Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"XIII" volumes 6,7

When "XIII" returned after it completed it's initial story-arc, it was subtle differences. Vance and Van Hamme were under no obligation to prove themselves anymore, thus their new effort proved a two-part story. No longer worrying about the new readers or keeping the story satisfying as an album unto itself, they published the first part as "Dossier Jason Fly".

Yet, despite the changes in the structure, the comic read as an entry point in itself. On the surface, it starred a man reclaiming what could be his forgotten past, in much the same way as "Where the Indian walks". Again, the story was set in an idyllic locale, this time a moutain town of Greenfalls. Finally, the creators seem much more secure with the story possibilities of giving XIII a permanent identity. 

Thus the recurring guessing game gets changed into a matter of pseudonyms, centered around a concrete identity, whom the character still can't remember being. Interestingly, for the first time a dfeinite conclusion seems to come from a blind man, recognising XIII's voice.

The story opens in the mountain town, using flashbacks to explain the vents thave have taken place since "Red alert". At face value, the journalistic angle is continued, brining to light the difference in tone, as this volume features a small local media as the lens for providing the information. The action did not fall by the wayside though, as XIII's pursuers find the way to Greenfalls, slowly circling in on the mystery man.

Vance and Van Hamme have decided not to make the readers wait on the resolution of previously set up character arcs, as a major plot point regarding major Jones gets touched upon in a subtle, yet frightening way. Still, she is the last direct link with the previous cast of characters, as Van Hamme is concerned with bringing the coplicated XIII family history to the foreground. 

For the moment, they are supplemented by locals, captured in all their character by Vance. Despite some of the town's residents acting as familiar series archetypes, the artist manages to act upon the unique nuances and establishes them as personalities in their own right, capable of supporting closer scrunity in the next volume. XIII's pursuers quickly find a way to get in touch with the town's shady power player, whose secrets are set to be revealed as Greenfalls conveniently gets sealed off from the outside world.

It stands to the creator's professionalism, that "Night of August the 3rd" feels as an organic continuation as it does. The character arcs all carry over to their natural conclusions, making the most use of the larger format. Van Hamme touches upon the "Where the Indian walks", in taking forward the racism angle, but this time around pushes it to the forefront.

Bringing the Cold war history of the town to light, the writer ties it masterfully with XIII's search for answers. The xenophobia and the town's hideous crime are woven with their current resolution in a way that overshadows the lingering presence of conspiracy. 

The snowed-in town's hysteria, unleashed by the manhunt, expertly gives way to one of the best conclusions of the entire series, as the sense of local melancholy reaserts itslef again. Van Hamme's strong plotting gives a definite place to XIII's role in the Greenfall's history, and the authors even find room to explain an ironic "red herring". With Vance once again at easte while pencilling the new surroundings, as well as winter wear, they cement the feeling that the reader's trust in the longer form has been rewarded.

Moreover, after the ambitious storyline that preceded the two-parter, "XIII" proved that it has carved a unique space for itself among the best of modern Franco-Belgian comics.

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