Androids, Spatio-Temporal Agents and Sherlock Holmes’ little sister

Euro Comics Roundup has been around in one form or another since November 2010 when I debuted it under the cumbersome name “Euro Paeans” on Martin Skidmore’s FA Online publication. It moved from that home to a regular residence at Bookgasm, where it was reformed into a column and properly christened Euro Comics Roundup in July 2012. Which brings us here. Today. So let’s directly dive into a current batch of European comics:

IAN #1: AN ELECTRIC MONKEY (Cinebook, 2018)

IAN is a newly translated science-fiction series from Cinebook, written by Fabien Vehlmann and illustrated by Ralph Meyer. IAN is short for Intelligent Artificial Neuromechanoid, an android indistinguishable from humans who is capable of learning, adapting and feeling emotions. When Ian is placed into a special ops team of the SRS (Special Rescue Section), he quickly faces very human problems as some of the team is vocally unhappy with his presence…

That all sounds (and is) vaguely familiar, but I’ve been a long-time fan and promoter of Vehlmann’s ability to take just about any subject and make it work. Coming on the heels of Vehlmann’s magnificent Marquis of Anaon, Ian’s first volume, “An Electric Monkey,” is still something of a letdown. The story has a fine setup for the series, and the artwork is solid — occasionally quite wonderfully inspired even — all in a chunky quasi-realistic way. I’m placing some of the blame to the uninvolving translation, which makes the otherwise active book drag. I’ve not read the original, but even if the original had script issues, those can always be fixed in a considered translation. Just sayin’.

None of that diminishes my interest in Vehlmann’s work, or this series. I feel even weird making these comments! If I compare “An Electric Monkey” to most other similar books this is still a terrific, beautifully conceived entertainment with a big human heart. As a setup to a four part series, it delivers, and without going into spoiler territory, whatever small qualms I had with the book vanish with a hauntingly elegiac wrap-up. Definitely worth a look.

Keeping to the science fiction theme, Luc Besson’s take on Valerian came and went. It made some noise, but terrible casting choices and an underwhelming script sank its prospects despite some magnificent sequences. Yet what you need to remember is that the original books by Jean-Claude Mezieres and Pierre Christin are still here, and all the movie did was make them more visible. They’re exactly the same as they ever were: some of the greatest science fiction comic books of all time.

Which brings us to a new volume in the series, “Shingouzlooz, Inc,” yet this time from new creators, writer Wilfrid Lupano and artist Mathieu Lauffray. I approached the book with trepidation — it sat on my stack for a few weeks before I even cracked it open — but I needn’t have worried. It’s not a masterpiece, but I wasn’t expecting one. I was hoping for a solid adventure and I got more than that.

I’m not sure it matters that much what the plot is. It’s a wild and wooly space opera, full of action, some social commentary and plenty of humor. Just like the original series. And the plot is a knockout. I mean MUCH better than I’d hoped for. It’s clever, witty, human and makes sharp observations about human (and alien) foibles.

Now if the artwork was on the same level, we’d be talking shockingly good. And the artwork isn’t bad — much of it is stunning, and especially in depicting outer space vistas Lauffray shines. But, and this reminds me of the Besson movie — I found his depiction of both Valerian and Laureline disappointing. All of their character is there in the script, beautifully done, but the art doesn’t pull it off. We get weird squinty eyed and exaggerated expressions that do not transmit a sense of deep humanity that is always present in Jean-Claude Mezieres’ work.

So what we have is still a tremendously entertaining story. If you’re on the fence about reading VALERIAN: SHINGOUZLOOZ INC, jump on down and pick up a copy. It’s a worthy offshoot of the series, significantly better than I had expected or hoped for.

And finally, a new series from IDW’s EuroComics lineup. They’ve been balancing their stunning black and white comics history masterpieces with much smaller, vibrantly colorful books aimed for young girls, and ENOLA HOLMES: The Case of the Missing Marquess by Serena Blasco fits that bill impeccably well.

Featuring the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes, this is a lovely and witty period entertainment with a strong girl power message at its core. It’s terrific fun even to an older male reader like myself, with a clever mystery, engaging heroine, dastardly villains all depicted in lush watercolor art that all on its own makes this book a worthwhile purchase. It’s a no brainer buy for a younger audience, but a warning for any stuffy Sherlock Holmes fans: he is outwitted and mildly poked fun at throughout the book. Just as it should be.

If you enjoyed these reviews, why don’t you join up with our Facebook group and follow us on Twitter for additional content, updates, discussion and more.