The Adventures of Blake & Mortimer: The Mystery of the Great Pyramid part 1 – The Papyrus of Manethon


By Edgar P. Jacobs, translated by Clarence E. Holland (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-37-3

Brussels-born Edgar P. Jacobs was a prodigy who drew from an early age and was besotted by music and the performing arts – especially opera. Upon graduation from commercial school in 1919, he promptly rejected safe, steady office work and instead avidly pursued his artistic passions…

A succession of odd jobs at opera-houses (everything from scene-painting to set decoration and even performing as both an acting and singing extra) supplemented private performance studies, and in 1929 Jacobs won an award from the Government for classical singing.

His dream of operatic glory was crushed by the Great Depression, and when arts funding dried up following the global stock market crash he was forced to pick up whatever dramatic work was going, although this did include more singing and performing. He moved into illustration in 1940, with regular work for Bravo magazine and some jobs for short stories and novels and, when the occupying Nazi authorities in Belgium banned Alex Raymond’s quintessentially All-American Hero Flash Gordon, Jacobs famously took over the syndicated strip to complete the saga.

His ‘Stormer Gordon’ lasted less than a month before being similarly embargoed by the Occupation dictators, after which the man of many talents simply created his own epic science-fantasy feature in the legendary Le Rayon U, a milestone in both Belgian comics and science fiction adventure.

During this period Jacobs and Tintin creator Hergé got together, and whilst creating the weekly U Ray strip the younger man began assisting on Tintin, colouring the original black and white strips from The Shooting Star (originally run in newspaper Le Soir) for an upcoming album collection.

By 1944 Jacobs was performing similar duties on Tintin in the Congo, Tintin in America, King Ottokar’s Sceptre and The Blue Lotus. He was contributing to the drawing too, working on the extended epic The Seven Crystal Balls/Prisoners of the Sun.

Following the Liberation, publisher Raymond Leblanc convinced Hergé, Jacobs and a few other comicstrip masters to work for his bold new venture. Founding publishing house Le Lombard, Leblanc also launched Le Journal de Tintin, an anthology comic with editions in Belgium, France and Holland. It was edited by Herge and would star the already legendary intrepid boy reporter plus a host of new heroes and features.

Beside Hergé, Jacobs and writer Jacques van Melkebeke, Le Journal de Tintin featured Paul Cuvelier’s Corentin and Jacques Laudy’s The Legend of the Four Aymon Brothers.

Laudy had been a friend of Jacobs’ since their time together on Bravo, and the epic thriller serial ‘Le secret de l’Espadon’ starred Captain Francis Blake: an English Military Intelligence officer closely modelled on him. The debonair spy was to be partnered with a bluff, gruff excitable British boffin – Professor Philip Mortimer

The serial ran from issue #1 (26th September 1946 to September 8th 1949) and cemented Jacobs’ status as a star in his own right. In 1950, with the first 18 pages slightly redrawn, The Secret of the Swordfish became Le Lombard’s very first album release with the concluding part published three years later. The volumes were reprinted nine more times between 1955 and 1982, supplemented in 1964 by a single omnibus edition.

In 1984 the saga was repackaged for English translation as three volumes during a push to win some of Britain’s huge Tintin and Asterix market, but failed to find an audience. The venture ended after seven magnificent, under-appreciated volumes.

Cinebook have had far more success publishing Blake and Mortimer since 2007 and recently completed a triptych of the very first adventure…

Chronologically, the next epic was this eerily exotic thriller which originally ran in Tintin as Le Mystère de la Grande Pyramide from March 23rd 1950 to February 21st 1951.

These are the second and third volumes of the current Cinebook series and pick up the ongoing adventures in the months following the defeat of Tibetan warlord Basam-Damdu and liberation of the planet from his monomaniacal tyranny…

The Mystery of the Great Pyramid, part 1 opens with the author’s fascinating and pertinent feature on everything Ancient Egyptian – complete with extremely handy maps and plans – before the story proper begins with fretful Professor Philip Mortimer taking some time off to pursue his occasional hobby.

A keen amateur archaeologist, the boffin has flown to Cairo with devoted assistant Nasir for a holiday and to help Egyptologist Ahmed Rassim Bey translate an astounding new find. However as they debark at the airport, the vigilant Indian thinks he spots an old enemy…

When no sign can be found the travellers move on, and the following morning Mortimer is examining some fragile scraps of papyrus attributed to legendary contemporary archivist Manethon. The ancient priest’s writings indicate that a secret treasure is hidden beneath a certain pyramid in a “Chamber of Horus”…

Cautious of the effect of such a sensationalistic discovery, the scientists decide to proceed carefully, blithely unaware that trusted assistant Abdul Ben Zaim is in the employ of a cruel and dangerous enemy…

Even after an evening of socialising the learned men are keen to get to work. Returning late to the laboratory of the Egyptian Museum they discover Abdul furtively loitering and Mortimer’s suspicions are aroused. When nobody is watching, the physicist craftily secures a portion of the papyrus and talks Ahmed into conducting a clandestine test…

Abdul is indeed playing a double game and his mysterious master is a man both subtle and exceedingly dangerous.

That night the leader tries to steal the documents but is surprised by Mortimer who has anticipated such a move. The canny scientist is just as surprised when the villain is revealed as Colonel Olrik.

The wily war criminal has been missing since the fall of warlord Basam-Damdu but has lost none of his lethal skills. Overpowering Mortimer, the rogue escapes, taking with him the last shred of papyrus the Professor had been holding…

In his lair, Olrik presses Abdul, who hastily translates the assembled fragments and declares the Chamber of Horus must be in the Great Sphinx on the Giza Plateau…

Under constant surveillance by Olrik’s gang, Mortimer and Nasir warily go about their business, hoping to lure the mastermind out of hiding. Meanwhile Abdul, believing himself undiscovered, returns to work at the museum, where flashy German Egyptologist Herr Doktor Grossgrabenstein is loudly informing everyone of his latest search for the tomb of Tanitkara.

The bombastic treasure-hunter invites Mortimer to visit him and view his unique collection but the boffin is too absorbed with shadowing Abdul – a task made far harder by the inept assistance of the local police.

When a lucky clue leads the resolute researcher to an antique store, Olrik’s scurrilous henchman Basendjas ambushes and imprisons Mortimer in the basement, but after a tremendous, extended battle the doughty doctor breaks free and calls in the cops.

Sadly, even on the defensive, Olrik is formidable and fights free of the encroaching authorities before vanishing into the warrens of the city…

After Abdul is killed by a hit-and-run driver the effusive Doktor Grossgrabenstein is present when Mortimer admits defeat and calls in a seasoned professional…

In London, Captain Francis Blake receives a cablegram and takes a leave from desk duty at security organisation I5. The Scotland Yard department is already investigating a surge of criminal activity in Northeast Africa and is happy to have their top man take a personal interest.

Blake heads out to Egypt by devious and complex means but, despite his circuitous route and customary caution, does not make it. Mortimer becomes increasingly impatient as he awaits the espionage expert’s arrival and to kill time finally accedes to his German colleague’s repeated requests to visit his dig at Giza.

When he arrives Mortimer finds bullying foreman Sharkey whipping native workers and is just in time to thrash the brute as he tries to attack an old Holy Man who has objected…

The enraged thug pulls a gun but is admonished by Grossgrabenstein, who then reluctantly allows the Professor to inspect the recently cleared chambers below the pyramid.

As Mortimer climbs back to the surface, a hasty, anonymous cry alerts him and he narrowly dodges a huge rock which crashes into the space where he stood. The area it stone fell from is empty and nobody recognises the voice which called out…

Making his way back to his hotel the weary scientist is then crushed to receive news that his best friend has been shot to death in a phone booth at Athens airport…

Bitter and enraged, Mortimer swears to make Olrik pay…

To Be Concluded…

Beguiling, suspenseful and fantastic in the grandest tradition of epic intrigue, The Adventures of Blake & Mortimer is the very epitome of dogged heroic determination; delivering splendid Blood-&-Thunder thrills and spills in timeless fashion and with breathtaking visual punch. Every kid of any age able to suspend modern mores and cultural disbelief (call it alternate earth history or bakelite-punk if you want) can’t help but revel in the adventure of their lives… and so will you.

Original editions © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud – Lombard s.a.). © 1986 by E.P. Jacobs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2007 Cinebook Ltd.