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The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec

by Jacques Tardi

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec
© Fantagraphics
Fantagraphics, December 2010

If this is your first encounter with The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, I feel I should warn you about the faint regret you'll feel for not having a chance to read these earlier in your life. These comics feel lost in time; they are reminiscent of Victorian adventure novels but maintain a strong contemporary cultural relevance. It's not difficult to project oneself at various ages onto these stories; Adele Blanc-Sec feels like the kind of book one would adore as a child and revisit with unbridled nostalgia as an adult. Whatever your age, this is escapist reading of the finest sort — readers will get lost in Tardi's breathtaking ornamental artwork and marvel at how captivating an old-fashioned yarn can really be.

First serialized in 1972, The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec is set in a stunningly rendered turn-of-the-century Paris and revolves around the eponymous hero as she investigates strange occurrences to fuel her career as a mystery author. This collection includes two stories, "Pterror Over Paris" and "The Demon of the Eiffel Tower," both of which are deliriously full of pulp intrigue and classic expository double-crosses.
In "Pterror Over Paris," a pterodactyl egg in the Jardin des Plantes hatches, wreaking havoc on the City of Lights. Could someone be controlling the beast? And how do the pterodactyl attacks connect to Lucien Ripel, a convicted murderer on his way to the guillotine?

In "The Demon of the Eiffel Tower," people are reportedly disappearing as they cross the Pont-Neuf bridge. Meanwhile an actor is killed during a performance of The Last Days of Babylon, and Adele's investigations reveal numerous connections between the two occurrences. But what is the significance of the Assyrian demon Pazuzu, whose image is eerily present throughout all of Adele's sleuthing?
The newspaper plays a curious role throughout these stories; many frames are filled with short news clippings that summarize various plot points and hint at a wonderful political subtext flowing underneath these yarns. After the first pterodactyl attack, six consecutive frames depict newspaper sellers shouting their scoop. Headlines like "The Monster Strikes Again! Paris Quakes!" give way to those with questions like "Why Has the Government Failed To Intervene?" A mustachioed newsman yells of police Prefect Lepine's resignation (possibly in response to the attacks), and Tardi cuts to a flabbergasted President Armand Faillers. In "The Demon of the Eiffel Tower," the papers are too overwhelmed with reports of the plague to cover the Pont-Neuf disappearances with the same the fervor as before. They remind readers of how escapist Adele's adventures really are to be read; that even in plague-ridden France there can be thrilling diversions.

One of the most exciting things about these stories is that while they do function independently, there are minor plot connections between the two that reward serial reading. These aren't stories where character development ends when the mystery is solved — characters learn and grow between cases and result in Adele Blanc-Sec feeling more like a Sherlock Holmes mystery than a great episode of Scooby-Doo. Adele Blanc-Sec will fit in just as well next to your Wilkie Collins novels as it will next to your Hellboy comics; just keep it somewhere close. This is a collection that you'll want to re-read, if anything to make up for lost time.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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