Sep 042014
 
Journal de Spirou #3986 (ill. Yoann & Vehlmann; (c) Dupuis and the artist; SR scanlation)

Cover translated for your reading pleasure.

The first part of the next Spirou adventure (which now goes by the title Le Groom de Sniper Alley, “The Sniper Alley Bellhop”) appears in this week’s issue of the Journal, and next week’s installment is already in the hands of some subscribers. (A number of pages can also be previewed on Izneo, where many of the pictures in this post are from.) So let’s have a sneak peek. (SPOILERS follow!)

The story begins as the former dictator of Aswana (somewhere in the Middle East) is eliminated by a drone strike, and Western troops take control of the country. In a New York jail cell, Don Antonio Contralto is delighted by the news, and he contacts a certain relative on the outside…

… Which turns out to be his nephew, Don Vito Cortizone, who shows up at Fantasio’s house to recruit him and Spirou for a treasure hunt. While serving a life sentence for a bloody bank robbery, Uncle Tony has apparently become something of an amateur archaeologist, and he’s long been on the trail of the legendary Treasure of Alexandria. Now that Aswana is no longer closed to foreigners, he needs someone to go there and track down the last clues to pinpoint the precise location. As Spirou owes Don Vito a favor (from the last album, Dans les griffes de la vipère), and the mafia boss isn’t averse to applying a bit of pressure, the duo reluctantly agree to take the job.

In order to gain access to the country, which is still under occupation and highly unstable, Spirou and Fantasio pretend the trip is to entertain the troops, despite being personally critical of the invasion. Fortunately, as comic book heroes they turn out to be childhood idols to the Franco-Belgian task force. Less fortunately, they are ambushed and separated, and Spirou is forced to dodge insurgent bullets in the infamous “Sniper Alley” of Aswana’s war-torn capital…

Initial impressions, based on these 14 pages, are something of a mixed bag. The first nine pages are almost entirely set-up, heavy on exposition as characters explain background information to each other, often narrating over imaginary “documentary footage”. That the first three pages all offer alternative “intros” also makes the story seem slow to get started, with almost a full page devoted to heavy-handed political commentary (crowbarred in rather inelegantly).

Spirou #54 p3, from Journal de Spirou #3986 (ill. Yoann & Vehlmann; (c) Dupuis and the artists; image from Izneo.com)

I think I saw this in a movie once…

However, the concept is intriguing (the pretext for the adventure resembles nothing so much as one of Don Rosa’s Scrooge McDuck treasure hunt stories), and once Spirou and Fantasio make it to Aswana, the pace picks up considerably. Besides, there is some rather successful comic business throughout, particularly around Don Vito’s henchmen.

On the art side, Yoann continues to develop a personal Spirou style, which may not be to everyone’s taste but is starting to look increasingly natural (though the one female character present so far looks like she’s dropped in from another comic entirely, which she kind of has…).

Spirou #54 p8a, from Journal de Spirou #3986 (ill. Yoann & Vehlmann; (c) Dupuis and the artists; image from Izneo.com)

That might almost be Fournier’s house.

A few panels look a little rushed, with some perhaps excessively sketchy inking, and several people have complained about mistakes and inconsistencies in the drawings – a book with the front cover on the wrong side, a bookcase that grows and shrinks by several shelves between panels, a duplicated sound effect… – although others might consider this nitpicking. (Fred Blanchard, background artist and designer on the previous albums, is not credited so far, but was most likely also involved in creating the environments.) The most important thing is that the main characters look good, with Yoann offering a particularly fine take on Vito Cortizone.

Spirou #54 p3d, from Journal de Spirou #3986 (ill. Yoann & Vehlmann; (c) Dupuis and the artists; image from Izneo.com)

Nice-looking Fantasio, but pay attention to the bookcase and those tinks…

Where this comic falls down entirely is the coloring: It is nothing short of a disaster. Hubert, who colored all the previous Yoann & Vehlmann albums, has been replaced by Laurence Croix (who did a good job on La Femme-léopard and Le Groom vert-de-gris, among a long list of other credits). Croix has chosen a color scheme with bright reds and oranges against pale blue-greens, and while the result doesn’t look too terrible on a computer screen, on paper it is unbelievably garish. One almost suspects some sort of printer calibration failure. We can only hope it will be balanced better for the album version (or at least that it looks better on higher-quality album paper).

Spirou #54 p3, from Journal de Spirou #3986 (ill. Yoann & Vehlmann; (c) Dupuis and the artists)

The colors do NOT look good in the print version.

One curious aspect of the story so far is that it not only includes Martin, the diminutive archaeologist from Les Géants pétrifiés (“The Petrified Giants”), as well as his wife/girlfriend, but that it makes direct reference to that adventure. Yoann and Vehlmann are thereby retroactively inserting their one-shot into the continuity of the main series! This strikes me as a dubious idea (the one-shot fits awkwardly into the universe of the series, not to mention into continuity – never mind the art style!) and a bad precedent. If, say, Tarrin takes over next, should we expect Le Tombeau des Champignac (“Tomb of the Champignacs”) to suddenly become canon?

Spirou #54 p9c, from Journal de Spirou #3986 (ill. Yoann & Vehlmann; (c) Dupuis and the artists; image from Izneo.com)

“Spirouboohoo! For old times’ sake! Remember the carnivorous dinosaurs! The terrifying underwater chasms! We had such fun!”

While we can examine and critique individual details, it’s too early to tell whether this adventure will hold up as a whole. Coming weeks will tell. At best, it may join “In the Clutches of the Viper” as a modern, dynamic Spirou adventure. At worst, it will only be one dud in what promises to be a long tenure.

  18 Responses to “Sneak Peek: Spirou in the war zone”

  1.  

    I find it a little disappointing that notes only consist of people ‘liking’ this on Facebook. Where’s the discussion? It’s Spirou #54, FFS! I haven’t seen the colours on paper of course, so I’m going to trust Spirou Reporter on them looking garish on paper, but they do not seem terrible onscreen.

    I’m rather glad that Yoann and Vehlmann have pursued this look for Spirou rather than the one they had for ‘Giants Petrifées’ but I personally find it a pity that they seem so fond of this Martin character. Perhaps they’ve changed him around a bit, but I found him an annoying and useless character in his first appearance. Alas, I suppose Y&V need their own Miss Flanner. The dinosaur buff in me is also a bit miffled that, apparently, they still haven’t learned or care that what appeared to be pliosaurs or mosasaurs are not dinosaurs. As for inserting their first story into the continuity…well, they’re free to pick and choose what they want, aren’t they? Personally, I’m more uncertain about Y&V’s strong insistence that Spirou is explicitly as old as his magazine and is its mascot and employee who has his stories published there. Does their Spirou exist and live as a real human at all or is he akin to a toon in his own universe?

    All that being said, I like all three main continuity stories the two have done and have high hopes for this one.

    •  

      Yeah, the Facebook “likes” do clutter up the comments quite a bit. I’d really like to have them just as a summary at the top, but haven’t figured out how to make that happen.

      It’s probably natural that there isn’t a lot of discussion of the adventure yet, since most people reading the blog most likely haven’t had a chance to read it. Once the album gets published in other languages there should be more comments.

      I really think it would be best to keep a strict separation between the one-shots (or whatever we should call them now that they’re getting sequels) and the main series. Part of the point of having one-shots is (or should be) that artists can experiment more freely, without readers having to worry about what repercussions those experiments might have on the official continuity. I think that’s how they’re able to get away with saying Spirou’s real name is Jean-Baptiste, or that he killed nazis during the war, while many readers were in uproar over Seccotine calling herself Sophie and starting a relationship with android-Spirou in the “official” Machine qui rêve.

      Now to me is seems that reading a one-shot, you can’t just enjoy it as an alternative take on the Spirou universe, you have to wonder whether it’s something future adventures will refer back to, and hence whether it “fits” with the main series.

      Also, I’m just not a big fan of “The Petrified Giants”, and would rather not have it as part of Spirou continuity.

    •  

      As for Spirou’s age and relationship with the magazine, it’s the kind of paradox I think most comic book/cartoon characters get into when they have 70+ years of history to deal with – or much sooner in the case of The Simpsons. So several characters who appear to be older than Spirou (like the Viper CEO from the last album) talk about reading his adventures when they were kids.

      I think you just kind of have to accept that within the universe, Spirou is simultaneously a young adventurer and a magazine icon who’s been around for many decades. After all, any adventure that pretended to be in continuity with Franquin’s albums would implicitly have that paradox (since those albums are firmly based in the 50s or so, and have Spirou as an employee of the magazine); you just have to not think about it too closely.

  2.  

    Well, while I see your point I do think ‘just don’t think about it!’ is a bit of a cop-out for this question. Clearly, if you have a long runner like ‘Spirou’ with a main character who’s adventures always take place in the current days, you basically have four options.
    1. You ignore the question of age completely.
    2. You make use of a sliding timescale in which the character’s ‘birth’ keeps a constant distance from the past, which means that you essentially invalidate older stories’ continuity and timeline as you move along.
    3. You explicitly refer to the character’s long history and find a way to explain it.
    4. You accept the character’s long history and do not explain the age problem at all.
    Y&V clearly take the last option and run with it: they regularly mention Spirou’s long past, no questions asked. One even gets the impression they find the temporal problem humorous. What I do wonder is what they think being essentially ageless and ever youthful means for what Spirou *is*. He apparently lives in a universe where secondary characters age more or less normally. Their balding Fantasio could even suggest that he has aged a bit, though he’s by neccessity of more or less the same mould as Spirou himself and presumably the same applies to other characters that have been around for decades now. If Spirou and Fantasio have been around for as long as the magazine than the same must apply to the likes of Zantafio, the Count, Zorglub and Seccotine, not to mention Spip. Perhaps it’s overthinking the matter, but I do find it to be a valid question: what is Spirou’s nature in the Y&V universe? That he is the icon and apparently something of a posession or mascot of his magazine in-universe raises even more questions.

    By simply accepting the character’s high age and ignoring its implications, Y&V clearly take a different position from their predecessors as Morvan & Munuera seemed to want to compress Spirou’s history in a far shorter timescale, judging from ‘L’homme qui nu voulait pas mourir’ where ‘Les heritiers’ was suggested to have taken place only a few years prior. Of course, ‘Aux sources du Z’ opens a whole other can of worms as the ages of the Count, Zorglub, Flanner, Spirou and Fantasio simply don’t add up. Of course, that story’s status as canon is very debatable. Confusingly enough, the story seems to be canon for Fantasio but not for Spirou! What do you, Spirou Reporter, make of the canon status of that story and of ‘Machine qui reve’?

    As a last note, I’d like to mention that, so far, Y&V’s early run seems very promising to me and arguably better than the combined quality of Tome & Janry’s first three albums. I personally find both ‘Virus’ and ‘Avonture en Australie’ rather forgettable and boring with ‘Qui arretera Cyanure?’ being their first good and really enjoyable story. Obviously, Y&V have a long way to go if they want to equal or eclipse T&J but I think they might well manage it. Their method of using cliffhangers to connect stories that otherwise stand on their own works well and ties all secondary characters into the same universe and the way they have so far managed to create their own Spirou while also using elements and characters from other authors in just three albums is an impressive feat, in my view. What’s your opinion on their run, so far?

    •  

      I do think Yoann & Vehlmann enjoy making fun of the absurdity of the situation. I just read a couple of interviews with Yann & Morvan and with Vehlmann where they discuss the difference in their approaches:

      “Yann and Morvan wrote Aux sources du Z with the ambition of making the whole series coherent. But to me, there’s nothing in common between Radar le Robot by Franquin in 1947, Z comme Zorglub by the same Franquin in 1962, and Spirou à New York created by Tome & Janry in 1987. I don’t feel any need to unify everything. On the contrary, I want to play with the conventions of the comic, like the bellhop uniform, for example.”

      It’s also clear from the interview with Yann and Morvan that they had rather different ideas and priorities between them, with Yann being the most gung-ho on continuing with the new status quo established by their album, but at the same time he sees Spirou’s “time” as being the 40s-60s when Franquin wrote it, and if he had taken over the series (and he wrote the one-shot for Tarrin in the hope that it would be an album in the main series) he would have set his albums during that period, thus avoiding some of these problems.

      Vehlmann also explains that he decided to adopt Morvan’s “loophole” proposal: that Fantasio went back in time and undid everything in Aux sources du Z (as seen here).

      Personally, I think that the easiest way to think of Spirou’s role and nature is just as it was by late Franquin (e.g. Z comme Zorglub, where kids recognize him on the street from the comic, or in Gaston): he’s some kind of reporter for Spirou magazine, where his adventures are told in comic form. The magazine has been around for a long time, and Spirou (or at least his uniform) is something of a mascot for the publisher, but just exactly how that came to be and just how long he’s been in the role is unclear, possibly unexplainable. Perhaps he somehow inherited or took over the position, Phantom-style? At any point in time, all the adventures Spirou has personally been through should probably be thought of as occurring in the somewhat recent past (within ten years, say), even if they’re actually set many decades ago if you go back and read them. If there are occasional jokes about all the problems with this scenario, or about his age, I don’t think they’re harder to get past than all the other jokes that break the fourth wall in various ways.

      You ask what this means for what Spirou actually is: some sort of immortal being who lives undetected amongst humans? A vampire, perhaps? An illustration, magically brought to life (as implied by the very first page)? No, I think he’s a “regular human”, or at least just a comic book hero like any other, no more than a minor celebrity. You might as well ask what Spip “really is”: a sentient squirrel with the ability to use tools, tragically unable to communicate with humans, some sort of mutant freak? No, he’s a regular pet squirrel… who can talk. It’s a comic, just go with it.

      Fantasio might be somewhat less bald in this album, by the way. There’s one panel that seems to show him with hair on top, at least (the inked hairline, not just the coloring).

      •  

        Yann’s approach seems similar to Don Rosa’s. He has stated that – basically – all his adventures take place in – more or less explicit – the 50’s.

        A sliding timescale might be more appropriate for the kid audience, though…

        •  

          Vehlmann states in Spirou: aux sources du S… that after Morvan & Munuera, Dupuis hesitated between two possible approaches for the series: as a period piece set around the 1930s-1950s (similar to the revived Blake & Mortimer), or to continue on in a modern setting (which Yoann & Vehlmann were committed to). Since this matches so well with Yann’s vision for the series, the conclusion that he was being considered as an alternative candidate to Y&V seems pretty clear. However, Dupuis ultimately opted for modernity.

          Of course, Yann’s albums with Schwartz now effectively constitute a parallel continuity in a retro setting (40s rather than 50s so far), so he got his wish in the end.

    •  

      For MQR, I’m happy just pretending it doesn’t exist (the same approach later writers have seemingly taken). I do like Yoann & Vehlmann. I have particularly enjoyed their shorter stories, where all these self-referential elements and jokes are really in focus.

      I also think it helps to have the one-shots as alternatives, because it takes some of the pressure off: they’re not carrying the whole weight of the iconic series by themselves, but can concentrate on just making fun comic adventures.

      As for their albums, I think “The Petirified Giants” was an interesting experiment and a good first stab at an alternative, slightly more realistic (?) version of the comic, but I don’t find the story all that successful and I don’t think it’s true to the Spirou spirit. I quite like the art, though.

      “Zorkons Alert” is quite good all round, though as adventures go it’s pretty slight, and I’m against making Zorglub a villain again on principle. But absolutely a decent first go at “Spirou Classic”.

      “The Dark Side of the Z” I found to be a misfire on almost every level, both on the art and writing side (and again with Zorglub). Yoann & Vehlmann tend to defend it by saying that older fans hate it, but kids love it. OK, I’m an old fan. I hate it.

      “In the Clutches of the Viper”, on the other hand, I thought was very successful, and one of the best Spirou albums of any kind in many years. In Ninon, Spirou’s young fangirl/protégée, it also introduced the first new character that feels like someone who might stick around and be a real enrichment of the series’ universe since Don Vito back in 1987. (Hopefully Y&V will realize that and not see Martin as their lasting contribution.)

      So overall I’m pretty positive on their run so far, even if there have been some bumps along the way, and I’m optimistic that they’ll continue to improve as they get a better grip on the universe and figure out what works and what doesn’t. (Although I do have a nagging worry that Vehlmann, who writes a bunch of stuff in a lot of different genres and is also running some sort of digital indie comic magazine, doesn’t really see this gig as a top priority, and therefore lacks a coherent approach and vision for what Spirou should be. That might be totally unfair, and maybe a perspective outside of the Marcinelle school is what the series really needs.)

  3.  

    I’m French so I apologize if my comment is a pain to read!
    The thing that bugs me with #54 and that hasn’t been brought up so far (as far as I can tell, anyway) is Vito’s daughter. I’m not quite sure how they managed to bring him back without any mention of Luna. Yea, sure, MAYBE she’ll pop up later in the story — but I’m not holding my breath. I have the feeling Y&V are going to completely ignore her (while I’m all for pretending Machine qui rêve never existed, Luna Fatale has always been a favourite of mine and is generally well liked). Unless there’s spoilers I have yet to read regarding these pages, she is not mentioned.

    I’ve been waiting for her to return since #45, that’s 17 years now. I’m not going to count that ridiculous version that appeared in the TV show (… an actress? really???). I’m all for killing her off if that’s the only way to briefly bring her back and deal with her, but so far, it’s as if the character never existed. I’m going to have a hard time getting into this story if Vito is around and nothing is said about her. She had one heck of an impact with only one album. I can see how the dynamic between her and Spirou could be problematic if Y&V don’t want to deal with it, but still, augh.

    Maybe it’s just me, hahaha.
    It’s been bugging me since we (briefly) saw Vito in the last album.

    •  

      Hey, your English is great!

      Luna does not appear and isn’t mentioned in the pages seen so far, and according to Yoann, even Vito is mostly a background character in the album once the story gets going. Perhaps there’ll be some confrontation at the end, and she might show up there? I wouldn’t count on it, though.

      I also liked Luna and wouldn’t mind if she returned, but I don’t think it’s necessary to bring her back just because Vito appears. After all, he was in three albums before we even learned of her existence. She has her own life, and unless there’s something that specifically requires her to be involved, there’s really no logical reason why she’d drop by.

      And would either Spirou, Fantasio or Vito spontaneously bring her up in conversation? I don’t think so, it would be an awkward subject. Particularly when, as here, Vito is practically holding them hostage, and trying to get them to do another job for him. (He doesn’t really let them get a word in edgewise, anyway.)

      So I think it makes sense that she’s not referred to. Whether she had such a major impact on Spirou and on the comic that ignoring her would be weird… well, at the time she was the first and only woman Spirou had shown any great romantic attraction to (though he seemed to have a small crush on Ororea at first), which made their kiss seem rather significant. Since then, however, there’s been Seccotine (in MQR and Aux sources du Z), Miss Flanner (albeit in a timeline that’s been erased), and if Les Géants pétrifiés is now canon, Tian from that album. And that’s not counting several other romantic interests from the one-shots: Seccotine again, Kassandra, Audrey, Ursula… So one could argue that we shouldn’t consider Luna “The Woman” in Spirou’s life, but just one of a number of women he’s been attracted to and briefly involved with. You couldn’t even properly call her an ex, since they were never in a real relationship.

      So while I understand and respect your opinion, I don’t quite share it.

  4.  

    Thanks for your lengthy comments, Spirou Reporter and Kay! Glad to see some discussion going on in the comments. I would have to count myself as one of the younger fans of the series. I’ve only been around since the 80’s myself and first got to know Spirou as a minor secondary character in ‘Gaston’, followed by a few Tome & Janry albums, only moving on the rest of the series in the last 7 years or so. As a result, I guess I have a stronger connection to T&J Spirou than to the other ones. Perhaps this, as you suggest, makes me more comfortable with Zorglub becoming a villain again.

    That being said, I think that even the Y&V Zorglub remains the tragic, misguided anti-villain succumbing to pride and arrogance that the character originally was. I think it opens possibilities to have him become more ambiguous again, in that a reformed Zorglub is a character who’s potential is somewhat limited. It’s telling, I think, that T&J had the real Zorglub only appear for a few panels in their run, instead choosing to use an ersatz Zorglub with all the trappings of the villainous version. If their ‘Zorglub en Cuba’ would have materialised, it too would seem to have cast Zorglub as a villain again. The character, to me at least, simply works better as a tragic villain than as an easily misguided friend, as other albums cast him. That being said, Zorglub’s power also lies in his dynamic with the Count and this too works better, in my opinion, if there is a sort of appreciating animosity of sorts between them. We’ll see if and when Y&V bring him back (their final words about him suggest that they might have some plan for him in the future) but his return now that he has apparently set forth into space to achieve his goals without being hindered is likely to be interesting, at least.

    As for that album, I agree it is a mixed bag and suffers from uninteresting plotlines. The whole Spirou-becomes-a-monster is very weird and unneccessary, though I liked it better the second time I read the story. Still, I think it would have worked better if Fantasio had been the one to mutate as it wouldn’t have turned the story’s protagonist into an odd sideshow.

    Like Kay, I do hope Luna will return in #54. One would think that, given that Y&V’s Spirou doesn’t seem as afraid of women as some other Spirous we’ve come to know, they could certainly come up with some dynamic for Spirou and Luna. Given their propensity for unexpected twists and revealing important characters or locations for the next album at the end of their current album, perhaps she will show up at an unexpected moment. However, given that she demands and requires quite a presence to work well and that Y&V already have to reintroduce the Marsupilami, I think it might actually be for the better for her not to show up yet. I’d also argue that, as much as I like the character, Y&V offering their take on Cortizone, the Marsupilami and presumably eventually Zantafio might take priority over reintroducing a character that only appeared in one album no matter what impact she made there. I do think Luna could work pretty well in the Y&V universe, as could, say, Cyanure.

    To be honest, I have more doubts about the Marsupilami working here. I suppose the intention is for the character to be a constant companion to Spirou again, along with all his comic trappings. Will this work in the Y&V context? We’ll have to wait and see. I’m also very curious as to how they will explain his sudden and complete disappearance from the series and what he was up to in the mean time. Y&V have not been given an easy task there, and likely it came up as a surprise when it did. I would not be surprised if it actually interfered with plans they might have had for the series, considering their running and seemingly planned narrative connecting their albums.

    •  

      In another interview with Yoann I just read, from February 2013, he mentions having heard rumors that Dupuis would buy Marsu for a long time, so it actually didn’t come as a surprise to them. He also talks about being so excited about the opportunity to use the Marsupilami that he’d started sketching pages long before the thing was definite.

      Given that enthusiasm, and from what little we’ve seen of Y&V’s take on the Marsupilami, I’m quite optimistic. We’ll see.

      He also explains that they don’t have a strategy or schedule for bringing back old characters. They don’t think “let’s bring back Seccotine/Vito/whoever” and then work out how to fit them into the story. If they bring back an existing character, it’s because the story they have in mind requires a role that the character fits into. (This doesn’t apply to the Marsupilami, of course, and I rather suspect using Zorglub in their first couple of albums was also a strategic choice.)

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