The latest XIII continues the second phase of the series after creators Jean Van Hamme and William Vance left once their story had been told. Now we’re with a whole new creative team but the same old XIII and the same old story and, to be honest, although it’s unnecessary and extraneous to the entire idea of XIII, it’s a damn well-done thriller of a series.
XIII was originally created by Van Hamme and Vance in 1984. Together, across 18 volumes, they told a thrilling Euro tale from beginning to end that was every bit as exciting as Van Hamme’s other high-octane book of the time, Largo Winch.
And just as with Largo Winch, after Van Hamme moved on, the series continued. Largo’s adventures still have original series artist, Phillipe Francq, onboard (see here for the review of those volumes), but XIII’s continued adventures have continued with writer Yves Sente and artist Youri Jigounov.
Now, the original XIII was never something of stunning originality or innovation, it was all about being an unashamedly out and out thrill-ride, with Van Hamme and Vance putting their amnesiac protagonist through every possible twist and turn they can imagine, volume after volume after volume.
The basic plot behind the first 18 volume story and everything that’s come since is pretty simple – a man washes ashore, badly wounded, amnesiac, phenomenally gifted in martial arts, weapons proficient, and has only a couple of small clues to his identity; the XIII tattooed on his shoulder and a key sewn into his shirt collar. After this, he gets involved in a massive conspiracy involving powerful and dangerous people at the highest levels of government… and yes, that is remarkably similar to the plot of The Bourne Identity.
However, Van Hamme has long acknowledged his debt to Ludlum and the story really only shares the same basic amnesiac/conspiracy roots with Bourne and soon goes on to twist and turn far more than poor old Jason Bourne could ever cope with.
Across the 18 volumes of Van Hamme and Vance’s tale, XIII struggles to discover his true identity and stay one step ahead of a hell of a lot of people interested in seeing him dead long before he gets anywhere near the truth. It was a wonderfully pacey affair, a thriller that truly thrilled. And then it ended, perfectly, with Van Hamme and Vance bowing out.
Except no, it wasn’t ending. And that still feels something of a mistake. I last read any XIII with volume 19, ‘The Day of the Mayflower’ by Yves Sente and Youri Jigounov and although that was still fun, still a good thriller, it felt somewhat pointless, the tale had been told, this was just artificially extending the series by throwing yet another twist into XIII’s history.
All of which brings me to volume 24, my first since I gave up on the series. Here, Jason McLane, a.k.a. XIII, is still involved with the Mayflower Foundation, a group more powerful than world leaders, a secret elite more in control of countries than governments, pulling the strings from the shadows.
But this time, he’s being courted by them, specifically by their president, Janet Fitzsimmons, brought onto the board of the Mayflower Foundation…
Once on board, XIII is set a test of his marksmanship skills… which is where the 2,331 yards of the title comes in.
The distance that will come into play right at the end of this volume as XIII finds himself up high and gazing down the scope with a seemingly impossible choice, kill… well, someone, telling you that would be giving too much away, or lose those he’s come to love.
But that’s all to come in the second volume of this two-parter. For now, it’s all set-up, all about the Foundation getting XIII into place to make the shot. Can he make it? Will he make it? Well, that’s where you’re going to need to read part two.
Sente taking two volumes for this particular tale is somewhat unusual for XIII, although it’s pretty much what we’re used to for Van Hamme’s other famous series, Largo Winch.
So this is all meticulous set-up, and it’s tightly plotted, complex set-up that Sente does remarkably well. We have foreign affairs, terrorists, US Senators manipulated and blackmailed, the Foundation moving their own people into place whilst also getting involved in saving bees, nano-drone swarm tech weaponry, and neural engineering on human guinea pigs.
In the blurb, it’s all set up as a what if XIII has actually gone over to the Mayflower Foundation, but that’s a little disingenuous as it’s obvious right from the start that he’s there to bring them down, no matter how tempting all this power, all this money, might be.
So yes, this is all a very slow and steady multi-handed build-up, Sente meticulously moving his chess pieces into place before the final page with a shocking cliff-hanger.
And despite my reluctance to enjoy this, with the thought that it’s all unnecessary and something that just takes away from the beginning, middle, end of Van Hamme and Vance’s 18-volume XIII saga, it didn’t take more than 20 pages before I realised that I was rather enjoying this one and continued to do so until that final page where everything has worked up to one question… what will XIII do? Will he take the kill shot? Oh yes, they’ve managed to bring all the thrills I loved with the original series back with this one.
It certainly helps that Jigounov’s artwork is very much a stylistic successor to Vance, all the same tight details, the linework so similarly controlled. But it’s Sente’s plotting, tight, multi-layered, complex, and clever that really reeled me back into the saga of XIII, pretty much despite myself.
So yes, it may be unnecessary, it may be merely a franchise extension that perhaps lessens the impact of that first 18-volume storyline of brilliance from Van Hamme and Vance, but taking it in and of itself, Volume 24 of XIII manages to tell a brilliant first part of what will (hopefully) prove to be a real return to form of a long-running multi-million selling Euro thriller series.
XIII Volume 24 – 2,331 Yards – written by Yves Sente, art by Youri Jigounov, colours by Bruno Tatti, assistant colourist Clementine Guivarc’h, translation by Jerome Saincantin, published by Cinebook.