XIII volume 2: Where the Indian Walks


By William Vance & Jean Van Hamme, coloured by Petra (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-040-5

One of the most consistently entertaining and popular adventure serials in Europe, XIII was created by Jean Van Hamme (Wayne Shelton, Blake and Mortimer, Lady S.) and illustrator William Vance (Bruce J. Hawker, Marshal Blueberry, Ramiro).

Van Hamme was born in Brussels in 1939 and after academically pursuing business studies moved into journalism and marketing before selling his first graphic tale in 1968. He is one of the most prolific writers in comics.

Immediately clicking with the public, by 1976 he had also branched out into prose novels and screenwriting. His big break was the monumentally successful fantasy series Thorgal for Tintin magazine but he cemented his reputation with mass-market bestsellers Largo Winch and XIII as well as more cerebral fare such as Chninkel and Les maîtres de l’orge. In 2010 Van Hamme was listed as the second-best selling comics author in France, ranked right between the seemingly unassailable Hergé and Uderzo.

Born in 1935 in Anderlecht, William Vance is the bande dessinée nom de plume of William van Cutsem. After military service in 1955-1956 he studied art at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts and promptly became an illustrator of biographic features for Tintin in 1962. His persuasive illustrative style is a classical blend of meticulous realism, scrupulous detail and spectacular yet understated action.

In 1964 he began the maritime serial Howard Flynn (written by Yves Duval) before graduating to more popular genre work with western Ray Ringo and espionage thriller Bruno Brazil (scripted by “Greg”). Further success followed when he replaced Gérald Forton on science fiction classic Bob Morane in Femmes d’Aujourd’hui, (and latterly Pilote and Tintin).

Although working constantly – on serials and stand-alone stories – Vance’s most acclaimed work is his lengthy collaboration with fellow Belgian Van Hamme on this contemporary thriller based on Robert Ludlum’s novel The Bourne Identity

XIII debuted in 1984, originally running in prestigious Spirou to great acclaim. A triad of albums were rushed out – simultaneously printed in French and Dutch editions – before the first year of serialisation ended.

The series was a monumental hit in Europe but has fared less well in its many attempts to make the translation jump to English, with Catalan Communications, Alias Comics and even Marvel all failing to maximise the potential of the gritty mystery thriller.

The epic conspiracy saga of unrelenting mood, mystery and mayhem began in The Day of the Black Sun when an old man came upon a body shot and near death on a windswept, rocky shore. The human flotsam was still alive despite being shot in the head, and when Abe’s wife Sally examined the near-corpse she found a key sewn into his clothes and the Roman numerals for thirteen tattooed on his neck. Their remote hideaway offered little in the way of emergency services, but alcoholic, struck-off surgeon Martha was able to save the dying stranger…

As he recuperated a complication became apparent. The patient – a splendid physical specimen clearly no stranger to action or violence – had suffered massive, probably irreversible brain trauma, and although increasingly sound in body had completely lost his mind.

Language skills, muscle memories, even social and reflexive conditioning all remained, but every detail of his life-history was gone…

Abe and Sally named him “Alan” after their own dead son – but the intruder’s lost past explosively intruded when hitmen invaded the beach house with guns blazing. Alan reacted with terrifying skill, lethally retaliating, but too late to save anybody but himself and Martha…

In the aftermath he took a photo of himself and a young woman from one of the killers and, with Martha’s help, traced it to nearby Eastown. Desperate for answers and certain more killers were coming, the human question mark headed off to confront unimaginable danger and hopefully find the answers he craved.

The picture led to a local newspaper, and the attention of crooked cop Lieutenant Hemmings who recognised the amnesiac but said nothing…

The woman in the photo was Kim Rowland, a local widow who had recently gone missing. Alan’s key opened the door of her house. The place had been ransacked but a more thorough search utilising his forgotten talents turned up another key and a note warning someone named “Jake” that “The Mongoose” had found her and she was going to disappear…

He was then ambushed by the cop and newspaper editor Wayne. They called him “Shelton” and demanded the return of a large amount of money…

Alan/Jake/Shelton reasoned the new key fitted a safe-deposit box and bluffed the thugs into taking him to the biggest bank in town. The staff there also knew him as Shelton, but when Hemmings and Wayne examined the briefcase in Shelton’s box a booby trap went off. Instantly acting upon the unexpected distraction, the mystery man expertly escaped and eluded capture, holing up in a shabby hotel room, pondering again what kind of man he used to be…

Preferring motion to inactivity, he prepared to leave and stumbled into a mob of armed killers. In a blur of lethal action he escaped and ran into another group led by a man addressed as Colonel Amos. The chilling executive referred to his captive as “Thirteen” and claimed to have dealt with his predecessors XI and XII on something called the “Black Sun” case…

The Colonel very much wanted to know who Alan was, and offered some shocking titbits in return. The most sensational was film of the recent assassination of the American President which clearly showed the lone gunman to be none other than the aghast Thirteen…

Despite the amnesiac’s heartfelt conviction that he was no assassin, Amos accused him of working for a criminal mastermind. The Colonel wanted the boss but failed to take Alan’s forgotten instinctive abilities into account and was astounded when his prisoner leapt out of a fourth floor window…

The frantic fugitive headed for the only refuge he knew, but by the time he reached Martha’s beachside house trouble had beaten him there. More murderers awaited; led by a mild-seeming man Alan inexplicably knew was The Mongoose. The mastermind expressed surprise and admiration: he thought he’d killed Thirteen months ago…

Following an explosion of hyper-fast violence which left the henchmen dead and Mongoose vanished but vengeful, the mystery man regretfully hopped a freight train west towards the next stage in his quest for truth…

The bewildering journey resumes in Where the Indian Walks (originally collected in Europe as Là où va l’indien in 1984) as the enigma’s search for Kim Rowland brings him to a military base where her dead husband was once stationed. His enquiries provoke an unexpected response and it takes a whole platoon to subdue him after Alan instinctively resists arrest with horrific force. Soon he is being interrogated by General Ben Carrington and his sexily capable aide Lieutenant Jones.

They claim to be from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, know an awful lot about black ops units and – eventually – offer incontrovertibly proof that the memory-challenged prisoner is in fact the deceased Captain Steve Rowland and one of their select number…

Soon after, Carrington has Jones test the returned prodigal’s trained combat abilities and once Steve beats her is made a strange offer…

The military spooks drop him off in his – Rowland’s? – home town of Southberg and clandestinely return him to his rat’s nest of a family just in time for the vultures to begin circling the dying body of paralysed patriarch Matt Rowland. Steve’s wheelchair-bound dad still exerts an uncanny and malign grip over the town, the local farmers and his own grasping, ambitious relatives. The surprise reappearance of another potential heir really sets the cat among the pigeons…

The sheer hostility of the avaricious relatives isn’t his problem, however: before Steve Rowland left town for the army he pretty much made enemies of everybody in it and even the sheriff has happily harboured a grudge all these years…

One who hasn’t is storekeeper Old Joe who shows the amnesiac some home movies that give the obsessed Thirteen the most solid clue yet to his quarry…

So stunned by the possibilities is Alan/Steve that he’s completely unprepared for the brutal murder attempt which follows. Luckily the sheriff is on hand to stop it but when the bruised and battered truth-seeker arrives back at the family mansion, Colonel Amos is waiting, applying more pressure to find the mastermind behind the President’s assassination. This time however it’s Kim he wants to question… as soon as Steve finds her…

The Forgetting Man ignores all distractions; using the scant, amassed film and photo evidence to narrow down the location of a cabin by a lake “where the Indian walks”. It has to be where Kim is hiding…

That single-mindedness almost proves his undoing as the crippled patriarch is murdered and his recently returned son superbly framed for the killing…

With Thirteen again the subject of a furious manhunt, Carrington and Jones suddenly reappear and help him reach the cabin, but when he finally confronts Kim, the anguished amnesic receives the shock of his life… just before the posse bursts in…

To Be Continued…

XIII is one most compelling and convoluted mystery adventures ever conceived, with subsequent instalments constantly taking the questing Thirteen two steps forward, one step back as he encounters a world of pain and peril whilst tracking down the and cutting through an interminable web of past lives he seemingly led…

Fast-paced, clever and immensely inventive, XIII is a series no devotee of mystery and murder will want to miss.
Original edition © Dargaud Benelux (Dargaud-Lombard SA), 1984 by Van Hamme, Vance & Petra. All rights reserved. This edition published 2010 by Cinebook Ltd.

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