Monday, March 26, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: The Arctic Marauder

After enjoying It was the War of the Trenches so much, I knew it would only be a short amount of time before I got my hands on another work by French comic-master Jacques Tardi.  This time around, I decided to venture over to the lighter side of Tardi's comics works, and check out his steampunk ode to 19th century adventure, The Arctic Marauder.

Taking place in 1889, The Arctic Marauder stars Jerome Plumier, a passenger aboard L'Anjou, journeying through the coldest reaches of the north Atlantic, when a member of the ship's crew spots a ghostly ship shrouded in ice and perched atop an iceberg.  Along with a few crew members, Plumier joins the expedition that goes off to the ice-ship in search of survivors or clues.  The search turns up little more than dead bodies, seemingly frozen in time.  Before they can round everyone up and head back to L'Anjou, a huge explosion rocks their ship, sinking L'Anjou and spoiling any hopes of a safe return for Plumier and company.  Stranded for days, drifting on the ship atop the iceberg, they are finally rescued and returned home.

Upon his return Plumier hears of more ships "disappering" near the same spot that L'Anjou was sunk.  Hearing of a science expedition that is setting sail to search for the lost ships, Plumier joins the voyage hoping to find some answers.  What he discovers is a mystery that involves his recently departed uncle, a mad-man and a creepy, pistol wielding old lady who seems to be stalking Plumier.

The Arctic Marauder definitely had a much more light-hearted, tongue in cheek approach than I expected. Tardi seems intent on recapturing the melodrama and over the top characters that populate 19th century adventure novels like the stuff by Jules Verne.  That's not to say I didn't enjoy this, because I did.  Tardi's take on the adventure theme is quite a lot of fun.  There's a nice degree of mystery here, and it was fun to discover the wonders of Tardi's imagination with Plumier in the pilot's seat.

As I've come to expect from Tardi, the art here was absolutely fantastic.  From I've read elsewhere, Tardi wanted to emulate wood-cut style art in this, and used brushes and knife-like tools to score the background to achieve the wood-cut look.  Whatever he did, it looks pretty amazing. The art has nice texture, and it looks wonderful.  Tardi also draws some really cool steampunk creations that are sure to please the eye.  There where many times when I would stop reading for a while just so I could just stare at the great art on the page.  Tardi uses a lot of rounded and long vertical panels here which you don't see very often and give The Arctic Marauder a unique look.

As great as the art and the adventure was, this one was not without some flaws.  I felt like some of the pages were over burdened with too much text, which did two negative things: covered up the art, and slowed down the flow of the story.  Another thing that bothered me a bit was that the ending felt really abrupt.  This could have easily been twice as long as the 64 pages it chimes in at.  When I had turned the last page I felt a little bit cheated.  My first thought was that there's got to be a sequel, but from what I can uncover from research, it looks like this is all I'll be getting. It is kinda fun to imagine for myself what happens to the characters after the last page is turned, but I would have been happier with more material.

Despite my two gripes, this is still a pretty magnificent comic. It's a lot of fun to read, and the art is sure to please.  Tardi is a real master of the medium and I'm glad his stuff is getting translated and published here in the states.  I can definitely see myself gobbling up everything of his they decide to publish.  I strongly recommend The Arctic Marauder or anything else by Jacques Tardi, even the stuff I haven't read, because I think he's a comic creator that everyone who enjoys the medium should experience at least once.  If you wanna double up and get your comic fix and steampunk fix at the same time, then this is the one for you.

Grade: A-

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