This site is one year old today.

And I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

Thank you for reading. Every one of you.


Anybody with a passing familiarity with the indelible Fanboy Rampage has probably heard of Alias Enterprises, one of Graeme and the gang’s favorite targets. They’re the ones who launched their company by releasing nine late books in a single week (if I recall correctly), with another three soon to follow. I can’t say I’m very interested in most of Alias’ line; it all looks a little too pedestrian, quite generic.

Ah! But there’s one project on tap that really stands out from the rest, yet another North American publisher’s tippy-toe dipped back into the pool of European sequential art, a US release of one of the most popular comics on the continent for the last two decades, XIII. You may have heard of the video game adaptation that hit the US in 2003; now comes the comic itself, the story in this issue hailing back from Tome 1 in 1984. But the mere presence of the book in America may not be enough for Eurocomics fans, as concessions have already been made, and will be made again, deep cuts to the presentation.

The creation of writer Jean Van Hamme and artist William Vance (both hailing from Belgium), XIII is currently anticipating the release of its 17th album in Europe. US readers, however, will be getting standard pamphlet-sized comic books, two to an album, released as an ongoing series. Upcoming scenes of nudity will also be censored for the US release, which I expect will be an automatic deal-breaker for many readers of this site, and rightfully so. However, I was a bit curious as to how Alias’ localization job would look in execution, and the introductory cover price of seventy-five cents pretty much guaranteed that I’d only be wasting time in the event of crap, not money.

It isn’t crap, though it’s certainly cramped. The album-format art (1 x 22 x 29 cm, if my research was not faulty) has been squished down to the size of all your monthly Direct Market favorites, the dimensional reconfigure leaving copious white space on the top and bottom of the page like twin surgical scars. Granted, Vance’s art doesn’t make much use of wide vistas or detailed backgrounds; it’s very straightforward action art, rendered in a decent period style (I use ‘period’ since I presume Vance has developed visually since 1984) with supple character designs and clear storytelling and rarely less than six panels per page. It’s the sort of stuff that works perfectly well in a smaller space, though you still have all that empty space to remind you of what used to be.

The story, however, I don’t think would impress in even its original dimensions, in even its mother tongue. True, Ernst Dabel’s translation is stiff (it feels over-literal, though maybe it’s only being faithful to a pallid original), adding nothing save for utilitarian vernacular all the way through. But Van Hamme’s story doesn’t offer much of anything interesting at its core, even with livelier words imagined. Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a man of mystery surfaces in a remote locale, where he’s essentially adopted by a kindly family. But his happy new home is then invaded by villainous types, who bring ruin to all whom he cares for. Can our hero catch up with the past - before the past catches up with him?!

Quite a stock plot. Our dangerous pal is also missing his memory, with only a white streak of hair (left from where a bullet struck him), a tattoo (from which the book takes its title), and some amazing talents for killing left to taunt him with echoes of his lost former life. Most of this issue is devoted to the aforementioned generic set-up, then a whole lot of wandering around the big city, where he searches for clues on one of those new-fangled computing machines (monochrome monitor included) operated by a stylish young lady who, given the period, just knows that red heels look great with a gray dress and black stockings. Then he gets in trouble with dirty cops who know of his former life, and the book ends in the middle of a conversation. Smooth-as-silk transition to our shores!

But even granting the less than optimal presentation, I just didn’t find XIII very interesting. Perhaps because it’s a literal half-story, though the presence of pedestrian plotting and clichéd situations doesn’t necessarily need a full-length tale to make itself known. And besides, if this is the way Alias is going to present the book, then by golly it’s also the way I’m going to review it. And what I have for review is tiresome, if admittedly solid on the visual front. Maybe it took a while to get warmed up back in Europe, building up strength and audience as the ’80s sailed past. I don’t know if many will want to stick around to find out, not once the cover price jumps up to its own full power.

The book also features a preview of Alias’ upcoming original series, Imperial Dragons, which largely serves to make XIII look excellent by comparison. Actually, you can see some XIII art for yourself right here, though absent the happy benefit of such contrast. Give it a look, maybe it’ll hook you better than I.