Who is XIII? Book 1 - presidential assassin? Book 2 - special forces soldier? Book 3 - psychotic murderer? In the fourth XIII book, SPADS, writer Jean Van Hamme and artist William Vance take XIII back to the Special Assault and Destruction Squads of the US Army that were mentioned fleetingly in the second book in the ongoing attempt to discover just who he is.
XIII looks so like Captain Rowland of the SPADS that Roland's own family believed that he was. In an attempt to discover the truth, and to keep him safe from the shadowy figures trying to kill him, General Carrington assigns XIII to a SPADS team under the new name of Corporal Ross Tanner. There he is told in no uncertain terms by his commanding officer that he is no soldier but it is where he meets a sergeant who was in the Women's Army Corps when she knew Captain Rowland. Meanwhile at the Pentagon, CIA agent Colonel Amos, who has been tasked to bring the President's assassin to justice, confronts General Carrington as to why he is helping XIII while, inm the background, the election for a new President moves into full swing.
SPADS is the first of Cinebook’s XIII books that hasn't previously been released in English by another publisher yet it is the first title in the series that starts to lift the veil on just who XIII is and why he apparently assassinated the President of the United States. In it Van Hamme gives the reader, but not necessarily XIII himself, a virtual avalanche of information about who this mystery man is and just what is going on with the story. It also raises even more questions about Carrington's assistant, the trusted, capable, seemingly indestructible but ultimately mysterious, Lt Jones.
Vance's art continues to impress with much of the army side of the plot taking place at night or in rain which allows him to experiment with how much he can obscure the contents of some panels while still making them understandable. His military equipment is detailed and accurate and since the US military still uses the same helicopters today they don't give the book a dated look despite it having originally been published in France in 1987.
The only time the book seems to wrong foot itself is with the character of the freckled Sergeant Betty Barnowsky who comes across as far too cute and petite to be a special forces soldier who can kill a man with her bare hands. We know exactly how petite she is as she spends most of her time wearing only the scantiest of underwear, including at the point in the story when she has to parachute out of a helicopter (and if that doesn't make you want to at least look at the book, nothing will).
The three previous XIII books were so different to each other story wise that it was difficult to see just were Jean Van Hamme was heading with the overall plot arc although that is partially what made them so interesting. With SPADS Van Hamme pulls together the various plot points from the previous books and explains enough of them to leave the reader both satisfied with where the overall arc has got to as well as wanting more.
• There are more details of the English language XIII books on the Cinebook website.
• There are more details of the original French XIII albums on the official XIII website (in French).
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