3 out of 5
There are a lotta hott indie comic names quoted or thanked in Bastard, a collection (and translation) of Max de Radiguès serialized webcomic – Charles Forsman’ praises it on the back cover; Lewis Trondheim, Luke Pearson, Aaron Renier, Noah Van Sciver get nods. And I’m a big sucker for this kind of stuff, because I do generally find that the people I like like things I like.
Bastard is good – it’s consistent, and de Radiguès has a really good sense of scene pacing when juggling action and drama – and I can definitely see antecedents from some of those names, specifically Forsman’s drawn out Revenger scuffles and Trondheim’s tendency to blend child-like wonder with adult themes – but the story is also missing some guts to elevate it beyond good, though a well-told story of this length is certainly worth the reading time.
May and her son Eugene are high-tailing it after a robbery-gone-wrong. Or, actually, in a wrinkle on that premise, not the robbery itself, per se – she’s got the cash in tow – but rather the plannings of her crew around that heist, which was one of 52 done at the same time via a coordinated network of robbers whom, though we don’t get too many details, clearly double-cross each other directly afterward. And that lack of detail is sorta kinda the problem. Because the bulk of Bastard is straight forward momentum and violence, and it’s generally fantastic: May and Eugene are both capable badasses, fleeing from safe house to safe house while avoiding members of their former crew who want dat money; I agree with de Radiguès’ setup in that we shouldn’t need many details to support this, but we only ever see one duo of pursuers, whom never pose much of a threat, and threat of the law is similarly only glimpsed shortly. We even have time for an extended vacation vignette when mom and son bed down on an out-of-the-way reserve for a while. This makes the 70 page travel to get to that point suddenly deflate of impact: we have no real sense of why the two are running except for our assumptions that come with this genre, and pausing in their escape makes that all the more apparent.
Of course, the purpose behind this diversion becomes clearer when we dig a bit into May’s past via flashback. This informs the story’s latter half, which results in a rather pat conclusion that I’m not sure I preferred, though I admittedly can’t tell you how I would’ve liked it to end. And going back to the above general criticism, dividing the story like this makes both pieces less weighty than they could have been; the robbery escape loses tension, and the emotional heft isn’t quite earned.
Thankfully, de Radiguès’ art and page-by-page skills are certainly enough to keep us flipping pages. His dialogue, even translated, flows very freely and naturally, and he has a great sense of rhythm to his action, as well as a keen sense of when it’s okay to do time jumps or switch scenes and not have it distract the reader. Fantagraphics’ 6″ x 9″ SC collection of this is well bound and printed, allowing for full-bleed pages when necessary that don’t requite you to crack the spine, and with a page/cover stock that are firm but flippable.
I enjoyed reading Bastard, and I’m encouraged by the fact that there’s other de Radiguès stuff out there to explore. But perhaps something a little less ambitious will allow for better narrational focus.