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Monday, 5 November 2012

In Review: XIII - Top Secret


Who is XIII? Writer Jean Van Hamme and artist William Vance's renegade agent/spy has reached a section of his story arc when we as readers know a lot more about him and the machinations that were going on in the previous books in the series. With major characters from previous stories now dead, XIII is in no less trouble than before in the XIIIth book in the XIII series, Top Secret. 

The events of the previous book, The Trial, despite being in the national interest have left XIII himself on trial for crimes against the United States. The secret trial, orchestrated by the American intelligence community, was never going to be easy for XIII amd while he escapes custody, he ends up captured by former KGB agent Irina Svetlanova who, having lost an eye to XIII in a previous encounter, is in no mood to given him any help.

With the Mongoose dead, writer Jean Van Hamme has to introduce another lurking dangerous killer into the series and so brings the glamorous Irina, who readers have seen in previous books, to the fore. He also adds another American traitor to the cast in the form of NSA agent Jessica Martin and cannot resist the temptation for lesbian undertones in the relationship between the two women. Van Hamme gives this section of the story a James Bond feel, unusual for a XIII plot, by placing Irina in charge of a secret international killing organisation headquartered in a ocean-going ship. Yet for all the Bond styling for the middle of the book the last section of the book gets us back to what the series is best at with XIII on the run for his life.

The Irina/Jessica section of the story gives artist William Vance a brief chance to inject some of the female glamour that would be more common in Van Hamme's Largo Winch books into XIII before getting back to the grim and gritty action that he has shown that he is so good in previous books in the series.

There is a minor trip up in the story when a Provisional IRA terrorist with the unlikely name of Angus Brannigan is brought to the trial to give evidence against XIII and who claims to be  fighting for "the independence of Ulster". That is not something either side has fought for in Ireland over the last century, indeed the concept would be an anathema to the Provisional IRA, and it does seem to suggest that Van Hamme did not have a strong understanding of the conflict was about when he wrote this in 2000. This misstep does concern me a little as to what the penultimate book in the XIII series, The Irish Version, will be like when it is published in English in 2013 but, given that the original French versions were published five years apart, I can hope that Van Hamme would have researched the situation better for that later book.

XIII - Top Secret is a book of two halves with the trial section somewhat exposition heavy and action light while the second half heads off into James Bond/Largo Winch action territory against a somewhat over-the-top villain, yet it remains a XIII book and XIII books are always worth reading.

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

Cinebook will be selling their range of books including XIII at the Comica Comiket Fall 2012 Independent Comics Fair in the City Of London on Saturday 10 November 2012 and at Thought Bubble's Royal Armouries Hall in Leeds on the weekend of 17-18 November 2012.

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