter and they fell in love. Sadly their love was brief and destined to end in tragedy, with Ashoka swearing revenge.
It’s pure good fortune that, at the end of Volume 1, his revenge seems to be taking shape nicely, with Blake & Mortimer headed for Ashoka’s Antarctic base to track down his ultimate weapon; the somewhat unlikely uranium powered sarcophagus shaped cerebral transmitter that magnifies brain waves to great destructive power.
But I don’t need to tell you about the machine, since Mortimer has managed to get himself captured and Ashoka is all too keen to tell us all about it:
(Ashoka explains it all…. that exposition problem I always find I come back to in Blake & Mortimer.)
And that’s the crux of my problem with Blake & Mortimer. As usual I found myself bristling at the continual exposition, the overwhelming desire of Sente to have someone on practically every page explaining every last moment for me. And after a while it just gets tiresome, slows down the story and merely succeeds in yanking me out of the moment.
However, just as in the previous volume, there’s thankfully a sequence of flashbacks to break up the relentless exposition, where Mortimer listens to an explanation of what happened all those years ago between him and Ashoka. And although it’s still exposition, although it’s simply a sequence of flashbacks with a voiceover, it’s sufficient to change the pace enough to make the story fresh again. And because this happens about two thirds of the way through, it’s enough to give me the enthusiasm and energy to get through to the end and actually enjoy getting there.
So, yet again, there’s something that gets to me in Blake & Mortimer, something that makes me get to the end of it. Whether it’s enjoyment and enthusiasm or just simply bloody mindedness to try to work out what it is about this acknowledged classic that just doesn’t quite work for me I’m not sure.
It might have a lot to do with the art of Juillard because not matter what I can criticise the writing for, his art is impeccable. Each page really is a visual treat, which is fortunate since due to the sheer volume of words on each one I spent a while looking at the pictures. But they’re worth looking at.
And special mention must go to Madeleine DeMille’s colour work. She’s doing some really amazing things – using her colours expressively, not just giving us realism but giving us a feeling, a tone. Take this beautifully composed sequence as Mortimer journeys, via brain waves, from the Antarctic to the Exposition to do battle, in thoughtform, with Olrik:
The reds of the sky aren’t a story element, merely a choice by DeMille, and it does a great job of establishing a real sense of danger, of action. Beautifully done. And, just as Juillard delivers page after page of great art, DeMille matches him with her colouring throughout.
I will say that, whatever the reason, Blake & Mortimer are wearing me down. Each volume seems to get that little more enjoyable, that little more readable. Are they truly getting better, or am I merely geting used to them? Honestly, I’m not sure.