By Jean Van Hamme and Philippe Franq
By now trying to review Largo Winch has become something of an exercise in swapping the words around. It’s not like reviewing a movie franchise where there’s the variation derived from different actors, directors, and styles. But a Van Hamme and Francq Largo Winch is always going to be a Van Hamme and Francq Largo Winch, and that does tend to mean a lot of similar things from each two-volume story to the next.
In pretty much every story you can expect: high adventure, Largo Winch doing a little business, his advisors criticising him for his way of doing business and gloomily forecasting the end of the W Group, bad guys (corporate), bad guys (criminal), a chase/escape, a fight or two, and a hint of womanising. Yep, every time. But although that may suggest repetition and eventual diminishing returns, the stories also have two very important things very much in their favour; Van Hamme and Francq.
Van Hamme does this sort of high concept, intelligent version of a throwaway action thriller so well, and Francq delivers all the action, all the talking, all the scenery ever so well. It’s something that could so easily have grown tired very quickly, but given the skill and style of both men, I can’t see it being anything but cleverly done intelligent thrills for many volumes to come. Essentially it’s James Bond as a corporate maverick with a past, less spying, more money, just as dangerous.
To give you the brief series overview is simple; Winch is the 26-year boss of the W Group, worth upwards of $10 billion, but his way of doing things is strictly anti-establishment, and there’s no lack of opponents gunning for him, but whether the highest risk to Largo comes from the corporate greed all around him, or a series of enemies he’s made in his past is up for debate.
This time around we join the fun with Largo in dire peril, locked in a cell with an old friend’s body slowly providing sustenance for the rats:
He landed there after a business deal put him back in Hong Kong, where old Chinese enemies were waiting, and an old promise to the Triads forced him to abandon his moral code and go after a sacred Taoist scroll. Everything went wrong, Largo was caught in the act, his friends have no idea where he is, and things look desperate.
Have a wild guess what happens next?
Yes, he gets free, of course he gets free, because there’s not much fun in an action adventure of this sort where the hero dies a lonely lingering death rotting in a filthy cell is there?
And once he’s free, and on the run in Homg Kong, Van Hamme and Francq totally go for it, and we’re rewarded with a simply breathtaking chase scene where Largo navigates his way through the skies and streets of Hong Kong, hopping on paragliders, heading down the central mid level escalator (longest covered escalator system in the world – and proof if it were needed that there’s a load of research in all these stories).
It’s only 9-pages long, but Francq pulls off an impressive trick; makes his pages so detailed that you can’t help but slow down to take it all in, AND makes it feel incredibly fast paced, the comic equivalent of a thrilling slow-motion scene.
Last review I mentioned the very teeny problem I find with a LW 2-parter; that the first part, the setup, is so brilliantly constructed, alternating between corporate high jinks and manic action so well that the subsequent finale is a breathless ride to disappointment. Well, wouldn’t you just know it, this is the volume that proves me a liar. Sure it’s fast and furious, but the twists and turns are so well done, the action so spectacular, and the actual structure so neatly plotted out to deliver a couple of finale moments… it’s fabulous, it really is.
We’ll end once more praising Francq’s artwork…
That. Is. Bloody. Brilliant.
Largo Winch really is a perfect thing, playful in its genre roots, yet intelligently done, Van Hamme and Francq knowing exactly how to maximise everything about it to deliver a great, great read.