Lady S volume 1 cover detail from Philippe Aymond

Lady S. v1: “Here’s to Suzie”

Writer: Jean Van Hamme
Artist: Philippe Aymond
Colorist: Philippe Aymond
Published by: Cinebook
Number of Pages: 89
Original Publication: 2004

(The digital copy I’m reviewing this book from is missing credits for the letterer and translator.)

Wait, he’s working for who? And she’s really from where? And it’s not a coincidence that they met? I’m impressed.

Quick Formatting Note

This is a series that Cinebook publishes in two-album compilations.

They started “Largo Winch” like that, too, where every story arc is two volumes, but that only lasted for the first three or four stories before they went to single-volume books there.

“Lady S” is up to 13 volumes in France now.  In fact, that new volume just came out a week or two ago.  Cinebook has only published five volumes (French volumes 1 – 10) so far in their series.  Dupuis published the twelfth book in the fall of 2016, which would complete a diptych. Cinebook hasn’t picked that up yet.  I’m not sure if they are continuing with the series or not.

Also, Van Hamme doesn’t write the series anymore. Series artist Philippe Aymond handles the script now as of volume 10.  He describes his writing process on his blog.

I wonder if the change in writers influences Cinebook’s decision, at all?

 

The Twists and Turns of Lady S

Lady S appears at a party in the beginning of the book.

You might be best off going into this book completely blind. That’s what I did. The plot in this book twists and turns nicely, with the timeline jumping around to multiple parts of Suzan Fitzroy’s life. This book is her origin story, as we learn about her complicated multinational life.

At the beginning of the book, we see her as an adult, joining her (adopted) father in his work as a diplomat from the United States in Europe. She’s beautiful, fluent in multiple languages, and hails originally from New Zealand.

How that all happened is a big part of this book. As the story in the current timeline moves along, Van Hamme does a remarkable job in going back in time to fill in the gaps to explain everything. To me, it’s the most impressive part of the book. The way Van Hamme can leave open loops with his flashbacks and close them before they get confusing is key to the book’s success. That he knows just when to plug which gaps is likewise impressive. This book would only be half as interesting, if not less, if it had taken place in strict chronological order.

The timeline jumping establishes Suzan as a character and gives her very strong reasons for everything she does in each stage of her life. It’s not always pretty.

 

What’s It All About?

Without giving away too much, I do want to clear up one misconception you might get from the series covers. This is not the story of a woman who is a parkour expert and a cat burglar spying on people. OK, it’s true, she kinda does a little of that in this book, but it’s a page in the second half and it’s explained properly.

This book is about diplomacy and international politics in the end, and the story is told with its fair share of double crosses, deals made at gun point, and narrow escapes, but it’s not an action piece. It’s a thriller, but it only occasionally gets into the kind of material you’d need to hire a stuntman for in the movie adaptation.

 

Talk, Talk, Talk

Diplomats talk politics and work.

Van Hamme’s material is very talkative, like most of his work.  It’s not as bad as “Blake and Mortimer,” though some pages trend that way.  The good news is, those discussions are usually the most important ones in the book.  When Van Hamme is revealing things or deepening mysteries, he’ll switch to that mode.  You will hang on every word, because you know how important the situation here.

Van Hamme includes a lot of international diplomacy and spy versus spy stuff. You should expect a fair amount of chit chat.  It’s not hard to follow if you pay attention, so enjoy the story. I did.

 

The Art of Philippe Aymond

If you’ve read a book written by Van Hamme before, you can safely guess what the art style is going to be. Aymond fits right in with Philippe Francq (“Largo Winch”) and William Vance (“XIII”), for two examples. His work is filled with people who look like real people, don’t exaggerate anything at all, and sit around talking a lot of the time in a mix of environments. He adds lots of believable details to cityscapes and buildings, in general.

I don’t see Jack Kirby comics being good as storyboards for movies because Kirby exaggerates too much and uses forced perspectives and is heavily stylized, in general.  Someone like Aymond, though, would be a perfect storyboard artist.  The people on the page move and act like real people.  Sometimes, they’re even stiffer.  It’s perfect for a movie director.

NATO Headquarters in Belgium

Aymond sticks to three tiers per page, often with two panels stacked on one side of a tier. He tells the story clearly. There’s never any doubt for which panel to read next. There are lots of backgrounds, so it’s easy to see where people stand in their environments.  And the people aren’t all cookie cutter and lookalike.

Most notably, for a book filled with a lot of talking heads in a not-terribly-attractive font, Aymond varies up his angles and distances enough within each scene to keep things interesting.  He’ll usually start with the wide shot to establish the area, but then he’ll go to two-shots and low camera angles and close-ups.  It stays interesting when the artist doesn’t fall into ruts or templates of how scenes should be viewed.  I appreciate that.

 

Side Note: Car Camera Angles

Philippe Aymond draws the car from a low angle to make it look faster.

Did you know that in movies, directors film cars from low angles to make them look faster?

In reality, they could be going slowly, but with the right camera move, you’d never know it until after the fact.   We’ve seen it so much now, that we mentally associate that without actually seeing it.

See that panel above?  The speedlines are all you need to know the car is going fast.  The low camera angle Aymond uses is a leftover from the movies.  But it looks right to us. We’re used to that approach.  We’ve come to associate that low angle with high speed, so our mind helps fill in that gap, even on the printed page.

I find that fascinating.

 

 

Recommended?

Lady S volume 1 cover

Yes, if you’re in the mood for a little international politics combined with an interesting and twisty plot. This is “Largo Winch” for the diplomacy set, complete with a good-looking adopted kid with Daddy issues in the lead.

By the way, that cover above is the cover to the second volume in the original French series. The first volume’s cover looks like this:

Lady S original French cover for volume 1 by Philippe Aymond

I think Cinebook made the right call there.

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #99.)

 

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8 Comments

  • Arcturus November 29, 2017 at 4:08 am

    I actually saw this and wasn’t interested, but this review might just have changed my mind.

    “Important” question, after review 100 will Pipeline be relaunched as “all-new” Pipeline with an all-new #1 review? (Because it’s the internet I feel I have to say I’m kidding)

    Reply
    • Augie November 29, 2017 at 8:14 am

      You’re right — it’s a valid question. The comics world kills me sometimes. 😉 The next review will be #101 of 100. I’m still debating whether or not to track review numbers next year. I’ll either do another 100 review challenge, or I’ll do no numbering at all and just mentally pace myself to put out enough to get to 100-ish.

      Reply
      • Arcturus November 29, 2017 at 3:54 pm

        You can have 52 reviews and name them the new 52… 😛 (Nobody ever thought of that, I know, I’m a genius)(I’ll stop now).

        Thanks for answering, now that you answered I realize it was actually a valid question in it’s own way

        Reply
        • Augie November 30, 2017 at 10:49 am

          52 is for slackers! 😉

          The more I think of this, though, the more I like the idea of not restarting with a new #1 every year, and just tracking how many total reviews I’ve written. The only problem with that, though, is that the review reprints I’ve published this year haven’t been part of that total, so the overall number would still be wrong.

          I shouldn’t care this much. I just like big numbers, though.

          Still a valid question, but my answer keeps changing.

          Reply
  • Jerome Saincantin December 6, 2017 at 11:25 am

    Glad you liked it, Augie. This series deserves more attention than it’s getting, I always thought.

    Just a note, though: Lady S. was one of the series we started in double-album format, yes. But we finally abandoned that format shortly thereafter, when it became clear that despite the added value and lower per page price, the higher price tag was discouraging buyers.

    Which means that from volume 2 on, this series is single episode only – and that we’ve only published up to episode 6 in French.
    The pause in publishing it has nothing to do with the change in writer; mostly it’s due to prioritising series that worked better – and then there was the Great Valerian Rush of course. :p

    But we don’t like abandoning series altogether, and we like this one. Lady S. is scheduled to return next year – shhh, that’s not official yet. 🙂

    Reply
    • Augie December 6, 2017 at 4:15 pm

      Ah, it went the “Largo Winch” route, then. I should have guessed. Thanks for the clarification. I do look forward to reading more of the series. I still need to get to Cinebook v2, but I’ll get there, I promise…

      Reply
  • JC LEBOURDAIS December 6, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    I’m wondering, whatever happens to self-contained albums? Can’t anyone tell a proper story with a satisfying end in 50 pages… That makes me sad.

    Reply
    • Augie December 6, 2017 at 4:17 pm

      I spent a weekend last months reading Pedrosa’s “Portugal,” which is complete in one album and — oh, wait, something like 300 pages long. It felt like 3000, but… Sometimes, I think the world has forgotten the lessons it should have learned from the likes of Asterix and The Smurfs and Tintin…. Ekho does it right, though! There are on-going threads in the series, but it sticks to complete one album stories.

      Reply

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