I’m back from the comic shop this week and I got three new comic plus a hard cover collection:

  • The Walking Dead – 79
  • The Savage Dragon – 166
  • Usagi Yojimbo – 133
  • “Astro City – The Dark Age Volume 2”
  • And now for a review of something I’ve read recently.

    “The Ranks of the Black Order” by Pierre Christin and Enki Bilal

    Here is another book that has been sitting on my shelf for quite some time. It was originally from France and published in 1979 but this version is from 1989 when Catalan Communications published some of the more famous European graphic albums (better known as comics over here) in the U.S. At a $13.95 cover price this was a really expensive book in 1989. It’s 80 pages long but it’s at full European size so it’s a little bigger than a magazine and in full color. It’s got a $3.99 sticker still on the front of it so I remember that I bought it, and a few others, on sale back in 1991 or so.

    “The Ranks of the Black Order” is a comic unlike most American comics especially at the time it was made. It’s not a super hero or fantasy comic but general fiction involving people with no special powers or abilities. There is gunfire and death though. It’s just not the main point or made to be exciting.

    The Black Order was a military/political group that was active in Spain during the revolution back in 1938. It’s now forty years later (1978) and the members of the group, now old men, have reformed and started perpetrating terrorist acts in Spain and around Europe. According to the story there were many small terrorist groups in Europe at that time so they didn’t get a ton of notice.

    A British journalist, who used to oppose the Black order back in 1938, did notice and decides to do something about it. He calls up a bunch of old friends from 1930’s Spain and they all decide to get together go after the Black Order themselves.

    What follows is a bunch of old men and one old woman traveling across Europe trying to settle a score. It’s a slow chase, if it can be called that, and the old men really don’t even know why they are doing it. They kind of want one last adventure before they die but this isn’t really an adventure. It’s pointlessly settling old scores. The men realize this but most can’t stop themselves. They have nothing else to do and they’re rotten old S.O.B.s just like the men they chase.

    The artwork is done in a highly illustrative yet still a bit cartoony style that was popular in such European comics at the time (and still may be for all I know). It’s good stuff with some imaginative layouts but for the most part it comes out of the tradition of the comics panel as a stage. Each panel is composed as if it were a window onto a stage and page is composed to pleasingly tell the story.

    On of the things I’ve always liked about this album was the cover. Even though all the characters in the book are old they are drawn on the cover young. They are all lined up as if they were posing for a group photo which is what they were supposed to have been doing. I find it interesting because it’s not about how the camera sees, as is photorealism, but is about how people see the camera. They are all staring out at us, the camera, looking stoic in their makeshift uniforms with their guns and wounds. I find it intriguing.

    I like this album. I like that it’s different than American comics. I like it’s quality in writing and art. I like that Catalan published it in its original format. Other publishers have published these European comics squeezed down into an American comic format and they don’t look good like that. So check it out if you can find it.