Review by Frank Plowright
There’s a major surprise right there on the cover. Having illustrated the previous sixteen books, William Vance’s name is absent. Don’t worry, he’s back for the finale in The Last Round, which was released simultaneously in the original French, but before that there’s the definitive solution to XIII’s identity to be revealed, and the artist attached to that is Jean Giraud. Before creating his Moebius alias in the 1970s, Giraud had a long career in French adventure strips behind him, and never stopped drawing the Western Blueberry, even writing Marshall Blueberry for Vance to illustrate. The Irish Version was the final book he’d draw as Giraud.
Writer Jean Van Hamme has pulled a fast one here, having diverted us with a hunt for gold over the previous two books. That concluded in Maximilian’s Gold and he now drops us into the past, into Northern Ireland during the 1980s, back when it was a country riven by sectarian conflict, and when bombs could detonate anywhere. When translated into English a greater sensitivity is required than was necessary for the original French publication, and Van Hamme provides an introduction detailing the complex and contentious history of Northern Ireland.
At the point of the original French publication European readers had waited over twenty years for the final revelation about just who XIII is, and Van Hamme doesn’t disappoint with this excellent pulling together of everything dropped into the preceding books. All the false clues, the hints and the deceptions are laid bare as we see exactly how XIII came to be known under assorted identities. It’s breathtakingly executed, with Van Hamme not neglecting any of his previous red herrings.
That’s achievement enough, but Van Hamme also produces a thrilling adventure to accompany the revelations. We know how some aspects will play out, but his skill in weaving other events around them ensures a compelling read.
Giraud is equally impressive. While his Moebius style is relatively familiar to English speaking readers, very little of his work as Giraud has been translated, and that’s often in publications suffering form poor production values. He’s true to Vance’s established style, down to the delicacy of his inked lines. The wealth of well-depicted small details emphasising life as we know it is particularly impressive for a man known more for abstractions.
The only shame of The Irish Version is that the full emphasis of Van Hamme’s plotting dexterity is only apparent to those who’ve read up to this point, following XIII through his various identities. Anyone picking this up in isolation is going to read a decent adventure story, but no more.