Spirou & Fantasio volume 10: Virus


By Tome & Janry, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-297-3

Spirou (which translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language) was created by French cartoonist François Robert Velter under his nom-de-plume Rob-Vel. The inspirational invention at the request of Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis in direct response to the phenomenal success of Hergé’s Tintin for competing outfit Casterman.

Not long after, soon-to-be legendary weekly comic Spirou launched (on April 21st 1938) with Rob-Vel’s red-headed rascal as the lead of the anthology which bears his name to this day.

The eponymous star was originally a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a wry reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with pet squirrel Spip gradually grew into high-flying, far-reaching and surreal action-comedy dramas.

Spirou and his chums have spearheaded the magazine for most of its life, with a phalanx of truly impressive creators carrying on Velter’s work, beginning with his wife Blanche “Davine” Dumoulin who took over the strip when her husband enlisted in 1939. She was assisted by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943 when Dupuis purchased all rights to the property, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took the helm.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant André Franquin assumed the creative reins, gradually sidelining the long-established brief, complete gag-vignettes in favour of epic adventure serials, introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars and eventually creating phenomenally popular magic animal the Marsupilami to the mix.

Franquin continued crafting increasingly fantastic Spirou sagas until his abrupt resignation in 1969 and his tenure is remembered for the wealth of weird and wonderful players and villains he added to the cast. As well as comrade, rival and co-star Fantasio and perennial exotic arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Fantasio’s unsavoury cousin Zantafio, a particular useful favourite was crackpot inventor and modern-day Merlin of mushroom mechanics Pacôme Hégésippe Adélard Ladislas, the Count of Champignac (and sly tribute to an immortal be-whiskered druid dubbed Getafix…)

Franquin was succeeded by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of nine stirring yarns tapping into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times: tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

However, by the 1980s the series was looking a tad outdated and directionless. Three different creative teams then alternated on the feature, until it was at last revitalised by Philippe Vandevelde – writing as Tome – and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry, who adapted, referenced and in all the best ways returned to the beloved Franquin era.

Their sterling efforts began with the tale under review here and quickly revived the floundering feature’s fortunes. They contributed thirteen more wonderful albums to the canon between 1984 and 1998, and allowed the venerable strip to diversify into parallel strands (Spirou’s Childhood/Little Spirou and guest-creator specials A Spirou Story By…).

Tome & Janry were followed on the core feature by Jean-David Morvan & José-Luis Munuera, and in 2010 Yoann & Vehlmann took over the never-ending procession of astounding escapades…

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou & Fantasio’s exploits since 2009, alternating between Tome & Janry’s superb reinterpretations of Franquin and earlier triumphs by the great man himself. This tenth release is officially the cartoon crimebusters’ 33rd collected caper.

Originally serialised in Spirou #2305-2321 in 1982 and subsequently released as an album in 1984, this epic episode begins as a shady figure cases an icebreaker just back from the Antarctic. For some reason the HK Glacier has been placed in stringent quarantine and the observer – soon revealed as enquiring reporter Fantasio – discovers why as he trips over a very sick-looking mariner sneaking off the vessel.

It is old enemy and unscrupulous pirate John Helena – AKA “the Moray” – and he has been infected with a highly contagious disease…

In fact, it’s so virulent anyone in close proximity suffers from allergic attacks, even without contracting the primary sickness…

Knowing he’s on to something big, Fantasio rings partner-in-peril Spirou and has his comrade bring down a van to sneak Helena through the cordon of armed government troops. Safely ensconced in a chapel, the Moray tells them of Isola Red, a top-secret lab in the polar wastes where scientists are working with thousands of different viruses and exactly how he got infected with one of them. He completes his tale of woe by demanding that they take him to Count Champignac – the only man alive who can save him… and the world…

The fungal phenomenon is naturally up to the task but his proposed remedy is both complex and risky and involves the dauntless duo infiltrating Isola Red to use the cached toxins there as part of the cure. What the valiant adventurers don’t know is that the chateau is already under covert observation by a thoroughly shady-looking third-party…

Moreover and meanwhile, in a prestigious government building the mastermind behind everything is dispatching his own clean-up team to make the growing problem go away entirely…

Soon Spirou and Fantasio – with the rapidly declining Helena in tow in a hazmat suit – are touching down at Russian base Mirnov-Skaya. Spip is with them but also has to wear an isolation outfit since the vindictive little tyke couldn’t resist taking a bit of the Moray…

The camp is the last official outpost of civilisation and its gregarious commander Captain Sergeiev is delighted to offer every assistance to reach the secret base somewhere deep in the icy interior. After all, the polar explorer is an old friend of the well-travelled inventor Count Champignac…

After a few embarrassing moments of hilarity, the heroes set off as an official rescue party in borrowed snow-cats, with the camp doctor Placebov, hulking guide/driver Nadia Tovarich and even Sergeiev’s action-loving pet seal Vasily along for the ride. The desperate first-responders are sadly unaware that their unknown adversary’s money has bought a traitor who now rides along with them…

Things seem completely hopeless when the mastermind’s clean-up squad explosively ambush the convoy but the killers too are in the dark: they have been followed by yet another interested party…

Although the assassins are soon driven off, it seems they have done enough: the partial cure Spirou was carrying is wrecked and Helena’s suit is breached. They are all now probably exposed to the virus’s full effects…

Back in Europe, Champignac has been making some waves and his efforts, combined with certain journalistic endeavours, have brought low the hidden mastermind and a government official running a clandestine biological weapons plant at the bottom of the world. With the news still breaking, the Count, a military taskforce and a horde of reporters all set off for Antarctica…

In the meantime the doomed heroes have pushed on to Isola Red, in a hopeless attempt to find some miracle cure. What they encounter is truly shocking but does point the way to a solution to all their problems.

Unless of course, the freshly-reinforced mercenary clean-up squad kills them all first…

Blending rambunctious slapstick, riotous chases and gallons of gags with thrills, spills and – wait for it – chills; this is a terrific tale packed with laughs and superb action, deftly wielding a potently satirical anti-war, anti-capitalist message.

Fast-paced and exuberant, Virus is a joyous yet suspenseful romp happily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan. Catch it if you can…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1984 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2016 © Cinebook Ltd.