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  • Words: Jean Van Hamme
  • Art: William Vance
  • Inks: William Vance
  • Colors: William Vance
  • Story Title: The Day Of The Black Sun
  • Publisher: Alias Enterprises
  • Price: $.75
  • Release Date: Jun 29, 2005

After over nine million copies in print in over a dozen languages and spawning a hit video game, one of the most popular European comics ever finally comes to America.

A man washes ashore, half dead. He’s taken in and cared for by an elderly couple and a black-balled, alcoholic doctor. An amnesiac, he has no name, no past he can remember, and nothing more to identify him than the numeral XIII tattooed on his chest. Honoring their dead son, the old couple calls him Alan, but that is only the first of several names to be attached to him. And when assassins track him down, he fights back as only a trained killer can. With the elderly couple dead and only the barest clues—a picture taken with a beautiful woman, and the name and address of the photographer—the man heads for Eastown looking for answers. His search leads him to a newspaper, then to City Hall, and finally to a house in the suburbs. Waiting for him there are people who’ve been manipulating him from the start.

In terms of both story content and cover price, XIII is a blast from the past. In an age when aficionados of the ninth art willingly and sometimes gladly pay upwards of three dollars for a ten-minute read, 75 cents for as engaging a story as XIII #1 should be a no-brainer. Combining the spy and thriller genres with classic 80s comics storytelling, Jean Van Hamme’s writing immediately evokes "The Fugitive," The Human Target, and that quirky masterpiece "The Prisoner." The pacing is excellently compressed. Every page reads like a measure of music, with the very last panel hitting a plot beat that turns the story in another direction without feeling forced or artificial. From the moment he washes up on that beach with a head wound that streaks part of his hair white, the reader immediately identifies with the main character—his real named as yet unknown for sure—even though the story revolves around his inability to identify with himself. And kudos to whoever is translating XIII from the original French. The dialogue has the natural rhythms of a story originally written in English.

William Vance’s artwork has a classic feel about it as well. Drawn and colored in an age before comics illustration went cinematic, XIII’s rigid panel layout is dominated by medium length shots, straight-ahead angles, and primary colors. On the one hand there’s a lack of intimacy to the images, and they seem flat when compared to what comics readers are used to today. But on the other hand, Vance’s approach is used to XIII’s advantage. The lack of intimacy underscores the main character’s alienation, from his environment as well as from himself. And though the "camera" seems to have a limited range of movement, Vance’s static artwork, rendered with clean, economical lines, drives the story forward by building intensity and suspense.

If it’s been a long time since you’ve paid three quarters for a suspenseful read, then XIII #1 should easily find its way onto your list of this week’s comics purchases.

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