For a long time, Titan Comics was just a publisher of game, movie and TV show tie in comics (Doctor Who, anyone?). I wasn’t really paying attention to them until 2014 when they translated and made Julian Blondel and Didier Poli’s Elric books available in English as hard covers. Since then, they have been bringing great, but previously untranslated, French comics to English language readers. They started off with hardcovered collection, but now are releasing single issues of these works. We have to thank them for bringing Jean-Francois Di Giorgio’s Samurai to us.
Now Titan is bringing Serge Lehman’s Masked: Anomalies to French-less masses of Americans and Brits.
The story starts quickly and moves at a good pace. Frank Braffort has recently returned to Paris following an incident where his peacekeeping patrol was attacked on the Russian-Georgian border by a robotic attack drone. Only Braffort and one other person survived the attack. After being court martialed, Brafford has moved in his sister Raphaelle’s small apartment in the 13th Arrondissement. But the Paris he has returned to is a very different from the one he left.
This Paris is a city of glass and steel towers that seem to go on forever. Additionally, residents have been finding anomalies, small mysterious robotic devices, all over the city. These devices, while mostly harmless, are unnerving to the citizens and especially the authorities. Braffort is recruited to a team charged with finding out where the anomalies are coming from and how to deal with them. As he is recruited, the anomalies turn dangerous.
Lehman (Chimera Brigade) is often cited as France’s answer to Alan Moore. This comes from a writing style that heavily references other science fiction, pulp, and other works as the source for super heroes. But while both use references, how they use them is very different. I don’t think that Moore has ever set a fight scene in any of his books to a poem by Baudelaire. Lehman keeps his references in bounds and it is easy to enjoy the story without having to keep a browser open to look up a dozen things on each page. (Then again, on the second and third reading, it may help.)
Stephane Crety (Star Wars) and Julien Hugonard-Bert’s (Crossed: Family Values) art really sell the story. They present a Greater Paris (Paritropolis, as it is called in some places) that is incredibly different and yet very grounded in the Paris that tourists and residents know. It stretches out and seems to encompass the entire world, like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The art is both intimate and dynamic. All of the grand cityscapes are grounded through the views of the characters and the residents. They go from a city that seems serene from a distance, but as we get closer in, we see the cracks in society. The use of shadows and light project a city on the verge of hysteria and a false move by anyone could lead to it tearing the world apart.
Crety’s art references everything from Blade Runner to the Silver Surfer and Batman the Animated Series to 1984. But as with the writing, these add to the fun of re-reading this book. It is a book you will want to read again and again.