Michel Vaillant: Legendary Races – In the Hell of Indianapolis

Michel Vaillant: Legendary Races – In the Hell of Indianapolis
Michel Vaillant Legendary Races In the Hell of Indianaplis review
  • UK publisher / ISBN: Cinebook - 978-1-80044-114-9
  • Volume No.: 1
  • Release date: 2022
  • English language release date: 2023
  • UPC: 9781800441149
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no
  • CATEGORIES: Crime, European, Sport

Michel Vaillant is a French comics legend, first appearing in 1957, and the star of over eighty albums even before considering assorted spin-offs over the years, yet In the Hell of Indianapolis is his first English translation. That being the case, there’s some interesting distancing over the first few pages. European readers will instantly recognise which of the two featured drivers is Vaillant, but new readers won’t know whether he’s the blonde guy or the dark haired guy until he’s named on page eight. Just to give you a head start, he’s the dark haired guy and his companion is Steve Warson, also introduced in 1957 and less straight laced.

Denis Lapière has been co-writing Vaillant’s adventures since the series was rebooted in 2012, and continues the realism series creator Jean Graton featured when he had Vaillant competing in formula one races with references made to actual drivers. This period drama series takes that one step further by having Vaillant compete in historically important races. That would have been the case for the 1966 Indianopolis 500 anyway as it was the 50th anniversary, but it proved among the most incident-packed in the race’s history, and is still debated today.

Those only knowing the Indianapolis 500 is an annual long race around an oval track will be surprised to learn there’s almost a month of lead-up, qualification and practice events preceding the race itself. A timeline is followed as Lapière inserts Vaillant and Warson into events on the racetrack while becoming involved in a crime mystery off it. That begins when they prevent the abduction of a young woman by a pair of heavies, while readers are shown she’s not as innocent as she appears.

A lot of detail is supplied by Vincent Dutreuil’s artwork, with effort taken to ensure places, people and cars possess authenticity, while use of blurring and multiple speed lines gives the impression of speed as the cars race. For enthusiasts there’s no fudging with generic racing cars, as Dutreuil ensures different brands are identifiable, and extends that to street models. Despite that, the art is functional rather than attractive.

The blending of a mystery with sport is efficiently plotted in the manner of a 1970s American crime drama, seeming so similar you’d not be surprised to see Columbo or Starsky and Hutch turn up at the track. Like those dramas, though, there’s an emotional void, the feeling being of characters going through the motions, and Dutreuil’s way with people can make them seem wooden. The best moments are with the cars on the track, but the race doesn’t start until page 45.

Being able to sample a feature so popular in Europe is welcome, but The Hell of Indianapolis is functional rather than thrilling.