Somewhere in costal New England. An injured man is washed up half dead near an old couple’s home. Shot through the head. With no identifying documents. The only clue to his past live are a tattoo of the Roman numerals for the number thirteen –XIII– and a generic Yale key. Could XIII: The Day of The Black Sun by Jean Van Hamme & William Vance to start any more mysterious then this?
The stranger makes a miraculous recovery, thanks to the skills of disgraced surgeon and the old couples care.
Named ‘Alan’ by the couple, the man has all the skills and abilities of a functional adult. But can’t remember anything about his past or who he is. He’s clearly suffering from some sort of amnesia.
And just as he is dealing with all this, men with guns and the intent to kill come and shatter his peaceful existence.
Sounds like the premises of the classic ‘Jason Bourne’ trilogy by Robert Ludlum and a dozen other books and movies. Bah. That’s been done a thousand time…
And you would be wrong. What starts out as your basic amnesiac with super spy/special forces reflexes and skills, turns into a grand conspiracy thriller of epic proportions.
Welcome to the twists and turns of XIII that will have you scratching your head, cursing and keep you enthralled until the very last page. Are you ready? Then read on…
A Man Gets Washed Up on the Beach
XIII is the brain child of Belgian writer Jean Van Hamme and artist William Vance –and one of the all-time great action/thriller series of the Franco-Belgian school of graphic novels. But what makes it a must read graphic novel is the suspense and chilling intensity of its protagonists hunt through the continental USA. In search of his past. The truth. And why people are trying to kill him!
We meet Alan (or XIII) two month after he has regained his strength after being shot in the head and dumped in the ocean. He’s living a tranquil life as he recovers with the old couple, Abe and Mary, in their humble New England beach house. Martha a local resident and former surgeon is monitoring his progress. While she explains why he has amnesia, on a walk through the beach, XIII decides to dig into his past.
Back at the house, they run into a horrible scene. Someone has shot the family dog. Before Martha can process what’s going on, XIII is shouting for her to duck and pulls her to the floor. Just in time, as bullets rip through the screen door.
XIII, acting on instinct and reflect, overpowers his two assailants. However, on manages to escape. With Abe and Mary murdered as they slept on the couch. XIII swears that he will get answers. The dead thug had a picture of XIII together with a beautiful blond woman in his person. The Photographer who took the picture is in Eastown, a large city 200 miles inland. Hmmm…
Action, Assassins and The Day of the ‘Black Sun’
Making his way to Eastown. XIII soon runs into trouble. Crooked newspaper man Wayne and corrupt cop Hemmings trap our hero. They give him information leading to the home of Kim Rowland, the woman in the picture. The mysterious key that XIII was fished out of the water with opens her front door.
The house is trashed. Somebody is clearly looking for something. Behind a picture, identical to the one taken from his would be assassin, XIII finds a bank safety deposit box key and a note.
“I must run. The mongoose has found me. I’ll be waiting for you where the Indian walks. –Kim”
Just when this can’t get any stranger. Hemmings and Wayne spring their trap. They beat XIII down and keep asking him where the money is? What money Mr. Officer? The money for the Black Sun job!
They give our hero a choice. Hand over the money. Or die.
With his life on the line will XIII escape from Hemmings and Wayne? Who are the men who tried to kill him? And what exactly happened on the ‘Day of the Black Sun’?
The Art and Writing of XIII: The Day of the Black Sun
Like in his Largo Winch series, Jean Van Hamme shows us why he is one of the leading modern authors of Franco-Belgian graphic novels!
XIII is a tightly written thriller. Just when you think you know what’s waiting for you around the corner, Van Hamme surprises you. He take a story premises that is almost cliché and turns it into a believable and action packed conspiracy thriller.
The dialogue flows. The action is faced and unrelenting. XIII is a many hunted by many, with no friend and no refuge. As always Cinebooks did an awesome job with the translation!
William Vance is a pseudonym for one of the best artists in Franco-Belgian graphic fiction. Ever. Like Philippe Francq his style is realistic, but reflective of the unique ligne-claire visuals of his predecessors.
Vance uses shading with great effect. He uses just enough to create the level to make the art believable and come to life.
His visual story telling is cinematic. Each panel feels like a shot out of a really well made action blockbuster. It’s hard to put into words. You have to read XIII to really appreciate how gorgeous its art is.
XII: The Day of the Black Sun is a must read graphic novel!
I was drawn to this series because of its pedigree. As already mentioned, Jean Van Hamme’s Largo Winch is a cult classic. I also knew that XIII had spawned a short lived TV series and a well-regarded video game. So I gave it a shot, and wasn’t disappointed.
What really stood out to me was Van Hamme and Vance’s take on late 80’s/early 90’s America. Like Moebius’ Blueberry or Canales & Guarnido’s Blacksad, Europeans sometimes have a very interesting take on US history and culture.
XIII lives in the shadows. The kindness of everyday people like Mary and Abe stands in contrast to the murderous intent of thugs, assassins and powers that hunt XIII.
If you like action movies and (good) conspiracy thrillers then you will love XII: The Day of The Black Sun. Get it! It’s totally worth it!!
PS: You can get your copy of XIII: The Day of the Black Sun in paperback here.