Spirou and Fantasio vol. 18: Attack of the Zordolts (Fabien Vehlmann, Cinebook 2021 English edition)

4 out of 5

A nearly non-stop run of laugh out loud slapstick action and escalating hijinx, reporters Spirou and Fantasio and their squirrel pal, Spip, are returning from some recent adventure and are interrupted by a call for help from their scientist friend, the Count of Champignac, who we’ve seen zapped by some type of mesmerizing ray by rival scientist Zorglub in the opening pages. Redirecting themselves to assist the Count, Spirou and Fatnasio find Champignac under government quarantine, and sneak in to further discover the area around the Count’s castle to be completely overrun by insane plant growths and some crazily mutated creatures. Cue bumbling and haphazard saving-of-the day.

Vehlmann’s writing kicks us right in the mood from the start, setting the tone in a zany, stretch-and-squish Looney Tunes-type world in which the piling on of oddities feels totally manageable, and can be played for humor. A ton happens within the 56 pages, but it never gets confusing or feels rushed, despite, if I listed everything out here, the story seeming like it should take many more pages to tell. The banter between our three leads is also pitch perfect, trading off heroics and goofiness between Spirou and Fantasio – with Spip as side commentator – such that neither is predictable in their actions, but also allowing for each to have something of their own voice, Spirou a bit more playful, Fantasio a bit more dutiful.

The art team of Yoann and Hubert on colors are an outright blessing: Yoann’s linework is masterful, capturing the aforementioned class cartoon flexibility, but using the European sense of paneling and framing to keep things grounded; we always know where we are in a scene, but those scenes can contain crazy creatures, or spot-on slapstick timing. And though this all takes place on a rainy day, and in a crowded jungle – meaning lots of blues and browns and muddy greens – Hubert’s work finds the right pops for every point of interest; all of the pages feel both exciting and balanced as a result.

The “catch” here is that I imagine some of this is probably a bit smoother with more familiarity regarding the duo. This is my first book, and so the omniscient narrator feels rather randomly inserted, and the book is very much assuming we have context with the two scientists. Yes, plenty can be intuited from context, but especially as we get into later “reveals” as to what is going on, it feels like it would land a bit better as part of a running gag, and not your first time hearing it. There’s also the inclusion of a couple of students on holiday, who end up teaming up with our leads – I couldn’t quite tell the “reason” for this, when it seems like there were Champignac locals who could’ve filled the role. So these two feel rather superfluous, but it’s possible there’s either some social context I’m missing – they’re Swedish – or Vehlmann included them for later purposes, since they’re part of the hook that leads to the next adventure (or a forthcoming-to-this-volume adventure, at least).