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Friday, 21 October 2011

In Review: XIII - For Maria

Who is XIII?

Book 1 - Mr Alan Smith?
Books 2&3 - Captain Steve Rowland?
Book 4 - Corporal Ross Tanner?
Book 5 - Agent Jason Fly?
Books 6&7 - Writer John Fleming?
Book 8 - Agent Jason McLane?

With the ending of the eighth book, Thirteen To One, which seems to have settled the idea that XIII is US agent Jason McLane and who number 1 was, For Maria the ninth book in writer Jean Van Hamme and artist William Vance's spy series takes the plot off in a whole new direction.

After saving her life in the previous book, XIII's relationship with Jones is now closer than ever as they relax in the luxury of Marquis Armand Preseau and former SPADS Sergeant Betty Barnowsky's home in sunny San Miguel. However XIII receives a phone call from a mysterious, and not entirely wholesome, priest who, when they eventually meet, claims that XIII is married to Maria Santos but, since nothing is ever uncomplicated in XIII's life, she is the leader of the revolutionaries in neighbouring Costa Verde and is currently in prison awaiting execution.

While XIII does not remember Maria, he believes that she may be a link to his forgotten past. Therefore disguised as Karl Meredith, an arms dealer, XIII travels to Costa Verde to make contact with the rebels and to try to free Maria. However he doesn't bargain on running into Felicidad Moreno, the mistress of Costa Verde's General-President, who XIII already knows as the scheming Felicity Rowland and who recognises him through his disguise.

This is definitely one for the fans with returning characters Felicity Rowland from book 2, Sgt Betty (she of the flimsy underwear) from book 4 and the Marquis who took such a shine to Betty in book 5. Van Hamme sets the tone of the ongoing story as he bookends this episode with a mysterious cabal discussing XIII and how they could use him. However before that can happen there is the small matter of a central American revolution, an unknown wife facing a death sentence and XIII going undercover as an international arms dealer. There are times that Van Hamme doesn't do things by halves and this is certainly one of them.

It also gives Vance a chance to get down and dirty with his artwork of the back alleys and dodgy dealings of the rebels while spotlighting the wealth and glamour of both the Marquis' home and the presidential palace. Indeed the only misstep of the entire book seems to be on the cover which, strangely, depicts an event that isn't actually in the story. Perhaps the next book will explain it.

XIII - For Maria takes the tale of the amnesiac agent off in an interesting new direction while also leaving it on a cliffhanger which hopefully will be resolved with the tenth book, El Cascador, when it is published in November.

• There are more details of the English language XIII books on Cinebook's website.

• There are more details of the original French XIII albums on the official XIII
website (in French).

• You can read an interview with Cinebook publisher Olivier Cadic and XIII translator Jerome Saincantin on downthetubes at XIII Questions About XIII.

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