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Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Chaos Effect Review

The Chaos Effect from http://www.dccomics.com/The Chaos Effect
Humanoids/DC Comics $19.95
Writer: Pierre Christin; Artist: Enki Bilal

Humanoids does English speakers another favor by publishing both The Black Order Brigade and The Hunting Party graphic novels together in one soft-cover volume. These two GNs were originally published in French, The Black Order Brigade in 1979 and The Hunting Party in 1983.

At first my American sensibilities compared The Black Order Brigade to The Dirty Dozen. I soon found that while the GN does follow the military adventures of a rag-tag group, this isn’t an action/adventure cheer-for-the-underdogs kind of story. Instead it’s a look at a group of aged fighters from a volunteer brigade in the Spanish Civil War who reactivate to fight an old foe, the Black Order, who have recently reengaged in nefarious activities. The volunteer group, now scattered all across Europe and one even in the U.S., are mostly bored with the lives they’ve led for so many years and decide to volunteer one last time for a taste of the old days.

The book has a whole set of interesting characters with distinct personalities, humor, action, and intrigue, but the story is ultimately an internal drama. The physical conflict the group engages in is soon overshadowed by the internal conflict they each feel – and each quite different from the other. The reader can see the growing realization, explicitly acknowledged or not, that the group is really not much different than those they seek to stop. Just as each member of the group has their own motivations, so do the group as a whole as well as the Black Order they are fighting.

The Hunting Party is the story of a group of politicians from various Warsaw-Pact countries who all meet in Poland at an isolated mansion to hunt game. Although there are several main characters, most of the narrative revolves around Vassily Alexandrovich Chevchenko. Vassily has organized this hunting party and called each of them there. Though he currently suffers from facial paralysis and is unable to speak, he has been an instrumental figure in the events of the early 20th century soviet nations.

Each of the men at the retreat have a connection to Vassily both good and bad, but all quite melancholy. Much of their talk is of the past and the various ways Vassily has influenced their lives and their countries. Vassily is tortured by the past and these reveries hurt him further. The reader sees the flashbacks to the past as he is seeing them; his blood is on every action, including the memory that seems to haunt him the deepest – the death of his love Nikolaevna. The art is incredibly strong in this story, especially in the flashbacks. They show just how sharp Vassily’s pain and guilt is over the past.

Both of the stories in The Chaos Effect have a similar feel and pace – that sadness and slowness that is found in many dramas of European cinema. They are both also dense, not stories to breeze through – ones you truly need to read carefully and digest. If you enjoy human drama and history, these are most definitely stories you will want to read. If you simply enjoy an amazingly well told story that will stick with you and equally great artwork, then I encourage you to pick up this book.

Bottom Line: A for both stories

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