Tuesday, December 26, 2006

25. Les Voleurs d'Empires by Martin Jamar and Jean Dufaux

Voleurs cover picture
I found this bande-dessinée in a version intégrale. It came out originally in a six-volume series that ran from 1993 to 2002. It takes place in the late 19th century France, during the downfall of Napoleon III, the Prussian invasion of France and the Paris Commune. The history of this period is the foundation of the story and plays a significant role in driving the events, but the primary narrative is a tale of supernatural horror.

At the beginning of the comic, a young girl waits by a tree in a field for a skeleton in a napoleonic officer's uniform. She swears her love and allegience to him and he sends her off to do his bidding. I don't know if I am missing some backstory or mythology, but the skeleton seemed to be the devil or at least some form of evil. The main story then begins, which takes place in a fancy boarding school in the country that has been taken over as a residence for Prussian officers. The boys are still there and supposed to be going to school, but they chafe at the invaders. The matron of the school is trying to hold all this together. The wrinkle is that the girl who met the devil is living upstairs in her apartment and is a total psycho, doing all kinds of freaky shit. Her wealthy parisian parents pay a hefty sum for the matron to take care of her, but she is making friends with rats, sewing medals onto corpses, seducing the prussian officers and generally behaving in a pretty disturbing manner.
small skull picture
The story is complex, with some of the students escaping the school and making their way to Paris. All of the other significant characters whose paths crossed at the school also end up in Paris, including the psycho girl. It is a winter of terrible famine as the Prussians hold the city in siege. I am still not sure exactly what the role of the devil girl is but I think the idea was that evil thrives off of human chaos and this period was a fecund one. The story climaxes in the attack on the Paris Commune.

This was a significant event in French history, one that I always knew was considered a cornerstone of modern Marxist theory and many historical arguments on the French Revolution. Unfortunately, my oblique and precious liberal arts education never actually directly explained what the hell actually happened. During the Prussian siege on Paris, the citizens living in the heart of the city set up their own militia and government, a relatively democratic one. After an armistice with Prussia, the communcal government didn't want to give up the power and the royalists eventually attacked them, in a very bloody way. It's a very interesting history and you can read more about it at the Wiki page for actual facts and details.

I found Les Voleurs d'Empires to be engaging and genuinely horrifying at times. It is a good adventure, with strong characters that you care about in exciting situations. It is the supernatural element and the portrayal of the history that make this bande-dessinée stand out. Again, the horror here is really horrific. Punches are not pulled. It is the same with the history. The authors do a fantastic job of showing a city under siege and the profound conflict between the classes that ripped Paris apart. I wish I had understood the backstory of the devil and his mistress, but I am not sure if it was meant to be fully explained.
Largo Winch cover picture

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