XIII – familiarity can’t detract from the quality of this perfect thriller….
By Jean Van Hamme and William Vance
Right, here we are again, another volume of Van Hamme and Vance’s amnesiac mystery man adventure. If you’re new to the series, it’s definitely not too late to be jumping on, so please, if you haven’t already picked it up, don’t bother reading any further – just click here for the review of the first couple, where I said this:
“I absolutely burned through these two volumes, a look of absolute joy on my face as each page seemed to give me new and increasingly ridiculous situations for XIII to get himself out of.”
“There’s almost no point in even discussing the plot, essentially it’s XIII trying to trace his fractured memory back through every little clue Van Hamme drops in his path. Is he some hired killer, presidential assassin, military specialist, a son, a husband? Each new clue leads him to some new conflict. The resolution to each conflict to a new identity, a new clue and even more violence. The body count rises, the stakes grow higher. The silliness of the situations is immaterial, since the fun and the enjoyment is in the sheer thrills to be had along the way.”
And that still applies with Volume 7. Indeed, unless Van Hamme completely messes it up, I imagine it will apply to every volume up until Cinebook’s planned July 2013 finale. Just go and buy it. If you like your thrillers action packed, intelligent and beautifully drawn, you really can’t do much better than XIII.
Right, now to talk to those of you up to speed with the series. At this point we know for definite (or at least as definite as we know anything – Van Hamme may completely change the rules next volume) that XIII is the man known as Jason Fly. And as Jason Fly, XIII feels free from the conspiracy theory that he was embroiled in since waking up as an amnesiac casualty on a foreign shore, with nothing but a bullet wound, the XIII tattoo on his collar bone and an amazing ability to adapt and survive to his name.
(Thank goodness for these summary pages…. useful for readers old and new. From XIII Volume 7, by Van Hamme and Vance, published by Cinebook.)
But even though the conspiracy is meant to be over, XIII still has the task of uncovering his identity, his real identity. So as Fly, XIII is in Green Falls, his supposed childhood home where he’s finding that the spectre of that number still looms large. The mystery assassin known only as the mongoose is in town, attempting to prevent XIII from remembering the truth behind number I, a truth that is lodged somewhere in that amnesiac brain.
We’re in very familiar territory here. And the adventures themselves rest very comfortably within a strict pattern – XIII is thrust into some new scenario, with a tantalising chance for him (and us readers) to discover some aspect of his past. There’s a twist, there’s danger lurking somewhere (I can’t imagine XIII will ever follow a lead that doesn’t have some element of violent death), and eventually we reach the end, a few clues revealed, a few more mysteries uncovered, and a few more questions posed.
This volume is rather more revealing than most, with a large portion of the first half of the book being a series of flashbacks. But even though these exposition filled pages are wordy, Vance keeps everything moving beautifully until we burst through into the inevitable, climactic action sequences;
(The Mongoose finally catches up with XIII, for a second time it seems. But is this the end? Oh really, surely by now you should know it’s not the end until Van Hamme tells us it’s the end. From XIII Volume 7 by Van Hamme and Vance, published by Cinebook)
The skill, and the enjoyment we get from XIII, is both in the tremendous enjoyment of the overall idea – of one man’s desperate search for his past, and the smaller scale invention and excitement thrown our way every volume with the super tight writing of Van Hamme and the equally tight and perfectly matched artwork of Vance. That’s why it just doesn’t get tired, even though it’s settled into a familiarity by this stage.
It’s truly a marvellous thriller of a series, it’s so well put together that the familiarity is actually more comforting and reassuring by now. I’m enjoying it every bit as much as I did when I first picked it up and imagine I’ll be saying the same thing, every couple of months until volume 19 reveals all in July 2013.