Thursday, September 15, 2011

Optic Nerve #12

Debuting as a mini comic in 1991, Adrian Tomine's "Optic Nerve" has just celebrated it's 20th anniversary with a new issue. #12 is a concentrated effort by it's author to return to the one man anthology form he started out in, the very subject covered in one of these new shorts. The last several "Optic Nerve" issues made up "Shortcomings", the writer/artist's most ambitious narrative so far, followed upon with the last year's "Scenes from an impending marriage", themed around his wedding. The new entry in the series offers up three stories told in different formats, built upon with equal skill and ardour.

The first and the longest one is "A Brief History of the Art Form Known as Hortisculpture", formatted as a newspaper comic strip, covering roughly the first month of it's "run". Thus, two black and white daily strips get presented on a page, forming a story that runs across six installments, corresponding to the Monday to Saturday format of the paper. Thus, the Sunday episode debuts after every three story pages, published in color and presented in a familiar double length. The story features a gardener undergoing a mid-life crisis, while his pregnant wife has to deal with her husband's new found delusion of self importance. It goes without saying that Tomine uses the storyline to gently mock the artistic process, but even at his fiercest, the writer/artist maintains sympathy with the aging, out of shape "artist" dedicated to creating sculptures interwined with plants, needing his monthly maintenance. Most of the comedy comes from the reaction Harold's sculptures provoke in his friends and neighbors, who while not being artistically inclined themselves, still uniformly feel awkward and disdainful at his new found calling.

Harold's wife tries her hardest to cheer him up, but their mixed marriage continually suffers from his ill tamper. The gardener's endless defensive monologue on the nature of art and the artist in the modern age turn into verbal abuse towards the spouse once she shows even an inkling of doubt, with this relationship forming the crux of the narrative. There is a sudden five year jump needed to get their child come to come of age where she can respond to her dad's work, but eventually the sculptor comes to a decision, and involves his family in the plan that finally gets them all on the same side.

Tomine's cartooning is loose but effective, fitting with the character based subject material. In keeping with the stylings of the newspaper strips, the writer/artist rushes some of the background details, but his Harold is continually on the form. The gardener is portrayed somewhat more cartoony, fitting with such an overblown character, with the rest of the cast rendered more typically in Tomine's understated, yet all too human stylings. The pacing is effortless throughout, with jokes being intelligent, if not too obvious, delivered as verbal punchlines playing on the protagonist's lack of maturity and perspective.

In many ways, "A Brief History of the Art Form Known as Hortisculpture" feels like an answer to Dan Clowes' "Wilson", covering similar ground of mid life crisis as told using formal tricks of the gag strips, but feels more restrained without the need for veering too much into the experimental. "Wilson" certinaly represents a more profound, philosophical work, while Tomine feels completely content in developing a single idea using one representational technique, with a clear idea of his thoughts on the subject. After the complicated morality of "Shortcomings", with it's take on relationships, friendship and same sex attraction, "Hortisculpture", much like "Scenes from an impending marriage" that directly preceded it, represents a more playful, observant side of the writer/artist's character, still enamored with the medium and the possibilities it represents, without being superfluous.

The unique anthology format allows the reader to get a deeper perspective on "Hortisculpture" as Tomine's own feelings on art get discussed in the third and shortest entry in the 40 page installment. Seeing the writer/artist himself pondering on the chosen format for the work in a two page autobiographical sequence feels both informative, as well as intimate. Tomine utilizes a large number of panels to get across not only a very atypical afterword, but an entry that espouses his own feelings on the matter of artistic choice and the audience's reaction. The Japanese American author directly references Clowes when discussing the prevailing preference for abandoning the pamphlet format in favor of longer, spine bound works. Tomine obviously felt very strongly towards continuing his original series in the more traditional comic book format, yet he illustrates the follow-through in a bitter sweet epilogue that anticipates the audience's indifference and hostility of the market that has changed so much in the twenty year of the publication of "Optic Nerve".

The middle section of the book also offers a revised edition of "Amber Sweet", the writer/artist's story from "Kramers Ergot 7". The full color somehow adds to the detached feeling of the short, representative of it's narrator, an introspective young woman sharing an uncanny similarity in both name and appearance with an adult film actress. Tomine covers her late teens, as the introspective character takes a long while to understand the derogatory reactions of the community, without any provocation of her own. Contrary to Harold's attempt to engage his middle class peers, Amber's own passivity and cluelessness seems to contribute to the problem, with her resorting to Internet twice and both times coming away shocked and dismayed.

Tomine's decision to resort to a long internal monologue broken up by outside snide comments, paints a portrait of a very lonely young woman, who simply cannot understand how her own beauty and femininity can become such a liability to her way of life. Amber is eager to learn, smart and attentive, but what she lacks in empathy she seeks to learn by investigation, signified by the sterile look of the technology that reappears at key points in the story. With only her status as an object of desire to keep her from feeling like an outsider, she seeks comfort in relationships, but is continually plagued by the presence of the doppelganger.

While avoiding the association with the porn star she resembles both in the name and looks, the young woman is continually challenged to question her own self worth and seek out an identity that would bring her happiness and a semblance of regular life. It is only when she finally acts out, and strikes out from a creepy boyfriend and changes her hair style that she achieves an intimate moment. That she meets her doppelganger face to face might seemed contrived, but Tomine offers the openness of the LA setting to make up for the needs of the story. That the writer/artist really utilizes the encounter between the two Ambers to provide a real human moment, and emotional pay off to the story, goes a long way to justified the story logic and proves essential to the protagonist.

Faced with the very same outside attention that became a source of frustration for her namesake, the porn responds in a casual, even patented way, which is crucial in understanding the "real" Amber. If the protagonist had only managed a way to deal with the association that used good humor, and had not let the rage swell up inside her, she would have lead a much healthier and relaxed life. Of course, her character, as shown in these eleven pages, certainly leaves room to connect her reaction to the events in her lives previous to the beginning of the story. That Tomine was able to so fully flesh out the narrator as a both vulnerable and very relatable speaks to his strength as a storyteller adept at utilizing the short story format for maximum effect.

The closure Amber gets from the encounter feels genuine and definitely earned, with the final panel acting to place the narration in the context of a new relationship that finally seems close and personal. Her transformation from someone that kept a deep resentment to an unknown woman with particularly brutal urges toward revenge, towards an adult that tries to talk about her feelings and the uncanny resemblance without just hoping that it never becomes an issue in a society that's increasingly open to Internet pornography, feels like a character arc important both to the character and the reader subjected to Tomine's mastery of the form that realized it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Animal man #1-4

In 1987, inspired by the success of Alan ("Swamp thing", "Watchmen") Moore, DC's talent division scouted United Kingdom for similar comics writers, hoping they would help rejuvinate their line of secondary titles. Looking for a smart and edgy take, they were drawn towards "Zenith", Grant Morrison's post modern superhero and asked the writer to pitch them a revival of one of their many moribund properties. The "2000 AD" magazine writer, inspired by Moore's work, submitted an outline for four issues, centered on finding a new take involving Buddy Baker, the Animal man.

The seldom seen character's profile has previously been boosted by Marv ("New Teen Titans") Wolfman's including him in his work on "Action comics" and "DC comics presents". The key DC writer of the early eighties gave Buddy a cameo in DC's first and most ambitious cross over event "Crisis on infinite Earths", and Morrison followed up with his revamp just as the company was starting to branch out to more risky Direct market exclusive material.

Thus, in 1988 the first of the original planned four issues debuted, pencilled by Chas ("Coyote") Truog and inked by Doug Hazlewood. For a start, the artistic team was standard for DC's lesser selling titles of the time, and brings to mind the Mike Grell written "Green arrow". Getting an indie penciller clearly uncomfortable with superheroes on a book with the stylized covers of one Brian Bolland seemed an industry practice, but certainly provided a jarring juxtaposition. Truog was certainly a strong storyteller even then, providing clear layouts, easily distinguished characters and a lot of energy to his pages, but was given neither the time nor the adequate compensation to proceed with a layered detailed approach allowed to Bolland and rare few talents of his caliber. From the start, it's easy to see that the initial four issues were designed with the goal of spotlighting the writer and, as such, relegated Truog to the role of a collaborator whose contribution is not to easy to discern.

Where Grant Morrison, the writer of the revamp started of with was by providing a look at a late eighties superhero trying to make a come back while still thinking of ways to provide for his family. As depicted, Buddy is a naivee, but well meaning common man, who loves his wife and their two children, determined to try and make a real break as a superhero. In doing this he seeks support of his illustrator wife, and proceeds to test out his animal mimicking abilities, mimicking Alan Moore's early "Marvelman" issues. Morrison is careful to realize the suburban neighborhood Buddy and Ellen live in, realizing that the neighboring forest, and the adjacent wild life, will play a larger role later on. Buddy is portrayed as a fan of punk and indie rock music, which the writer uses to justify the inclusion of a leather jacket on his original A-man costume.

Interestingly, this is about as much as Morrison ventures with Buddy's character. Beyond the character's empathy towards animals, the writer is pleased with leaving him a blank slate, deliberately steering clear of the retelling of Buddy's original Silver age origin, where "the man with animal powers" was treated as little more than a leading story novelty in a mystery anthology. Once DC comics decided to extend the mini series towards an ongoing run with the character, both him and Truog would get a chance for a post modern revision of Animal Man's first appearances in "Strange adventures" magazine, but interestingly Morrison decided on exploiting the back story of another failed 1960s try out superhero as a way of delineating Buddy in opposition to another similar character.

Thus, somewhat unexpectedly, the Bob Haney and Mike Sekowsky's original "Showcase presents" two part story starring B'wana Beast ends up impacting the plot of original proposed "Animal man" mini series much more than any of the title character's initial appearances. The Beast was recently featured in a "Swamp Thing" story, but Morrison was still mindful that at this point he was dealing with introducing the new audience to two long forgotten characters, and as such, provides the pertinent information in a way that was much more in touch with the then modern sensibilities. In a time when the image aware writer routinely had the characters tossing "Rolling stone" magazine with the Justice League as the cover feature, and a reference to an Ann Rice article inside, Morrison was intent to present a very polarizing post Cold war landscape. On the one hand, the reader was treated to Chas Truog and Doug Hazlewood's version of suburban LA paradise, with the downtown San Diego being presented as an urban nightmare where Animal man has to work in.

That the writer is very aware of his character's status as a one note joke superhero is directly referenced in the introductory issue, with Morrison reassuring the reader that he is very clear on the direction he's taking the character in. Even Buddy's ambition of rising to the status of regular working superheroes such as Blue Beetle, falls to the wayside in a scene where the writer plays up Buddy's relative similarity to the orange clad Aquaman, another blond character, and likewise a long standing foil for the audience disinterested in the underwater exploits of the unlikely ocean based superhero. Likewise, most of the popularity Blue Beetle had in what was until recently modern DCU stemmed from the Justice League writers essentially transforming him into a parody of a generic superhero, but Animal man of course isn't aware of any of this. To him, these are perfectly legitimate superhuman characters that he hopes will recognize him as a peer, while shunning the company of Element man (another Bob Haney creation), another oddball concept that never caught on as much as the company wanted to.

Most significant though, is Buddy's relationship to the original superhero, Superman, who Morrison smartly includes in these pages as an objective point of comparison. Thus, a TV sketch lampooning Animal Man's ability as a sort of pet detective gets him an S.T.A.R. labs call, with the scientist freely admitting that the only reason they proceeded with dialing the LA-based superhero was that Superman wasn't able to answer the emergency in time. This is not just a cynical aside but a crucial point Morrison makes, given that the case as depicted would seem completely ill suited to the DC's flagship books, whether by the logistics or the style of the story. Simply put, Animal man was entirely the right person to call when it comes to dealing with a science fictional/horror mash up, centered around another, long forgotten DC animal based superhero.

That Superman himself briefly shows up to introduce himself and promptly flies away to deal with an airplane emergency further drives home Morrison's point that there is more to the distinction between "Animal Man" and "Action comics" than the popularity of the characters involved. And seeing how Morrison's initial approach to Buddy Baker leans much more heavily on the Clive Barker and Steven King horror revisionism rather than the typical superhero inspirations, there is no doubt that the writer was right to call attention to the need for a separate approach, and a different kind of hero.

In a lot of ways, what Alan Moore did on "Swamp Thing" was simply to take the ideas in a more mature direction. The underlying template of a EC-style monster comic was still providing the structure behind the revision, but the advent of the Direct Market enabled the writers to approach the themes from a more informed stance, educated by the prevaling horror literature of the time, and the non-fiction work that supported the ideas. When it comes to "Animal man", Morrison was simply a vegetarian who elaborated on his contempt for the cruelty toward animals, and tried to present his informed opinion in the context of a superhero comic book.

That he took the stance seriously, and presented his case in these initial four issues reassures the readers that the writer-centered comic they are reading at least represents an intelligent and well thought out slice of pop culture. The layered approach, filled with foreshadowing, tight characterization and poetic narration certainly reminds of Moore's work, but the burgeoning sub genre of similar offerings, including Neil Gaiman's "the Sandman" quickly found a lot of fans sympathetic to it. Basically, the intelligent, well written superhero book quickly came to mean a revision of a  little seen superhero, illustrated by a capable yet undistinguished up and coming artist, aiming at fan in late teens, and adamant on keeping his interest by sliding the envelope, virtuoso storytelling.

The obvious benefits of this approach were the high profile typically given by the superhero fandom to the riskier Marvel and DC material, a steady publication, and adequate financial reward, eventually including the royalties when it comes to the republication of the same material. In such a system, ignorant to the material outside the superhero genre and foreign publications, it's easy to understand the sudden and meteoric rise of the careers of Moore, Gaiman and Morrison. The talented scribes simply introduced intelligent, detailed scripts coming from the inspirations outside traditional pulp stories, and realized in technique that often had more in common with the work of post modern prose writers than Robert Kanigher, Stan Lee and Bob Haney.

Specifically, at this early point in his career, Morrison was still introducing himself to the audience, and just seeing the scene transitions the Scottish scribe utilizes is enough to brings to mind the technique behind Moore's "Swamp thing". The tightly plotted, allusion heavy work in a real way felt like the growth of the medium, and certainly makes sense when it comes to Bwana Beast's narration, as the trench coated psychic gets introduced in a creepy and detached manner, befitting a modern day vampire. Chad Truog is careful to concentrate on the silhouette of the Beast's helmet, certain that most of the readers wouldn't be able to recognize it, but at the same time helping convey that this is no ordinary stalker inflicting violence in San Diego's back streets.

Morrison is likewise careful to allude to the character's identity in broad terms, waiting patiently for the full reveal, while utilizing the chance to elaborate on the feral character's impressions of the big city. That these passages read similar to Frank Miller's "Daredevil" captions, describing a blind man's augmented perception of a busy streets of a polluted metropolis goes without saying, but Morrison is still very cognizant of his stated aim with this storyline. Compared to the lovable, easy going naivety of Buddy Baker, B'wana beast is simply delusional, driven to the point of madness in his grief over the cruelty perpetrated to his animal friend. By proceeding with the deconstruction of a superhuman Tarzan with a strange power to fuse animals, Morrison seems to imply why one character works in for the modern audiences, and the other doesn't.

Grant Morrison could be said to have basically reinvented Buddy from the ground up, but he still keeps his friends from the character's initial appearance in "Strange adventures". Both Ellen and Roger are still depicted as Buddy's friends and confidantes, with the writer adding two children to further cement Animal Man as a unique family oriented superhero. Buddy certainly likes animals, but he still lives a life of an ordinary person, and this seems to be how he manages to balance the two halves of his personality. On the other hand, by having the Beast's best friend murdered in the civil coup introduced in the pages of "Swamp Thing", and his strange gorilla confidante abducted and experimented upon, the Africa based superhero seems certainly to be the victim of a writer forcing his hand on a more innocent property from another age.

To be charitable to Morrison, B'wana beast is such an overblown Silver age cliche that it's difficult to imagine how the character could possibly appeal to the modern readers. When a property needs both a name change, a complete redesign and a rethink when it comes to the character's base of operations (nothing less than the mountain of Kilimanjaro in the original story), as well as his methods and powers, it's easy to see why the character could see life solely as a guest star, the like of Marvel's "Ka-Zar", a perpetual retro-flavored diversion. And while both Marvel and DC have certainly braved relaunching the characters whole cloth before (while retaining the trademarks), Morrison was certainly thinking that using the Beast as an antagonist in a well told experimental story would at least provide what might have been his last appearance some semblance of dignity, even when it comes to the destruction of the character. That Truog struggles with his original Silver age character design comes as no surprise, an leaves the reader without any real desire to see such a generic impossibly muscled, caricature again.

Again, the writer takes no easy routes, as B'wana beast lives to both have his revenge and hopefully somewhere down the line reappears as a better adjusted and realized character. In this case, this means returning in a later Morrison-written issue of the ongoing series to help an actual African character stylize himself alongside similar ideas. That the company failed to exploit the Freedom beast to it's full potential is a point that has little bearings on the way Morrison approached his initial four "Animal Man" issues. Suffice to say that the writer had more in mind when tackling B'wana beast then simply turning him into a delusional maniac and ending the story with his death, conveniently not at the hands of the protagonist.

Obviously, the whole point of replacing the arbitrary Silver age logic of the stories with an approach that was less instinctive but more topical, meant that the climax of the story takes the place at the San Diego ZOO, but the writer goes well and beyond merely choosing the appropriate setting for the long delayed confrontation between the two characters. First, in order to provide some of the foils for the title character, Morrison peppers the story with overgrown human animal hybrids, but even their presence goes beyond merely showing Animal Man's abilities. Namely, by giving Buddy a chance to rediscover the extent of his powers, the writer starts to elaborate on his protagonist, and truly begin him on the road to recognizing his true calling.

From the start, Buddy is shown things that go well beyond his knowledge and expertise, but Morrison portrays him as willing to learn and quick to react without making any major mistakes in the process. Buddy is certainly naivee but his good nature continually helps him with understanding his foes, even if his inherent pacifism gives them an immediate upper hand in the fight. Most importantly, the character takes his time to check up on the vanquished foe and sticks around to see how well off are the animals he has helped save from the Beast's fusion.

This is why the writer begins the fourth issue by having Buddy narrate the events following the previous episode's conclusion from the perspective of tucking in his young daughter after he has dealt with the hostilities. Morrison wants the reader to know that Buddy survives the tale, but at the same time that his family has shared their burden of horror in an unrelated incident. That he does not punish the protagonist for not being there to partake in their subplot, involving attempted rape, and again, cruelty towards animals, shows that Morrison understands that for the audience to take a liking to the superhero he's revamping means that first he has to genuinely like the character, and avoid using him as a target for the writer's neuroses.

Basically, the care that the writer went into fleshing out Ellen Baker and her neighborhood meant that he allotted Buddy's wife a co-starring role beyond serving as the Animal Man's voice of reason. The sitcom-like heaping upon stock character types populating the suburbia near forest grove gets thrown in a reversal, when a band of rednecks heads there specifically for animal hunting. That these broad caricatures quickly devolve into homicidal maniacs is nothing new, but seeing Ellen and her daughter Maxine, at the center of their rage works purposefully to drive the reader in a much more likelier scenario than Buddy and B'wana Beast's tussle among the San Diego's laboratories and back allies. These cruel drunks are shown to be hostile towards animals first, and then proceed to affect Buddy's family, in firm view with the writer's liberal agenda that animal cruelty leads to abhorrent behavior towards fellow humans.

This ties into directly into B'wana Beast's rampage, as the Africa's protector quickly loses sight of the emotions of his fellow man, as he heads to help his animal friend. The lack of attention he gives to human life is precisely what conveys to the readers that he has gone to far, and that his intentions, no matter how noble, never excuse the rampage that he leaves in his wake, which is also underlined by Morrison's updated origin of the character, showing the character's revenge on the soldiers that killed his one human friend in the local civil war.

Never settling for easy answers, Morrison again employs the reversal that feeds into the twists inherent in the genre, by having both one of Ellen's pursuers, and a previously docile cartoon neighbor show heroism and humanity when entrusted with the inhuman savagery of a psychotic redneck. Despite the depravity and perversion surrounding the modern day world, the writer seems to reaffirm his belief in the better side of the human nature. And while there are casualties on both fronts of the conflicts Buddy and Ellen partake in, Morrison finishes Animal Man's narration (a somewhat dubious concept in itself, given the character's expressive nature) with "There must be some hope. Just some".

Yet, the story goes for several more pages bringing the main, more elaborate plot to it's conclusion, which is much more fierce and controversial. Basically, Morrison ends up following the standard plot of two heroes fighting one another until they realize that they are basically on the same side and unite against the common villain, with having dr. Myers, the face of animal testing in the storyline, as the main antagonist ultimately responsible for both the abduction of the Beast's gorilla friend, and the new strain of Anthrax that the animal is dying of.

Thus, the main plot strand ends up bearing the brunt of Morrison's philosophical stance. And just as the disease was foreshadowed by a child wearing a T-shirt of the band of the same name (at the time seemingly important solely for establishing a realistic atmosphere), so does the chief theme of the difference between the treatment of humans and animals come to a head with dr. Myers developing a strain of Anthrax seeking to target animals without directly harming the citizens of the invaded country. Morrison shows us that the animal human hybrids B'wana beast creates are ultimately short lived, delusional creations, as well as the Beast himself as ultimately wrong in taking only the stance of endangered animals without regard for his fellow humans, with likewise dr. Myers experiments in military application of the disease with the goal of wiping out animals in order to starve the enemy's population during the hostilities, as misguided on a number of levels.

That Myers was hiding the true goals of the S.T.A.R. labs experiments with a cover story about working on an AIDS vaccine was both topical and benevolent without any side effects. The real story that ends up taking the life of B'wana beast's companion is much more ambiguous, scary and all too human. Every step of the way, Morrison implies that humans and animals should and must coexist together, with the civilized people using their elevated stance not to the detriment of the biosphere, but, like Animal Man, to take inspiration from it, and work for a better and healthier life for everyone.

Utilizing the intelligent gorilla Djuba as a theoretical missing link between higher primates and humankind, Morrison isn't merely deconstructing B'wana Beast's initial "Showcase presents" two-parter, but spotlighting the connection between humans and animals. The Beast's mental link keeps him in contact with all of the gorilla's pain as it's tortured by Myers' scientists, and it's eventual passing the strain of Anthrax on the African superhero further drives home that what affects one species affects the other. Eventually, with Animal Man using his powers to heal B'wana by affecting his white blood cells, Morrison is pretty much extending the borders of the Dave Wood and Carmine Infantino created superhero's powers to mirror Swamp Thing's eventual infinite powers, but what strikes the reader as much more jarring is a previous sequence where the two proceed with a battle of wills.

Despite the rapid cuts and zoom ins, the whole of the telepathic fight feels sap of the dynamic and misreading the genre strengths. Yet, by having the Beast survive his friend's death in this way, the reader is enabled to both feel it's impact, and see the troubled superman on the path of foregoing his madness for a clear cut revenge that finishes the story, and leaves the character to proceed in a saner direction. Having used his powers to fuse the dead gorilla with the still living Myers, enabling the scientists fittingly dressed in inhuman white mask to proceed with the research, Morrison is cruelly letting the tormentor finally feel the agony of his victims, finishing his four original issues as a cautionary tale of nature's ferocity getting back to it's oppressors by reintegrating them into the circle of life.

Interestingly, having said his piece on the need for human and animal cohabitation, Morrison was tasked to continue the "Animal Man" series. In turn, this lead to stories where the writer embraced his narrative voice much more, abandoning the Moore's "Swamp Thing" inspirations, as he embraced the original Silver age aspect of the character, and clashed it with then current sensibilities until reaching it's famous post modern conclusion. Chas Truog and Doug Hazlewood were in tow to provide visual consistency, but aside from spotlighting several different animal powered DC characters, Morrison's never allowed the series to extensively cover the issues presented in these initial four installments.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Towers of Bois-Maury 2 - Eloise de Montgri

Published in 1985, "Eloise de Montegri" was Hermann Huppen's second "Towers of Bois-Maury" album, and it was clear that commercial consideration wasn't on the author's mind. Of the characters introduced in the first volume, only Aymar and Oliver return, and then in a supporting role at best. Gone are also the vestiges of courtly duels and medieval courtesy, replaced by the desolation of a destroyed fiefdom. The volume opens with a ruse designed to plunder the castle walls and closes with a desperate attempt of the remaining peasants united around the underage scion to desperately wring out some of the spoils of their attacker's plunder, to try and rebuild their land.

Thus, the bulk of the volume takes place in dreary winter months in a desolate forest, where the survivors impatiently scramble, their goings on continually interrupted by the arrival of third parties, going across the land to further their own ends. This is how both the title character and Aymar and his page come to the dukedom and stay, however brief, to try and resolve the conflict in light of their own interests. Curiously, "Eloise de Montgri" also sports a clear villain in the form of the bandit leader, a disfigured man hiding under the guise of a shepherd, complete with a mask made out of the ram's hide. The shepherd acts as a sinister figure until his motives are revealed to tie into Eloise's own trek across medieval France, leading to his actions seeming downright sensible when faced with the peasant's siege at the album's climax.

Despite being bookended by two siege scenes of wholesome slaughter, "Eloise de Montgri" also offers a particularly ominous scene of Aymar and Oliver seeking the hospitality of the eccentric man, when they first arrive in the region. The reader is completely aware of the shepherd's cutthroat nature, but the sequence where the protagonists ask him for the shelter just keeps stretching, teasing out the confrontation that could happen at any moment. That it never arrives speaks not only of Hermann's mastery of pacing and atmosphere, but also of a realistic depiction of the bandit leader, who no matter the ferocity recognizes that he's surrounded by battle hardened nobility.

Yet, even with so much of the key plot points centered around the decisions of the down on their luck lords and ladies, Hermann is very careful to establish a common man perspective pertaining to the surviving peasant's attempt to get through the winter in their improvised huts. This is roughly the role Gereon played in "Babette", and which he will continue in the remaining albums of the first five volumes, but here it's shifted to a toothless old man, despised even by his family for not giving up his hen to the starving survivors. Where the stone mason roughly still fits into the role of a roguish action hero, the snide old man prefers to keep out of the way, and basically narrates the tribulations of the peasants, while talking to his cherished Adelgunde.

Such a passive character wouldn't be out of place in a period drama centered around the fatigued life of the impoverished in middle ages, but Hermann gives him almost a central role in "Eloise de Montgri". Ordered by young sir Basil to give up the hen if she doesn't hatch any eggs come spring time, his subplot is lighthearted and refreshing, if unexpected, serving to soften up some of the dire predicaments in the next to the lawless land. Following the shepherd's gang attack on the castle, the last vestiges of the order come in the form of surviving priest, acting as a mentor to the scion, and a single guard, who carried the boy out of during the carnage and now tries to turn the peasants into an army capable of fighting back if they find the bandits.

Introducing a third strain of several poor man hiding close to the huts and stealing grain from the huts illustrates the writer/artist's determination to provide a realistic narrative, which is all the more impressive given the brevity of the plot. Yet, despite the many narrative threads that intersects and work towards the loud conclusion, Hermann's signature slow pace and humanity still come out, based largely on the care given to details and a palpable passion the author feels towards the material. The old man, no matter how pathetic and demented, still feels sympathetic, and the reader likewise identifies with each of these characters, and their yearnings, no matter how petty or grandiose.

Given that most of these characters don't reappear in later volumes, Hermann seems to imply that it doesn't really matter whether their long term prospects work out completely in their favor, but only that in the short amount of time he covers in this period of destabilization in their lives, the author gets across a particular situation typical of the time, and rendered with utmost believability. Of course, this doesn't prevent the titular Eloise from achieving at least some kind of closure relative to her tragic past, but her situation still bears analyzing. Namely, along with the already glimpsed Alda, she is Hermann's strongest realized female character in "Towers of Bois-Maury", albeit the only one capable of defending herself physically. Armed with a crossbow and doing her best to look princely, her long trek still shows signs on her, which is never more apparent then in the compromise she is forced to in order to get Aymar on her and Basil's side.

Because, no matter her determination to get back to the man who destroyed her life, Eloise is still feminine and it's this quality that humanizes her when compared to the typical fantasy bad girl. Her attempt to convince Aymar to follow through on the peasants' decision to strike back at the shepherd is basically to seduce him, with the creator clearly showing the reader that this goes beyond the typical wink and an ambiguous comment such as in so much of genre's offerings. She gives herself completely to the knight, but perhaps the key to understanding her decision comes with the focus the creator pays to Bois-Maury's page. By cutting to the ever sacrificing Oliver, spending the winter night in the cold, Hermann seems to imply that her decision is also class based. Thus, the act of a desperate woman could be taken to imply that she is also seeking a long denied sense of physical pleasure from her peer, which certainly seems to go with the lush depictions of her body.

That Hermann waits for her almost motherly trek to the caves with Basil in tow to reveal details of her past, reaffirms Eloise's femininity and the psychological terror that lead to such a change. As depicted, the young princess was a nobleman's daughter whose innocent love lead her to the machinations of a jealous cousin, leading to the loss of innocence in the character, and her forthcoming compromise. Once again, the writer/artist elaborates on the notions of idealism and chivalry, when faced with the dreariness of unforgiving life in the middle ages. As always, the decisions these nobles make to reaffirm their class status parallel Aymar's greatest desire, to return to his lands, with the reader left to ponder which of these grapples with lofty goals and their subsequent follow through will equal that of Aymar and Oliver's, should they ever return to Bois Maury.

Thankfully, the outsider's perspective, and the humanity inherent in all of the author's characters, help ground the plot, and show how all of these interests still intersect in something resembling the benefit of all, save the shepherd and his group of bandits. By using the space available to depict the common people as banding with the nobles primarily as a means to benefit from the stability of feudal institutions, such as they are even in the ramshackle remains of the dukedom, it's easy to see how those further off would be enticed to band with the villain. To ensure warmth and food, everyone, from the serf to the pillager and the grain stealer is forced to admit that the unwelcome forest, with it's meager givings won't be enough to provide, orienting all of them in turn to the lord Basil's authority, however insignificant and unwanted. This gives the young boy the illusion of being at the front of both a personal vendetta and a real threat to his rule, but also forces the much older and wiser people in his vicinity to adhere to their roles in face of the catastrophe that reaffirms the feudal system.

The ensuing raid is surprisingly realistic and heartfelt, with Aymar trying to steer the hungry and downtrodden into at least some semblance of a strategy, with the peasants winning the day through cowardice and trickery. There is no feeling of victory at seeing the slaughter of shepherd's men, and the subsequent rebuilding of the fallen fiefdom. Just as with the early spring around these rugged characters,  their efforts exhibit a notable progress, but only in the sense of returning to the familiar, less unbearable way of life. This because the attack is carried through in a way parallel to shepherd's own deception, as depicted in the opening pages of the attack on the nobleman's castle. Still, all of this brings Eloise face to face with the man who brought her so much pain, with the confrontation once again depicted as necessary, but also severely understated. Hermann tries to execute the act of violence with as much subtlety as possible, achieving a beautifully paced scene that is almost elegiac in what it leaves unsaid.

Except for some of the clarity problems involving a sudden shift to another new arrival to the forest, a seeming necessity of a dense plot carried out in the most naturally laid out way, the writer/artist's storytelling is nearly flawless. The chief problems any of the new readers could have is the complete break with epic fantasy inherent in the genre, as Huppen achieves perhaps the most down to Earth entry in the series. Despite the presence of a masked villain, two raids and a princess trained to fight as a man, the creator renders all of these with little details, telling of the banality common to all. The schemer and the sinister figure ends up being simply a warlord forced to use his cunning to attack smaller nobles in order to procures a wealth for him and his gang, who number less than a dozen, against the lord and lady who try their best to live up to their title, again it's the protagonists that are shown to rise above their assigned roles.

Both Aymar and the old man with his hen see the events as a necessary evil they must participate in some form in, before leaving to their own concerns, the first physically and the latter symbolically. Basil's lordship is reasserted, Eloise has had her revenge, but the protagonists don't feel like what follows need their continued attention. Aymar at least has a clear goal that contextualizes his wandering knight role as something more than a simple excuse for new adventures in exotic locales, and "Eloise de Montgri" can be taken as no more then a simple stop along the way, enabling the writer/artist to proceed with a singular medieval scenario, as he proceeds to continually rework the series to it's benefit, supplementing a clear formula to a finite narrative that is all the more engrossing as the result.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Towers of Bois-Maury 1 - Babette

In 1983, leading Belgian comic book artist Hermann ("Jeremiah") Huppen started producing his second major work, a realist medieval saga titled "the Towers of Bois-Maury". Starting with "Babette", the original ten volume cycle tells a complete story set around the exploits of sir Aymar of Bois-Maury, a 11th century knight-errant on the meandering road to regain his fiefdom.

The first five entries consist of self-contained albums acting basically as dual narratives, with the role of the protagonist shared between Aymar and Gereon the down on his luck stone mason, that the knight meets in the series debut. In order to have what is still a genre narrative, Hermann makes both of them essentially wanderers on a parallel road through different places, and never finding easy answers. It would be easy to say that the two protagonists enable the writer/artist to shine a light on both the privileged few, and the exploited masses surrounding them, but "the Towers of Bois-Maury" aims for a much more diverse critique.

From the start, Hermann's squiggly, endearing line depicts the titular Babette hard at work in the field, albeit with her thoughts centered around meeting with her stone mason boyfriend hiding in the brush, unwanted by her family. The local nobles come charging on a deer hunt, and in the ensuing confusion Babette's beauty leads to a horrible tragedy. A matter of a jealous peasant murdering a lusty nobleman would have been dealt with in a typical fashion, if not for the presence of the Aymar, a single knight traveling with a page, who has come to pay visit to the castle and takes a special interest in Gereon's fate.

When it comes to the material, Hermann duly breaks every cliche that comes with fantasy-tinged historical fiction. Gone are the ever present captions and a cascade of names and titles, the faceless slaughter in the name of higher ideals, and the good looks of the protagonists, wearing clean armor and clean, dully reproduced period costumes. The two attractive characters that appear in this debut volume and the bond that they share brings them nothing but misery, quickly shattering all of Gereon's illusions, and sending him on the road to hardship and poverty. And while Hermann's albums, formatted at only 44 pages reward the closer reading, he is hardly in the business of pointlessly introducing interesting designs and charismatic individuals of the epoch.

His are ugly, loutish characters that cannot escape their flaws, with the author going far to represent what the treatment of love and lust in such unforgiving times. Despite his more nuanced protagonists, most of their acquaintances, no matter their class, seem content only when partaking in a feast, with laughter heard only as part of a drunken tirade, except when in mocking. This does not stop the rare few to dream of bigger and better things, but there is always a steep prize that comes with breaking the rules of a feudal system.

Just as Gereon is beset on all sides by cynical peasants looking out only for themselves, and their place in the system, so is Aymar similarly trapped in the narrow castle corridors with hot headed nobles resenting his home sickness and elevated demeanour. Their stubbornness bring only the pain to their confidantes, and it quickly becomes clear that they must break out of the fiefdom in order o find more sympathetic compatriots, and clearer goals.

The church is depicted as sympathetic, but largely forced to neutrality due to the duke's laws, thus the two outcasts temporarily find solace in one another, with Aymar vowing to help Gereon escape the gallows that await him following his crime. That both characters leave the domain with a heavy prize paid goes without saying, but their remaining goals follow to define them henceforth. Aymar, the educated knight with a lofty goal of amassing enough treasure to buy out an army of mercenaries and reclaim his ancestral home comes to hire himself out as an escort to the pilgrim's journey to the Holy Land. But what real choice does a scarred stone mason have, with a history of murder that can not be decreed as chivalrous satisfaction? Without being able to make a honest living, due to the injury to the hand sustained while in captivity, he is gradually forced to concede that the life on the road is the only one for him.

Just experiencing a genre series that takes such a negative stance towards violence feels striking, as it's always depicted as a result of a desperate, cowardly, petty action, acting out the basest instincts, and leaving misery beyond the short term solution. And yet, despite such a dark disposition, Hermann's work seems always optimistic, with Aymar's obsession always providing forward momentum, while the less well of characters at least try to scheme their way to a better tomorrow.
Thus, colorist Fraymond's yellow permeats the book occasionally turning into dusky hues, breaking only for the depictions of the blue night sky. Hermann utilizes the late night outdoor depictions of castle walls usually as scene transitions, but a lot of the characters usually use the time before sleep to ruminate on the day's actions, and plot their course. The writer/artist's layouts are dynamic, but still break manage to break form when depicting the larger, more elaborate settings. The sense of place is ever present, without the reader feeling like the backgrounds are just so much tracing the research elements in order to provide some context to the figure work. It could be said that Hermann approaches some of his character's facial features in similar way, and the stylistic preference for a few different physical models can lead to some of the clarity issues. "Babette" is not a long album, slow paced and atmospheric, thus forcing the creator to a limited space when dealing with certain lesser characters, whose roles can be subtle, yet always clear to the attentive reader. A slight break in tension occurs in the extended epilogue centering on Gereon, going some way in setting up the next volume in the series, but it is very definitely in keeping the themes involved.

It cannot be overstated that throughout the creator's accomplished compositions feel like a real treat to a fan of the medium. Even the smallest of panels are perfectly realized and absolutely beautiful in their rugged rendering. The majority of them could be taken out of the context and admired on it's own, such was his skill and accomplishment as a storyteller, even still at what was still beginning of his most accomplished period. It cannot be overstated that "Towers of Bois-Maury" is a major work from an accomplished storyteller, working in the genre that is typically used to much more formulaic narratives. Huppen's patient mastery of the form, his he humanity and effort he puts in the work make for a truly mature title and an instant classic of European comic book storytelling.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Quest For the Time Bird 1 - Ramor's Conch

Beginning in 1983, writer Serge Le Tendre and artist Regis Loisel debutted "The Quest for the Time Bird" series, a lush fantasy comic aimed at the teenage reader. Conceived as a series of four entries, this French comic closely adhered to the quest structure, telling a single epic adventure akin to "The Lord of the Rings". Yet, Letendre and Loisel paint the Quest for the time bird in a much broader strokes, echoing familiar genre archetypes, albeit rendered in a gorgeous, vibrating art style. The collaboration thus acts like a bridge between the generic innocence of the "Dungeons and Dragons" cartoon and the more adult-flavored "Heavy Metal magazine".

As the beginning of a longer work, "Ramor's Conch" starts innocently enough, introducing Roxanna with a beautiful elegiac tone. The point of view character is quick to adhere to her duty, and ventures forth from her mother's witch kingdom to recruit an old friend. Conveniently, a well designed monster attacks, leading to an impromptu chance for Bragon to come out of retirement and get his grips with the epic quest that is presented to him. The threat of the rise of an ancient evil is adequately, if familiarly introduced, with a clear set of items needed carefully delineated, and the lighthearted adventure is set to begin.

The artwork, penciled, inked and colored by Loisel is very enticing and easy on the eyes, making for a very welcome change of pace considering the typically male-oriented action heavy entries in the genre. Some of the more juvenile instances in the dialogue, centered around Roxanna's curvaceous figure seem random enough to provide some energy to the script, but otherwise the beginning of the story seems adequate enough. Strangely, it's in the main section of the plot that the book falters, as the dragon mounted Roxanna and Bragon fly to the kingdom of the Grey-Grelons, a fantasy race of the authors' design. After a tedious encounter with an irritable local sprite, an obvious favorite of the creators, the most important section of the series' debut takes a turn for the unusual. For an artist devoting so much attention to the beautiful lush backgrounds of the world of Akbar, Loisel' basic character design for the denizens of the kingdom seems fairly uninspired. Worse still is the complete lack of character in the zombie-like Grelons, that seem excited only when Roxanne is near.

With their leader Shan-Tung posed as a power hungry strategist, ready to recruit Bragon to his cause of exploiting the titular Conch with the soom not to be dormant malevolent deity inside, the whole album long setup seems familiar to anyone even remotely versed in the genre. Thankfully, the Letendre arranged series of fantasy chestnut such as Roxanne's imprisonment and Bragon's false allegiance to the local tyrant are somewhat mitigated by the inclusion of a new, slightly better balanced character. Bulrog, despite sporting a very Tolkienesque name, and a character design similar to "Lord of the Rings"'s dragon riding Nazgul, still exhibits enough of a character that the reader genuinely wants to see more of him.That he ever so slightly subverts the role of a typical henchmen with his own plans and ambitions, tying with Bragon's own duties, may not seem like much when it comes to acclaimed European genre comics, but is still no reason to dismiss the series whole cloth.
The one notable bit of genuine surprise and mystery coming late in the plot in the form of a masked knight, and is quickly seized by Letendre, who uses it for maximum effect. Similarly, Roxanne's infamous way of distracting the zombie-like Grey-Grelons leaves subtlety for crowd pleasing, albeit still mindful to avoid controversy. The suitable conclusion to the first volume of the story somewhat mitigates these oddities in the slapstick heavy epic, with Roxanne and Bragon, aided by the "unknown knight" leaving the underground kingdom with the Conch, and heading into hopefully better developed parts of Akbar. That Letendre refuses to unmask the pair's benefactor, long after a discerning reader has passed any doubts concerning his identity plays into the over the top nature of the property, and the way the creators see to it's presentation.

Despite some objectionable scenes involving Roxanne, designed to tease the teenage fans, the book keeps perpetually trying for a very mercurial feeling. In wanting to be accessible to both the young fans warming up to the fantasy material, and the regular Franco-Belgian fans, the creators forgo the greater risks involved with presenting the medieval myth and legends to the modern reader. The basic idea is simply to present the usual blending of various culture's folklore into a coherent setting, strung together by the quest structure into a series of locales that the heroes have to go through in order to halt Ramor's return.

Truthfully, the key aspect of the story seems to be making "The Quest of the Time bird" a joyful look at one of the frequently epic fantasy worlds, with a slight nod to the implied history of Akbar, and the mark it has made on the older generation of heroes. In other words, a perfect showcase for an artist as talented as Loisel to cut loose, and carry over his imagination to the oversized pages.

And while his character designs on the average seem adequate enough, it is in the stylistic flourishes that he endears the readers to his art. The layered, lived-in look of the ancient dwellings, and heavy clothes the characters drab themselves in, their faces made up of craggy lines yet still not over rendered, certainly make up for most of the good will fans have for the series. It's easy to lose oneself in the talent and artistry illustrating such otherworldy scenes of fantasy quests, even if the panel to panel depictions turn toward the over the top nature of the scenario.

Loisel's characters seem always in motion, fulfilling their destiny, or trying to get at it's good side through trickery, while still keeping an air of individualism about them. Roxanne is cast in the role of a princess coming of age in a sword and sorcery setting, but the reader is never able to completely forget about her voluptuous figure, with her somehow managing to become more than an eye candy candy damsel in distress simply due to the fact that she's still the heroine. Bragon is somewhat less distinctive, as his demeanour of grizzled old warrior leaves little past the archetype. Still, the stubbornness of the character, and moreover, the implication of romance with Roxanne's mother in his heroic past, bring an element of uncertainty to the veteran fighter.

With the somewhat pedestrian world-building in "Ramor's Conch", it seems as if "The Quest for the Time bird" belongs to a time decades prior to it's 1980s debut, when a less discerning massive audience would have stuck with a promising series until it hones in on it's preferred voice. Considering that Letendre and Loisel envisioned the saga as a clearly structured finite series, it's perhaps unfortunate that it starts out primarily as an artistic showcase. And while it's very likely that the reader will warm up to the characters and their journey to save Akbar in a very short time, it's likely to be due to Loisel's mastery of the form, and the relative brevity of the material, with the main arc consisting of only four albums.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Yoko Tsuno 3 - Vulcan's Forge

Originally collected as an album in 1973, Yoko Tsuno's third published adventure was serialized over a number of issues of "Spirou magazine". In "Vulcan's Forge", the creator of Yoko, Vic and Paul returns to setting of her original adventure, making for a science fiction episode that further elaborates on the civilization of Vineans.

The album starts innocently enough, with Yoko catching a late night TV newscast and hurrying to notify her friend Paul of the supposed reference to the their alien allies. In a charming scene, the two run into each other, with Paul determined to get the same message to his Japanese friend. Right from the start, it's clear that Leloup has reworked Paul's character design, resulting in bringing his facial features in line with the rest of the cast. Simply put, Paul's caricatural look was decided to be too pronounced, whether by the creator or his editors, with the idea being that his behavior was enough to convey the comic relief.

Otherwise, the character designs are familiarly Franco-Belgian, with no noticeable changes from the previous two entries in the series. Similarly, the plot proceeds with the familiar formula of involving Yoko, Vic and Paul into a mystery by the way of their job working for the television company. Typically, the characters pay lip service to their regular assignments, involved in the plot that could have proceeded precisely the same with Yoko having a completely different background. By having her spot the reference to the Vinean technology on television, and head out to the oil platform in the Carribean, Leloup is clearly wanting to get underwater as soon as possible, so that the real story can get started.

Thankfully, the problems drill workers run into consist of something larger than the crew simply running into a portal to an alien world that the main cast uses to get to their adventure. Thus, by tying the troubles of the oil company to the threat looming beneath the waves, Leloup at least achieves the feeling of a veritable ecological catastrophe that is about to break out if Yoko is unsuccessful in dealing with the return of Karpan. Unfortunately, Leloup hasn't gotten around making the the villain any more charismatic, but the relative lack of focus on the megalomaniacal Vinean, and with the added attention to his plan make up for any of the perceived shortcomings.

Even the pending catastrophe largely factors only in the closing pages of the volume, with the bulk of the pages showcasing the creator's real interests. And while certainly the long tour Khany takes Yoko on centers around the technical facilities involved with Karpan's diabolical plan of carving out a continent for Vineans to occupy using an underwater vulcano, Leloup uses every opportunity to elaborate in the world building he started in "Trio of the bizarre".

Such is the attention paid to the Vinean civilization that it could be argued that the creator would have been happy to simply set the series completely around the science fiction trappings. That he even clads Yoko completely in their clothes, with Vic and Paul conveniently vanishing from the plot for large portions of the book, seems to indicate that the writer/artist is more than convenient concentrating on the alien civilization. Of course, publishing a continuing serial based on such a scenario would be a tough sell for an audience accustomed to the pulp narratives one step removed from the real world. Still, by making this compromise Leloup is effectively working on two series at once.

In the self contained albums Yoko is basically a standard action heroine, suited to oppose a number of plots ranging from simple detective stories, to more elaborate adventures with a supernatural element. On the other hand, perhaps similar to the "X-Files" format, the mythological episodes with a full blown sci-fi feature in from time to time, continuing the narrative arc and, for better or worse, distinguishing the series from a number of similar Franco-Belgian comics.

From the technical point of view, the amount of detail Leloup puts into fleshing out the Vinean civilization is astounding. Compared to "The Trio of the Bizarre", the writer/artist seems determined to carve out even more of his strange new world, filled with elaborate technology. Just seeing Khany's ship sucked into the ocean and heading for the hollow earth beneath makes the reader aware of just how in control the creator is when he gets close to the Vineans. The complicated series of tubes that the blue skinned aliens use to travel in their domain, once again, seems fully functional and at the same time breathtaking to look at. And while a typical room, such as the one Yoko and Khany leave Vic and Paul behind in, as soon as they arrive underwater, seems like a familiar technological base design with a generically busy background, the moment the two women step outside, Leloup is ready to once again amaze the reader.

Not content to merely reuse the pipeline he had the characters take in the first album, the writer/artist relegates it to the use of Yoko's earthbound friends, while he devises a completely new way for the two heroines to travel. Centered around the impressively heavy lava pipes, that Khany drives a support vehicle to point out the background of Karpans plot, Leloup carefully takes his time until he makes sense of the complicated plot. The two fight scenes that bookend the exposition involve Yoko fighting the Vinean secret service that has quickly seen through her disguise.

That none of these encounters are particularly memorable goes without saying, as it feels like the creator is merely going through the motions of maintaining an action heavy adventure plot, where it seems quite clearly that his efforts are centered around world building. Thankfully, the long escape route Yoko and Khany take in order to get to another part of the facility feels much more exciting. Again, seeing Leloup's design of Vinean drill goes the spotlight the amount of respect Leloup paid his readers, determined to create an entire alien civilization whose technology is vastly advanced, yet with an implicit visual continuity in the designs. When the writer/artist draws a huge oil rig in Martinique it feels extremely solid, researched and breathtaking, but getting to see his own design in action feels much more fluid and comic book like.

That Yoko uses it to blast away at Karpan's ship using the water pipeline seen in the first album, and proceeds to escape with Khany using a pair of highly elaborate sleds further feels like Leloup is determined to reward the reader's loyalty by continually introducing new designs and technology. It's interesting then that he decides to follow all this with a short break, involving giant mushrooms and dinosaur skeletons. By reintroducing Vic and Paul to the story at the same time, the creator apparently tries to ground the adventure back in something resembling terrestrial features, however fantastic and distorted.

Yet, having assembled the characters Leloup still proceeds with a scene featuring the forward thinking youth of Vinea equipping the group of friends with weapons needed to try and put a stop to Karpan's plan. Using a method of non lethally dealing with Karpan's secret service Leloup doesn't just shy away from having his protagonist use cold blooded murder as a means to an end, but actually helps her create more allies once some of those guards have woken up. Her scheme is still extremely risky, involving the destruction of key lava transporting equipment. And while some of the new character appear way to late to make an impact on the reader, technological breakdown involved with Yoko's plan still makes for a gripping read. Khany's exposition certainly served to underscore that there would be no clean break from stopping Karpan's plan, as it's first stages have already bore fruit, and will leave at least some kind of impact on the planet's surface.

Thus, the volcano centered meltdown finally has the Vinean ship returning to Carribean to help save the workers that would be the first in line when the catastrophe starts spreading. The wrap up is fast,but effective, with Yoko and her friends once again having been separated from their Vinean allies, along with a gadget that enables some form of communication. Again, it's quite clear that Leloup was certain that he would not be immediately picking up the plot strands involving the aliens, but is determined to leave the reader with a sense of longing regarding the race he created.

Contrary to their first appearance, the Vineans here are not only involved with in-fighting and dealing with newcomers poking their noses into a race millions of years old. And while Leloup forgoes having such a clear message involving the tendency of losing the cultural identity when involved with excessive technology, the lack of a misguided computer as the behind the scenes villain is made up for with a much broader ecological message. And while it would be presumptuous to speculate the inspirations behind the nationalistic tendencies of Karpan and his brethren, it is certain that there is some rationale leading Vineans to continually back up the cartoon villain's byzantine plots.

The very resolution of the story, with Khany informing her new friends that Vineans are still planning for escaping the planet's core, only with the plans readjusted to return to their homeland, instead of carving out a territory for themselves on the Earth's surface, basically reaffirms the race's need chief goals in a more logical setting (given the science fiction trappings of the series). This is precisely the reason why Leloup goes to such great lengths to introduce several new Vineans, even Karpan's secret service members forced to turn to Khany's way of thinking, in order to point out that this is not just a race of evil aliens with a single notable exception, but a complete society with a set of goals that are in fact completely reasonable. Instead of opting for the conveniently small cadre of gifted children, not yet subdued under Karpan's doctrine, to stay hidden in a subterranean grotto, while the bulk of their evil older peers be handwaved a way to their native star system, never to be seen again, the writer/artist pushes for the more complicated solution.

By preserving a sociological reality when dealing with were basically technologically superior elves of the first album, the creator was simply adamant in not letting go of his effort and creative choices. When Yoko is given a scrying mirror, or even an elaborate version of Skype to keep in contact with Khany the reader is meant to feel melancholy for the circumstances that keep these new best friends away, wishing that they could continue reading their joint adventures. In a way, Roger Leloup was informing the reader to stick around for some of the more mundane Yoko Tsuno adventures, while waiting for the real story to continue.