By Roger Leloup (Cinebook)
The uncannily edgy yet excessively accessible European exploits of Japanese scientific adventurer Yoko Tsuno began first began gracing the pages of Spirou in September 1970 and are still going strong.
The explosive, eye-popping, expansively globe-girdling multi-award winning series was devised by Roger Leloup, another hugely talented Belgian who worked as one of Herge’s assistants on the Adventures of Tintin strip before striking out on his own.
Compellingly told, superbly imaginative but always solidly placed in hyper-realistic settings sporting utterly authentic and unshakably believable technology, these illustrated epics were at the vanguard of a wave of strips starring smart, competent and brave female protagonists which revolutionised Continental comics from the last third of the 20th century onwards and are as potently empowering now as they ever were.
The initial Spirou stories ‘Hold-up en hi-fi’, ‘La belle et la bête’ and ‘Cap 351’ were short introductory vignettes before the formidable Miss Tsuno and her always awestruck and overwhelmed male comrades truly hit their stride with premier extended saga Le trio de l’étrange which began serialisation with the May 13th 1971 issue.
That epic of extraterrestrial intrigue was the first of 26 European albums, and this one was first serialised in 1973 (Spirou #1819-1840) and released the same year as La forge de Vulcain. A spectacular earth-shaking rollercoaster romp, it was chronologically the third album and reaches us as Cinebook’s ninth translated chronicle.
It all begins when Yoko spots a TV report of a disaster on an oil rig near Martinique and realises the drill has impacted and penetrated the same strange material – “vitreous, luminous and ultra-magnetic” – that was a basic building material of the subterranean aliens known as the Vineans…
Those ancient wanderers had been secretly hibernating deep within the earth for hundreds of thousands of years until she and her new comrades (freelance TV producer Vic Van Steen and his frivolous cameraman pal Pol Paris) encountered them and set the lost race on a new path…
Now the Vineans seem to be at the heart of a burgeoning ecological catastrophe of cataclysmic proportions, and none too soon Yoko and the lads are winging their way to the Caribbean. Upon landing they waste no time in bluffing their way into the offices of oil company Forex, aided by a few mementoes of their under-earth adventure.
They are, however, about to be unceremoniously ejected when news comes that the soon-to-explode rig has encountered a new problem: a strange craft, unlike any ever seen, is trapped in the rig’s legs even as inexplicable seismic distortions are propagating, creating an area of meteorological instability.
Yoko desperately tries to convince the manager that she has prior experience in matters like these and is promptly jetting over in a helicopter. Of course, she had to stow away first…
Before long she is valiantly prying a live Vinean and his scout vessel out of a boiling gusher of mud and has discerned the true scale of the threat. The rig’s drill has intercepted a Vinean magma tunnel – used in their construction projects – which has strayed too close to the oil field and triggered a potential geological time-bomb…
Thankfully the crisis has brought forth an unexpected benefit too as old friend and benevolent alien scientist Khany arrives to take charge.
The forthright technologist already has a plan but needs her old surface allies’ assistance to carry it out. Soon Yoko, Pol and Vic are abandoning the incredulous rig engineers and heading back under earth where an unpleasant surprise is awaiting them.
The Vineans had slept in huge, manufactured caverns for almost half a million years, but since recently reviving, internecine strife has entered the lives of the blue-skinned colonist/refugees.
In The Curious Trio, ambitious militaristic throwback Karpan made a play to seize power from the vast electronic complex known as The Centre which regulated the lives of the colonists but he was ultimately frustrated by Khany and her newfound surface pals.
Now though – thanks to humanity’s underground atomic testing – the blustering bully has returned to prominence amongst his terrified people and undertaken a dangerous scheme to destroy Earth’s civilisation and conquer the survivors.
Subverting a plan to divert magma and grow a new continent for the Vineans to occupy, Karpan wants to use the colossal magma-shifting technology to drown the surface world and conquer the survivors…
Khany and her followers were already attempting to scuttle the scheme but now that grim fortune and the humans’ drill has damaged the vast, super-engineered magma-tubes, a drastic solution is necessary to save the planet both species occupy from exploding like a cosmic firecracker…
Naturally Yoko has a plan, but this one depends as much on luck as her scientific ingenuity and martial arts prowess as she tries to mould lava like plasticine and thwart Karpan’s globally suicidal schemes…
As always the most potent asset of these breathtaking dramas is the astonishingly authentic and staggeringly detailed draughtsmanship, which benefits from Leloup’s diligent research and meticulous attention to detail, honed through years of working on Tintin.
Possible the most frenetic and visually spectacular of all her adventures, The Forge of Vulcan is a relentless, rocket-paced race to doom or salvation that will appeal to any fan of blockbuster action fantasy.
Original edition © Dupuis, 1973, 1979 by Roger Leloup. All rights reserved. English translation 2014 © Cinebook Ltd.