The Friday Comics Review

I love European comics, but like most mono-lingual American fans, only for the pictures. And while the art and visual storytelling on display in most of them is enough to make the "read" worthwhile, it's still akin to watching a well-written Euro-film with no subs.

Fortunately, the graphic novel boom in the U.S. and elsewhere is encouraging some English-language publishers to translate some of the best comics series from Europe. Like the following two new releases:

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The Scorpion by Marini & Desberg (Cinebook, 96 pages, $19.95). This is a lovely and intelligent swashbuckler, set in 18th century Rome, about a graverobbing brigand who was born with the mark of the Devil-- a birthmark in the shape of a scorpion. The script by Stephen Desberg is fast-paced yet detailed, and is a notch or two above the typical cinematic historical dramas it resembles. But it's the artwork by comics vet Enrico Marini that makes The Scorpion such a memorable experience: besides his action-packed panels and expressive characters, Marini's lovely landscapes and masterful use of color and shadow create a long-ago world the equal of any movie epic.

And as you might expect from a European comics great, his women are truly fine!

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This first volume from Cinebook contains the first two chapters of the original five-part series. While it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, the story has enough of an ending so that I can wait for the next installment. I just hope the wait isn't too long.

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Gus & His Gang by Chris Blain (First Second, 164 pages, $16.95. A sweet, funny comic Western from France, with the accent more on horniness than law-breaking. Rubber-nosed Gus is supposedly the ladies man of the gang, but his other two companions, Clem and Gratt, always seem to do better. The picaresque plot follows the trio as they travel to El Dorado, a town with nothing but single females.

There's lots of cartoon antics and violence, mostly of the smile-inducing kind, as opposed to the laugh-out-loud variety. But Blain's script contains some sophisticated surprises not usually found in this kind of comic story (not the least of which is the abrupt disappearance of Gus halfway through!), and his art is a delight throughout.

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(Send Steve an email at couchpundit@yahoo.com.)

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