Review: BUT then this…. an appreciation of the cliched nature of Largo Winch
Jean Van Hamme & Philippe Francq
Largo Winch: “No family, no connections, anti-establishment, womanizer, wanderer, iconoclast and fighter. He inherits at age 26 the W Group, which is worth $10 billion.”
He may be seventh richest man in the world, the ‘billionaire in jeans‘, boss of the multi-national W Group, but even the unconventional and anti-establishment Largo Winch and his reputed $26 billion takes a hit in the financial crash.
You find out thanks to a very unconventional opening few pages of Cold Black Sea, first a full page 2008 memo from Largo to all members of the Winch Group, placing us squarely post financial crash, where it’s clear old Largo and his group have taken a nasty financial hit, although nowhere near the disaster other big corporations saw, thanks mostly to Winch doing thing his usual unconventional way. After that there’s chance to read a 3-page Newsweek article with Winch setting out just how unconventionally he dealt with things.
And yes, there are times when you read Largo Winch that the hitting us over the head with the idea of the ever so unconventional action man in charge of a multi-national gets tiresome.
But then this…
Oooohh… excitement, adventure, Silky and Largo jumping off a boat, Van Hamme doing action stuff so perfectly, Francq delivering with the artwork.
Oh, wait a sec, I was attempting to criticise Largo Winch.
I’ll take another run at it…
Largo Winch is James Bond with a boardroom, a comic movie franchise, and inherent in that is a structural problem, Van Hamme’s insistence on a formula to follow means every Winch adventure seems to read the same, structure constant, plot elements merely moved about a bit to accommodate the latest threat, whether it’s to the W Group or something from Largo’s usefully chequered past.
Presenting each adventure in two separate volumes exacerbates the formulaic nature, as now there’s a formulaic beat to hit in book 1 AND book 2. Book 1 is always the setup, always starts with Winch / The W Group slowly being drawn into some threat or other, explained to us with all manner of boardroom explanations, loads of talking heads and exposition. Then the authorities get involved… like this….
And bless him, unconventional, anti-establishment Largo just breezes ahead and plays down the problem, ignores the threats, the violence, the deaths, the huge hazards, the potential loss of fortune and simply blazes his own trail. Which inevitably means he pisses off the wrong people in authority and things go from bad to worse. A bit like this…
Now we’re at the point where Winch makes a run for it, goes underground, has to rely on his network of similarly unconventional and anti-establishment trusted friends to help him with the threat. Things have to go wrong before they go right of course, which is why Winch invariably ends up in peril for a part 1 cliffhanger. Cue part two, where there’s more action, chases, threats, resolutions, twists, conflicts and eventually everything settles back to the status quo, just in time for the next adventure.
So yes, it’s formulaic. But then this….
See what Van Hamme and Francq did there? They had Largo do a cool thing, followed by an action thing, followed by a cool, moody, action thing! And you know what… I love it.
Look, there’s no denying Largo Winch is formulaic, but that’s the whole point of it. It’s part of the fun. In fact, more and more, it IS the fun, not the actual formula, but the manner in which Van Hamme and Francq continually make it read and look absolutely wonderful.
The plot this time round goes something like this… Winch investigates the murder of one of his employees, which somehow leads to him being accused of gun trafficking and setting up the hit. Things go from bad to worse, he’s on the run and ends up on a container ship belonging to the Georgian arms dealer who’s possibly behind all these current threats surrounded by trigger-happy bad-guys.
You can imagine right now exactly where all the beats and rhythms of the story will be, all the plot twists, the slow pacing setting up the initial death, see Winch under investigation, work out probably at which point he’ll bolt, where he’ll get in more trouble, where he’ll be rescued, where it all gets worse and finally expect a twist and an ending. But that’s so not the point.
All the way through this one, I was loving the thrills, the boardroom stuff in its own way just as involving as the action scenes, the glory of Francq’s artwork being that he does talking heads and full on action just as well as Van Hamme.
Yes, I’ll grant you that the conclusion to this one felt a little too trite, neatly arranged and coordinated but hey, the ending of any Bond film feels the same most times. It’s the 90% before it that I enjoy the most, and so it is with Largo.
With Van Hamme delivering a clever, thrilling, pacey action thriller and Francq delivering intensely satisfying beauty on page after page, his static talking heads well designed and executed, his action sequences absolute perfection, I really don’t mind the traditional formula, the style and sheer exuberance of the thing more than makes up for the flaws.
And anyway… THIS….
Yep, does it for me.