Review by Frank Plowright
This second continuation of Blake and Mortimer without the hand of series creator Edgar P. Jacobs is an astounding piece of work, all the more remarkable for it being the first serious script written by Yves Sente. He’d been an editor for almost ten years at Editions du Lombard, and in order that criticism wasn’t withheld on that basis, he submitted the script anonymously. It convinces in every respect, and provides a thrilling and unpredictable ride.
The events are set during the Cold War and the space race of the mid-1950s. MI5 are concerned to learn of the deaths of four top Soviet officials, explained by the Soviets as from natural causes. Readers are already aware of the probable cause, as the opening sequence detailed extra-terrestrial bacteria arriving on Earth via a failed rocket launch. Although under orders to destroy them, an ambitious KGB professor retains samples.
Francis Blake is aware of a double agent within the KGB, and when it becomes necessary for him to visit Moscow, Professor Mortimer’s attendance at an international scientific symposium provides the ideal cover. From there the plot runs through thrilling set pieces in varied settings, and Sente makes the interesting narrative choice to show how events are unfolding while Blake and Mortimer remain ignorant. He drops in several intelligent plot devices, not the least a method through which one important assassination fails, and the sharing of intelligence.
If there’s one slight problem it’s that Sente mimics Jacobs’ prolix style a little too closely, seemingly for the sake of authenticity rather than any pressing need.
Artist André Juillard’s career stretches back to the late 1970s, but very little of his work is available in English (although see The Blue Notebook and After the Rain). Much of it has been historical adventure, so he’s a man used to researching a period setting, and he’s actually a better artist than Jacobs, although sublimates his more open style to mimic the crowded world and density of panels per page that’s been established. In an interview at the rear of the book he notes how drawing in this fashion rectified what he perceived as a fundamental deficiency in his own art, and how Jacobs didn’t have a consistent look for Blake.
In interviews Sente has revealed several nice homages or incidental details he includes in his books, and this one includes the first time Paul McCartney set eyes on John Lennon! Hear him talk about Blake and Mortimer here. There’s also discussion of Hector Umbra.
Heretical as it may be considered, this is actually a better book than several produced by Jacobs.