The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec: Pterror over Paris / The Eiffel Tower Demon
Written and Drawn by Jaques Tardi
$24.99 / 96 Pages / Color / 8.5" x 11.5" hardcover
We've long known Paris is a dangerous place, what with spent lemons being their idea of contraception. But now (and by now I mean World War I) there are pterosaurs flying about, harassing pharmacists, and startling motorists into the Seine. Local bureaucrats have no idea how to handle the mess, and the newspapers are raking them through the muck. Hunters of big game and fortune descend upon the city, eager to capture the beast and rend glory from its scarlet hide. In Lyons, a peculiar looking scientist reacts with panic at the moment of each attack, as if preternaturally aware of the fugitive pterodactyl's every move.
Meanwhile, crabby adventurer Adele Blanc-Sec arrives by train, identifying herself with the name of the woman she's got locked in her steamer trunk.
This is but the first of two adventures related in this new collection of Jaques Tardi's turn of the (20th) century picaresque pastiche from the 70s. From what I understand, there are seven more episodes, which will all hopefully be translated by Fantagraphics in the coming years. For now, we focus our attention on "Pterror Over Paris" and "The Eiffel Tower Demon."
"The Eiffel Tower Demon" focuses on a secret society, some alarming disappearances on the Pont Neuf bridge, and that rascally demon Pazuzu (who last turned heads in the Exorcist movies). It's all very Young Sherlock Holmes with it's chanting gentleman, Babylonian headdresses and ritual sacrafice.
I referred to these stories as pastiche before, and that's not an accident. This is Tardi riffing on the sensational and wordy mysteries of the era just removed from the Victorian period. Exposition is delivered through crisp newspaper headlines and blurbs. Politicians bicker over the phone about who should take responsibility for pterosaurs murdering pedestrians. There are preposterous fake beard and nose disguises and secret rendezvous. Word balloons in conversation scenes will often billow up to the extent of their panel's nearly suffocating the speaker. So it's intentionally silly and comically austere. But in the end you've got these tremendous double and triple crosses and…psionic links between scientists and the prehistoric monsters they love. Oh, and Scooby Doo style reveals of the culprits.
Sometimes the intentionally overblown exposition does get the better of the story, but in those moments, the reader's just anticipating the next quiet sequence of Tardi's astonishing visual storytelling. There are those perfect single pages of silent action you just want to tack up on the wall. Ominous establishing shots of a museum, the intricately rendered gallery of fossil reconstructions, an enormous egg. And then the movement from inside that egg…
This, for me, is all about the art, the cartooning, and the post-Victorian subject matter. While the stories are somewhat light, with intentionally flat dialogue, it's all a wonder to behold. A fantastic looking book to tuck next to my Tintins.
Story: 3 Art: 5 Overall: 4
Out of 5
Grab it on Amazon.