Column: Global Ghoul: The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec

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Tardi, Jacques. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec: Pterror Over Paris and The Eiffel Tower Demon (Vol. 1). Fantagraphics Books, 2010. $24.95. ISBN: 978-1-60699-382-8.

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[dropcap]J[/dropcap]acques Tardi is the king of whimsical elegance. Everything is beautiful but cartoonish and goofy. And the story matches the art. Absurd scientists create awkward monsters and incompetent police officers blunder about trying to solve deliciously arcane mysteries.

Everything revolves around Adèle Blanc-Sec, investigator of the odd. Her methods are strange, bordering on the immoral, and her henchmen are disloyal double-crossers. There are several MacGuffins – some monstrous and some mechanical – and Adèle functions as something of a MacGuffin herself. Many of the twists and turns complicate her life, but she stands ready to face all challenges.

The first story, “Pterror Over Paris,” involves a pterodactyl that has hatched from an ancient egg in the Museum of Natural History. The creature goes on a killing spree and mysterious wackiness ensues. There are lots of characters and lots of plots twists – though many of them felt inconsequential and ephemeral.

The second story, “The Eiffel Tower Demon,” tells the story of a theater company and its involvement with the demon Pazuzu. People die, mysteries abound, and everybody betrays everybody else. It has the same feel as the first story and a few of the dangling threads from the first story carry over into the second.

It all sounds like so much fun. But, if that were true, why did I keep putting the book down, over and over again? I tried to like this book. The art is wonderful and the backgrounds are especially brilliant. The problem is that many of the characters looked almost the same. How many bespectacled, narrow-faced men with mustaches and black suits live in Tardi’s Paris? As it turns out, quite a few, and this made it hard to follow some of the twists, turns and betrayals.

Was it intentional? Or was Tardi simply making sure that everyone was styled according to the period and the setting? I don’t know. But Tardi is such a skilled cartoonist that you’d think it would’ve been easy for him to vary his character designs a little more.

Even now, as I page through the book, the story looks more exciting than I know it to be. Tardi’s art always draws me in, and I’m lucky enough to live near a library that carries his stuff, but this is the first of his works that I’ve ever finished. And this is only because I planned to read it for this review. I’ve returned every other Tardi book unread – but for the first few pages.

Maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe Tardi intended nothing more than a rollicking romp through Paris. But if that was his intent, I feel like he failed in that regard, as well. It doesn’t rollick and it doesn’t romp. Everything falls flat. Especially the characters. They’re all the same backstabbing, greedy bastards and this doesn’t invest them with any real personality.

Tardi failed to make me care about what’s happening in the story. None of the dangers that the characters faced made me fear for their lives or for their safety. Yes it’s just a comic book, but I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t take comic books seriously. This lack of connection to the story makes it hard to write this review. It’s so much easier to write about something that I love or something that I hate. The emotional reaction – be it excitement, wonder, or irritation – is everything to me.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec has only a 5 out of 10 chance of waking Cthulhu from his eternal slumber – but only because the art is inspired and whimsical. Maybe it would have been better as a silent book.

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