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Wednesday, 22 February 2012

In Review: XIII - El Cascador

Who is XIII?

Book 1 - Mr Alan Smith?
Books 2 and 3 - Captain Steve Rowland?
Book 4 - Corporal Ross Tanner?
Book 5 - Agent Jason Fly?
Books 6 and 7 - Writer John Fleming?
Book 8 - Agent Jason McLane?
Book 9 - Arms Dealer Karl Meredith?

While holidaying with Jones at the Caribbean home of Marquis Armand Preseau and Sgt Betty Barnowsky, XIII has become involved with the Santosista rebels on the neighbouring island of Costa Verde. XIII goes to Costa Verde undercover to help free the imprisoned Maria, sister of Angel, the rebel leader, and just possibly the amnesiac XIII's wife, but he is exposed and imprisoned. Jones, Betty and the Marquis lead a rebel attack on the prison island to free XIII at the same time that the main rebel force launches their revolution but, in the aftermath, XIII is accused by Angel of conspiracy with the old regime and put on trial by a revolutionary court.

Leading on immediately from the previous book, For Maria, El Cascador is very much a book of two halves - the fast moving and vicious battle for the prison island leading to the freedom of both XIII and Maria, which is then followed by the considerably slower and more static explanation of the complex motives of the various characters and XIII's trial in a kangaroo court. Indeed after the action of the beginning of this book, the talking heads of the trial could have been something of a let down, yet writer Jean Van Hamme maintains the intrigue as the various factions in the story vie for supremacy in the courtroom. It gives away nothing of the Costa Verde story to say that the book ends on a revelation that sets the scene for a continuation of the "Who is XIII?" story arc into the next book.

William Vance's artwork as always remains impressive, maintaining his usual level of accuracy from the Bo 105 helicopter to the mixture of Kalashnikovs and Armalites that the rebels use in their struggle against the regime. As we have seen from earlier stories, Vance seems to enjoy drawing his characters in rainstorms and this book is no exception with the prison attack taking place in a deluge while the subsequent hunt through the swamp also throws up a lot more water into the panels.

Prior to Cinebook releasing their first XIII book, I had read some of Van Hamme and Vance's stories via the American ComCat Code XIII publication but that, along with the Marvel US version, never got past the third French album yet, with El Cascador, Cinebook have reached the halfway point in the original 19 album series. When they published the first XIII book less than two years ago, they included English language versions of the covers of all 19 books in the series in colour on the inside covers of the book. They have continued to print these in all their subsequent XIII books and with El Cascador they have now completed all the books on the inside front cover and the next book, Three Silver Watches, will take them onto the inside back cover. Cinebook's dedication to XIII is impressive and they have taken English language readers far beyond where any other publishing house got to with the series. As a reviewer I am wary of getting used to how good each XIII title is as it arrives every other month. Having read the first book in the series the writing and art left me wanting to read the second and now, another nine books later, I'm still just as eager to read the next book.

El Cascador, in conjunction with the previous XIII book For Maria, provide something of a jumping on point for new readers. These two books could be read and followed without the need to have read the preceding eight XIII titles whilst giving the reader a revelation that will draw them back for the next instalment.

• 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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