Review by Frank Plowright
It certainly didn’t look good for Philip Mortimer at the end of part one. As rather given away on the cover to that book, he’d been cast adrift in the Aegean seas on an inflatable dinghy with no oars, supplies, or protection from the searing sun. In true arch-villain fashion, though, his foe Olrik had granted him just the slimmest possibility of survival. Suffice to say, in story terms at least, it’s rapidly resolved, and Blake and Mortimer are reunited, now aware their seemingly unconnected investigations are united. As cliffhangers go, it’s rather a cheat.
Thankfully Jean Van Hamme’s plot works its way rapidly back on track. The issue is to locate the thirty pieces of silver of the title, known to be concealed for almost two centuries on one of the many thousands of Greek islands. The question is “which?” The search is complicated by Blake only being able to call on limited resources from MI5 while in Greece, and by others wanting those thirty pieces of silver for their own nefarious purposes.
As a pinnacle of Franco-Belgian comics successive generations have grown up reading Blake and Mortimer, yet Van Hamme is also aware that the initial intent was to provide adventure stories for children, and that’s the level at which he pitches his plot. It’s educational, and spotting the clues an adult identifies immediately will be thrilling for younger readers. That’s not to relegate the book to children. Van Hamme’s plotting is to be admired as it twists and turns, the balance of power shifting, and he even manages a final homage to Edgar P. Jacobs with a mystical occurrence. Don’t read this when hungry, though, as the number of meals consumed by Blake and Mortimer will surely stimulate the appetite.
The intended artist of the opening portion, René Sterne, died while working on the book, and his partner and successor Chantal De Spiegeleer couldn’t be persuaded to repeat the extensive research and detail required to complete the story. Antoine Aubin therefore concludes the story, inked for the final half by Etienne Schréder. Aubin was a Disney artist, but adapts wonderfully to the different requirements, the necessity of sublimating his own style required by his previous employers standing him in good stead. Many individual panels are stunning, yet this is never at the cost of storytelling. He’d illustrate Blake and Mortimer again, working with Jean Dufaux on The Septimus Wave.
Rating Blake and Mortimer albums is a contentious business. For all the elements dating the books by series creator Jacobs, there are those who consider the presence of new material heretical. Remove those rose-coloured glasses, though, and the more recent material is superior in almost every respect while adhering to Jacobs’ formula. The two books supplying The Curse of the 30 Pieces of Silver in its entirety are excellent adventure comics.