Story Without a Hero cover by Dany detail HEADER
|

“Story Without a Hero,” volume 1

Writer: Jean Van Hamme
Artist: Dany
Lettering: Design Amorandi
Translator: Jerome Saincantin
Published by: Dargaud/Europe Comics/Cinebook
Number of Pages: 56
Original Publication: 2003

A plane crashes in a remote part of the jungle, and the few survivors left need to figure a way out before they all die. What they come up with is novel, and just crazy enough to work. But at what cost?

It’s Not “Lost”

Early on, after the crash, the characters talk in front of the plane

The book begins two days after the plane crash.  The front half of the plane held no survivors, but a little over a dozen from the tail end made it out alive.  They are a varied group of people: an elderly couple, a Hollywood star, a college professor, a military leader with his yes man, and more. (Not quite Gilligan’s Island, but very close.)  They’re introduced en masse quickly before they start to act.

The book follows the group for the next two weeks while they ration their food, wait for rescue, and then launch a desperate week-long plan to get themselves out.  They’ll have to fight off the natural predators of the jungle as well as the destructive urges of humanity, but they still have a chance.

One by one, for various reasons, survivors fall.  A survivor doesn’t make it through her untreated wounds, a puma kills people, personality conflicts lead to unfortunate actions, etc.

There is, I’m happy to report, no sudden revelations of mystical of supernatural interventions.  Demons don’t show up to guide the people.  They’re not really in purgatory.  There’s no smoke monster equivalent or polar bear.

There is a puma, but that’s a natural feature of this territory…

The Problem of Having No Hero

A plot is hatched by a survivor

The title of the book is right on the money. This is a true ensemble cast. There’s no one person who picks up the baton to lead the team. To put it in “Lost” terms, there’s no Jack.

As interesting as it is to see some of the personal dynamics play out while holding my breath that the rescue plan is going to work, I’m afraid I didn’t care quite enough.  This book is mostly about plot.  It’s about moving the pieces around to reach the survival plan at the end.  Asking people to keep their wits together under such trying circumstances is tough, and not everyone manages.

While different people have certain characteristics, there’s not a single character in the cast that you immediately latch onto and root for.  There’s not that one person you know you want to win and who is doing the right thing.  It’s very plot-driven, more like a movie than a serialized television series.  I suppose that makes sense given that this story is complete in this book.  There’s not much room for character development, which would just slow down the story and take up too much space.

But that lack of a singular focus or a clear cut leader weakens the story for the reader, who doesn’t get to know anyone in this book as well as they’d need to to form a bond with them.  A lack of a rooting interest or one character with a truly interesting personality and dynamic holds the book back.

The Art of Dany

I love Dany’s art in this book.  Most books that Jean Van Hamme writes lean towards the most photorealistic art style possible. Think of “XIII” or “Largo Winch,” most notably.  It’s not my favorite style, as it can, at times, look too stiff and posed.

Dany’s art is realistic, but adds just enough “cartooning” to give the characters extra life.  They are never stiff. They’re not wildly gesticulating like a Franquin-style character, but the gestures and body language go just a bit beyond what photo reference would show.  And his ink line adds excitement and a hint of randomness to such otherwise “pure” art.  The characters remind me a bit of how someone like Jack Davis might draw people in MAD Magazine, minus the Hollywood star likenesses.

He’s also caught in illustrating a story set in the 1970s.  Poor guy.  The 70s were not a good look.

The fashions and hair styles in the book feel right as far as I could tell.  I’m more a child of the 80s, but remember a little bit from that era in the way of fashion.  This works with those memories.

Searching around Izneo.com, I can see that Dany’s usual style includes a lot more straight cartooning work in his “For Mature Readers Only” books.  This book, however, keeps everyone’s clothes on….

And Then, The Weird Part

There’s a six page text section at the end of the story.  Van Hamme started as a novelist, so writing prose is probably second nature to him.

It’s the fictional (obviously) account of the man who uncovered this story. That man is Largo Winch.

Yes, that Largo Winch.

But, wait!  The story of this crash is told to Largo Winch, but the twist comes with Largo meets up with Jean Van Hamme to tell him the story. Most of Van Hamme’s stories, naturally, come from Largo.  Van Hamme, in case you didn’t know, is the creator and writer of the Largo Winch series, one of my first bandes dessinees favorites.  There’s a funny line in the text where Winch talks about how Van Hamme has known him since before he was born.

It drips with meta commentary, yes.

The text piece is the story of Winch and Van Hamme talking to the flight’s survivors, trying to figure out where everyone went and how they’re doing.  There is, of course, some mystery behind this.  Two of them, in particular, have gone missing.

I’m guessing this is all meant to set up the second book.  It’s not necessary, though it does help pique my curiosity for it.

Almost “Complete”

There’s a sequel book.  It’s set twenty years later — and titled “Twenty Years Later” — and will be released via Europe Comics this week.  When the survivors start dying of various mysterious issues, someone has to investigate to find out what’s going on.  Are they being targeted?

That sounds like the natural bookend to this one, and may explain why this book felt so… unfocused.  This book might have been setting things up for the more dramatic and possibly more focused second book.

That said, I kinda hope Largo Winch makes an appearance in the book, itself.

The two books are packaged together into one larger volume in France.  The cover you see on this book comes from a scene early in the second alum.

Recommended?

Story Without a Hero cover by Dany

Yes, kind of.  I love the art, and the story is easy enough to follow and is serviceable.  I just can’t get too excited by it.  There are only a few times when characters are confronted by decisions they need to make, and their decisions feel important and not pre-ordained by the plot outline for the book.

The second book will be the final judgment on this one, I’m afraid. If the second book makes up for the shortcomings of the first, then it’ll all be worth it.

The good news is that my review of the second book, “Twenty Years Later,” is available now.

— 2018.054 —

Buy It Now

 

 

What do YOU think? (First time commenters' posts may be held for moderation.)

5 Comments

  1. Histoire Sans Héros is a classic of 70s Tintin Magazine, back when there were still oddball one-off albums not related to a big series and established characters; He did the Arlequin series in a similar vein and you were right to point out the Jack Davis comparison which is very middle-ground in Dany’s early range. He started with a very cartoony style in the pages with Olivier Rameau (a wonderful fantasy series written by Greg) that had a few big-nose characters in it, slowly evolving towards hard-boiled adventure with Bernard Prince. Then he came back and returned to a more Davis-esque phase during which he produced a ton of erotica limited prints that became his cash cow from the 80s onwards.
    I didn’t know this book had a sequel so if you review it later,I’d be curious to see how his style has evolved in 20 years, since I haven’t really followed him lately.
    In any case this is a Lombard series, while Largo Winch is from Dargaud, so I seriously doubt there would ever be a crossover (maybe a discreet cameo, but even that would be unlikely).

  2. Art looks nice, might try the thing if the second volume is good, otherwise I’m waiting for a sale.
    Thanks for the review.

  3. As a matter of fact, there IS a crossover between this dyptich and Largo.
    Read no further if you don’t want to be SPOILED.

    Spoiler alert!

    Still here? OK: In Largo Winch 19, Chassé-croisé (Vol. 15 “Crossing Paths” for us), Largo is in London to, among other things, meet a French aircraft manufacturer. And that man is: Laurent Draillac – the 12 year old in this book, and the main character in the second one.
    He doesn’t go full supporting character, but he gets lines and even some action. You certainly don’t need to have read these books to understand the Largo book, either, but it’s an amusing tease.

    1. Ha! That’s great. Thanks for the pointer. I need to do some serious catching up on Largo, but I think I need to reread the first 6 or 8 books to have it all fresh in my mind. I keep joking that 2019 is the year of Largo, but I’m beginning to think it shouldn’t be a joke. It’d be just the excuse I needed to play catch-up….