Philippe Francq – Art
Jean Van Hamme – Script
Published & translated by – Cinebook
Largo Winch volume 1, The Heir, is a story of a young man who becomes the sole inheritor of an American tycoon’s great wealth, after his untimely death at the hands of a mysterious assailant. This first volume – The Heir – tracks his adventure across continents to retrieve the papers he needs to secure his fortune. It’s an adventure romp, which given the format (and frankly, my ignorance of this particular genre) feels like Tintin thrust into a James Bond novel. That’s an over simplification, but I am after all and overly simple reviewer. What it does have is a breathless pace, enthralling story, and intricate and beautifully rendered art, which one would expect from a Cinebook volume.
Upon further reading it’s disappointing, if not a shock, that before reading I was ignorant of its existence. The series has 17 published volumes, 8 of which have been translated into English, and has spawned a television series, and in its native form sells in excess of 500,000 units annually (if Wikipedia is to be believed). As with much of their output, in translating the book and making it available in the English speaking world, Cinebook are making available a hidden gem, that given the UK’s proximity to the home of the creators, makes it all the more puzzling that it seems to have been largely unnoticed by the UK’s comic book reading community.
This edition was first published in 1990 in its mother tongue and feels to a certain extent of that time (more on that later). Action opens with the disposal of Largo’s benefactor, and as we find out later in the book, adoptive father, by a shadowy figure who has been lured there by the mega rich curmudgeon, to spare him the indignity of falling prey to the cancer that is eating away at his brain. This takes the form of a tense cold open style scene and provides a satisfying and mysterious introduction to the book.
Meanwhile in Istanbul Largo is being framed by an American agent for murder. At this point it’s unclear if it’s a member of Winch senior’s conglomerate who wish to take control of his lucrative shares for themselves, or the American government who look to take ownership themselves, as in the event of no heir being found the government would potentially take owner ship of Winch seniors estate. It’s complicated, but needless to say there are plenty of vested interests keen to stop this young outsider getting his hands on the money.
Framed for murder he finds himself flung into jail with little hope of reaching the outside world. Its here that he meets the character that becomes his partner in, well not quite crime, but Simon does however have a very shady back ground. The two escape and start a chase across half of Europe in an attempt to make their way to theUS. Chase concluded the first chapter ends, leading into part two whereLargomust return toEuropeand find the documents that secure his claim.
In this second part we learn more of his back story, the training he received that made him not only ready for the responsibilities of such a fortune, as well as the abilities that make him an accomplished and all round action man. This also leads us to the end game and the reveal of who it is that’s so keen to steal his inheritance from him. Twists and turns abound and the climax is as action packed and as satisfying as the rest of the book.
Although a highly enjoyable read there are points that are at times jarring, well one really, but it feels significant, and occurs more than once. The comparison to James Bond doesn’t stop at the globe trotting action. As with Bond female characters in the book are not well served, and for the most part appear as either figures for sexual gratification, weak characters in need of rescue, or stony faced matrons there to admonish Largo for his free wheeling attitudes. Although not gratuitous it is a little jarring and because of this means that the book is suitable only for a mature reader (to be fair though, the book is rated as 15+).
These misgivings aside the book is otherwise riotous fun. To compare styles the books art reminds me of the anime style of the same period, and in fact some of the caricatures of the American characters chime with that genre too. It contains, as you would expect, clear and precise lines in the foreground with stunning, and beautifully realised backdrops. The background art in the second story in this two episode collection is particularly breathtaking. Pacing of the story is almost note perfect, and the translation is excellent with little seeming to have been lost in the process.
All in all very much a boys own adventure, and highly enjoyable with it. It’s certainly inspired me to read more in the series. It has certain failings that may not make it for all tastes, but pretty much throughout it hit my sweet spot, and is another example of the good work being done so close to home that we all to often miss.