By Jean Van Hamme, René Sterne, Chantal De Spiegeleer
In Pennsylvania, Olrik escapes a federal prison by helicopter after a bloody attack. With Blake forced to cut short his holidays at the news, a disappointed Mortimer turns his attention to Greece, where an earthquake has uncovered an ancient chapel. Before long, people are trying to kill Mortimer over a mysterious Roman silver coin. Could the long-lost relic be one of the 30 denarii paid to Judas for his betrayal of Jesus? And who exactly covets it so much?
For those of you unaware of the strip’s history; Blake And Mortimer was created by Edgar P. Jacobs in ’46, and continued by various writers and artist teams after Jacobs’ death in’87. The strip features the post WWII adventures of Captain Francis Blake; “dashing head of MI5”, and his friend Professor Philip Mortimer; nuclear physicist and supposedly reluctant adventurer.
My reading of Cinebook’s Blake And Mortimer reprints started with Volume 7, and I’ve grown, if not to love it, at least to enjoy the series. However, as a Van Hamme fan, I was intrigued to see how he’d handle the iconic characters.
First obvious impression? It might be artistically set during the 50s but it has a far more modern feel to the story. And that feel seems to me to be down to a Van Hamme style pacing. It’s not quite XIII but heck, there are moments early on where I couldn’t help but make the connection in my mind:
See what I mean? Action, adventure, jailbreaks, helicoptors…. very Van Hammy.
Okay, after that initial slightly weird tone, things do settle down into familiar territory, and we’re with Blake and Mortimer planning a nice little getaway in the Lake District and the sorts of wonderfully stereotyped British post war public school boy dialogue we’ve come to expect. Obviously Blake and Mortimer never make it to their happy hols, with Olrik escaping from prison (via that action packed opener above) Blake heads off on a stateside wild goose chase, leaving Mortimer free for a spot of solo adventuring, called upon to investigate what everyone but Mortimer seems to think is one of the 30 pieces of silver earned by a certain Mr Iscariot.
So, slightly weird, but nothing too out of the ordinary for Mortimer, who quickly drops into full on Indiana Jones meets Tintin mode. It’s fun from here on in, with Mortimer on his lonesome basically being repeatedly in the wrong place at the wrong time, whether in possession of the unlucky coin or not:
In the end, it’s a Van Hamme adventure more than a Blake and Mortimer story, at least to my way of thinking, and as such it’s all bursts of intense action punctuated by huge bits of exposition. Although having said that, Jacobs was a bit fond of burying his art in speech bubbles as well, so maybe Van Hamme is merely carrying that tradition on?
René Sterne’s art, finished after his unfortunate death by Chantal De Spiegeleer, looks gorgeous most of the time I have to say – just look at that superb chase sequence above), but there are times it switches slightly from ligne claire and drifts towards something looking slightly animation-y. We’re also at risk of doing that slightly stereotypical Van Hamme thing of creating comedy villains?
But those minor quibbles aside, it’s a solid, slightly different adventure of Blake and Mortimer. Tellingly, by the halfway stage I found myself getting a touch bored, the temptation to look at the pretty pages rather than plough through the dense forest of text obscuring said artwork. If you’re already a fan, I can’t imagine you’ll be too upset by Van Hamme’s treatment of Jacobs’ characters. If you’re a newbie, I’m not too sure it’s the best place to start. And as someone sitting somewhere in between I find myself beginning to miss the slightly more sedate and character led stuff I saw in Sente and Juillard’s version, specifically Vol 11: The Gondwana Shrine.