Thursday, February 18, 2010

Review - The Left Bank Gang and The Last Musketeer

The Left Bank Gang
by Jason
2007 Eisner Winner for Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material

The Last Musketeer
by Jason
2009 Eisner Winner for Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material

There are several reasons why I'm pairing these books together rather than giving them each a turn in the spotlight. They're both extremely short, they're both from the same creator, and they both have a similar style in storytelling. The art style is identical in both with their animal headed people and rigid panel structure. They're also both absolutely terrific.

My favorite of the two (and it's a close thing) is The Left Bank Gang. It depicts Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ezra Pound as struggling comic book artists in early 20th century Paris. Most of them are having money troubles when Hemingway comes up with a plan for a large heist. Zelda Fitzgerald gets wind of the plan and then things go badly.

The Last Musketeer is a pulp adventure romp where Athos is the last person to wear the uniform of the Musketeers four hundred years after the end of the novels. When Mars invades Paris he travels to the red planet to fight back even though he stands alone. Once there he finds a princess who is more capable than the men around her and willing to help stop the invasion, an emperor who is too bored for his own good, and an old enemy waiting for a showdown.

I'm going to start with The Last Musketeer since that's the one that I have the least to say about it. That's because while it is a charming mash up of Dumas and Flash Gordan there's nothing more to it than that. Athos confronts some Martians in the anachronistic way of a French gentleman, they fight, and then cut to an interlude before things repeat. This is appropriate for the homage Jason is creating but the impression I'm left with at the end is "Well that was fun."

The Last Musketeer also a funny book. Athos's mindset is stuck in the seventeenth century so his reaction to scifi tropes like an evil robot is amusing. The princess is set up in a traditional pulp role where she should be the clinging damsel who betrayed her father for the love of the hero; instead she's a no-nonsense, tough woman who has no time being kept in that role. And the villains seem to be just playing their their required part even though they're not really happy about it.

The Left Bank Gang, on the other hand, starts off in a straightforward method but then when the heist starts splits in over half a dozen viewpoints of the events where no one has the whole story. Suddenly there's seven interwoven narratives being told one at a time and each one reveals just a little bit more. They're all complete from their own perspectives but the they make up something greater when combined. Jason is masterful in his use of this technique and it made the last half of The Left Bank Gang extremely engaging.

I also had a lot of fun with the reimagining of early twentieth century authors into comic book artists. The humorous parts of the book tie into that theme. If you have a broad familiarity with their lives then it adds an extra layer to the story.

The best word I can describe the art with is rigid. Every character is stiff as a board with limited movement. Every page is a nine panel grid. Everything is hard edged. These are not beautiful looking books but the artwork serves its purpose.

One of the things that I like the most about my hobby is that every so often I find some writer who is so intriguing that I want to read more from them. I had never read anything by Jason before these books and now I want to read a lot more of his books. They're entertaining and charming and that's more than enough reason for me to recommend them.