XIII volume 3: All the Tears of Hell


By William Vance & Jean Van Hamme, coloured by Petra (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-051-1

One of the most consistently entertaining and popular adventure serials on the European scene, XIII was created by author 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 is one of the most prolific writers in comics. After pursuing business studies he moved into journalism and marketing before selling his first graphic tale in 1968. Immediately clicking with the public, by 1976 he had also branched out into prose novels and screenwriting. His big break was monumentally successful mixed-genre fantasy series Thorgal for Tintin magazine but he truly 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 between the seemingly unassailable Hergé and Uderzo.

William Vance is the bande dessinée nom de plume of William van Cutsem. He was born in 1935 in Anderlecht and, after military service in 1955-1956, studied art at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts. He 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 maritime adventure 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 broadly and constantly on serials and stand-alone stories, Vance’s signature achievement is his lengthy collaboration with fellow Belgian Van Hamme on this contemporary thriller loosely based on Robert Ludlum’s novel The Bourne Identity

XIII premiered in 1984, originally running in 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 find an audience for the epic mystery thriller.

The grand conspiracy saga of unrelenting mood, mystery and mayhem opened in The Day of the Black Sun when an old beachcomber found a body. The human flotsam had been shot in the head and was near death when old Abe’s wife examined the near-corpse. She discovered a key sewn into his clothes and the Roman numerals for thirteen tattooed on the victim’s neck. Their remote hideaway offered little in the way of emergency services, but their alcoholic, struck-off surgeon friend was able to save the stranger…

As he recuperated a complication became apparent. The patient – a splendid physical specimen clearly no stranger to action or violence – had suffered massive 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 hints of the intruder’s lost past explosively intruded when hitmen invaded the beach house with guns blazing. Alan lethally retaliated with terrifying skill, but too late…

In the aftermath he found a photo of himself and a young woman on the killers and 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 a crooked cop who recognised the amnesiac but said nothing…

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

He was then ambushed by the cop and newspaper editor Wayne. Calling him “Shelton” they demanded the return of a large amount of missing 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 his captors examined the briefcase in Shelton’s box a booby trap went off. Instantly acting, 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…

As he prepared to leave he stumbled into a mob of armed killers. In a blur of lethal action he escaped and ran into another gang led by a Colonel Amos. This chilling executive referred to his captive as “Thirteen”, claiming to have dealt with his predecessors XI and XII in regard to the “Black Sun” case…

Amos 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, clearly showing the lone gunman was XIII…

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

The fugitive headed back to the beach where he was found but 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…

His journey of discovery took him to the army base where Kim Rowland’s husband was stationed. His enquiries provoked an unexpected and violent response resulting in his interrogation by General Ben Carrington and his sexily capable aide Lieutenant Jones.

They’re from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, know an awful lot about black ops units and have proof that their memory-challenged prisoner is in fact their agent: believed-deceased Captain Steve Rowland

After testing the amnesiac’s abilities Carrington then drops him off in Rowland’s home town of Southberg to pursue his search for his missing wife, but the prodigal’s return to his rat’s nest of a family rekindles long-simmering passions and jealousies. The entire town seems to want Rowland’s blood and before long he’s been made the target of an assassination attempt and victim of a diabolical murder-plot…

Despite Carrington and Jones’ last-minute intervention Alan/Steve is framed for murdering his father and grabbed by a furious posse…

This third gripping instalment (originally seen in Europe as Toutes Les larmes de l’enfer in 1986) opens with Steve Rowland undergoing the worst kind of psychiatric care at the Plain Rock Penitentiary for the Criminally Insane. Despite drugs and shock treatments, his progress at the Maximum Security Facility is negligible. Young Dr. Ralph Berger seems amenable enough but all elderly martinet Dr. Johansson’s claims to be seeking a cure for his patient’s amnesia are clearly no more than a proselytising, judgemental sadist’s justifications for inflicting pain…

Meanwhile in Washington DC, Carrington and Jones have met with Colonel Amos who has a strange request and troubling new information. His investigations have revealed that the amnesiac in the desert hell of Plain Rock has undergone plastic surgery and his army records have been altered. Steve Rowland is definitely not Steve Rowland…

Moreover, Amos has information proving that the plotters who had the President killed are still active and their amnesiac assassin is the only link and hope of finding them. Acting on her own initiative, Jones decides it’s time she took a hands-on approach to the problem…

Meanwhile, anxious and isolated Not-Rowland has a visitor who galvanises him out of his electro-chemically induced fugue-state as the Mongoose gloatingly pops in to inform the prisoner that his days are numbered…

Deep within the corridors of power, Colonel Amos informs Carrington that his further investigations have resulted in a name. He has solved the mystery of XIII and the man they are actually dealing with is former soldier and intelligence operative Ross Tanner.

Probably…

Knowing his time is limited, Rowland/Tanner opts for escape and decides to take along the kid who shares his cell. It’s as if he’s forgotten they’re in a maximum security facility for criminal maniacs, but he’s painfully reminded of the fact when sweet little Billy starts killing again as soon as they’re clear of the detention wing…

Recaptured and restricted to the medical section, XIII is helpless when the Mongoose’s inside man makes his move. Luckily Jones has also inserted herself in a position where she can do the most good…

Spectacularly busting out of the prison, “Rowland” and the mystery-woman then race into the desert, somehow avoiding a massive manhunt before vanishing without trace. Some time later Amos and Carrington confer over the disappearance, but one of them knows exactly where the fugitive is.

Now, with another new name, the warrior without a past and his new powerful allies lay plans to take the fight to their secret enemy…

To Be Continued…

XIII is one most compelling and convoluted mystery adventures ever conceived, with subsequent instalments constantly taking the questing human enigma two steps forward, one step back, stumbling through a world of pain and peril whilst 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), 1986 by Van Hamme, Vance & Petra. All rights reserved. This edition published 2010 by Cinebook Ltd.