By Mythic and I. Jigounov
Alpha is another of Cinebook’s roster of smart, cinematic, Euro-thrillers, where the spycraft is far more subtle and shadowy than the fist-fights and explosions of Bond, Bourne et al would have us believe. These are the stories full of preamble, of setup, of slow intrigue, tense thrills. And they tend to be all the better for it.
The downside of Cinebook publishing several of these Euro-thrillers is that it’s almost inevitable to compare the latest with the best, and frankly, no matter how impressive each new series may be, everything rather pales when compared to Jean Van Hamme’s Largo Winch and XIII. Heck, even Van Hamme’s other series pale by comparison, so Mythic shouldn’t be too upset that Alpha comes across on a level with Lady S from Van Hamme rather than XIII.
Alpha looks at the changing face of spying, where the relative black and white nature of East versus West in the Cold War era has transformed to a confusion of grey. Everything here is set up within the first four pages from ’87 and ’90, where we witness a family attempting a border crossing left high and dry by their escorts getting them out of the East, a man in the USA drugged and forcibly repatriated to the USSR complete with a Russian military welcoming committee, and an unfortunate young woman dying in the bedroom of a man so important, or so unfortunate, as to have his own cleanup crew in the cars outside.
But back to the present day, and the grey nature of East-West relations means CIA operative Alpha finds himself babysitting a Russian delegation, helping out with suggestions of the best restaurants and shopping opportunities. Not something he’s happy with. Imagine James Bond properly entrenched in the bureaucracy of the modern world, that’s Alpha’s predicament.
Fortunately the situation isn’t going to stay this way for too long, and it’s relatively few pages until the first suspicious occurance, and a few more before the bodycount starts rising. Everything seems to tie in to a name very familiar to certain higher-ups in the CIA and the US government, one of those Cold War bogeymen, something the spooks managed to create, something that’s come back to haunt them. Here it’s the shadowy ‘Griffin’, a legendary Cold War figure that will soon make Alpha’s babysitting duties far more interesting.
It’s all relatively well done, all carefully laid out, slowly building up, putting he puzzle pieces in place, a jigsaw that many readers will find themselves solving before Alpha does. (Although there is one hugely annoying moment, a cheap shortcut of characterisation via a cough that is simply lazy).
Artistically Jigounov does everything fine, everything is told in a very straightforward fashion, storytelling nice and clear, if a little dull most of the way through. But when he does go for it, such as the page below, it’s obvious there’s fine quality there…
The biggest problem with Alpha is that there’s nothing that actually marks it out as new or different, nothing that makes it special in any way. It’s pleasant reading at best, an afternoon’s distraction of an entertainment, attempting to out Van Hamme Van Hamme in it’s twisty-turny nature, but as with many comics that do this, it falls somewhat short. Then again, it was always going to, even Van Hamme falls short of Van Hamme at times, so perhaps the rather ridiculously named Mythic shouldn’t feel all that bad?