Edgar P Jacobs’ adventurers Professor Phillip Mortimer and British agent Captain Francis Blake first appeared in the first issue of the Belgian bilingual weekly Le Journal De Tintin (French printing)/Kuifje (Flemish printing) which was dated 26 September 1946.
That first story was an epic that ran through to 1949 entitled Le Secret De L’Espadon and which Cinebook are now translating into English as The Secret Of The Swordfish. Like the early Tintin books, this first Blake and Mortimer story was slightly reworked for album publication and Cinebook are using the 1985 versions of the three Belgian albums that make up the one story. The first book is, to give it its full title, The Adventures Of Blake And Mortimer: The Secret Of The Swordfish Part 1- The Incredible Chase.
World War Two is over but for the past three years the rest of the world has been in a cold war with the Yellow Empire of the usurper Emperor Of Tibet, Basam Damdu. As tensions rise the forces of the Empire unleash an unprovoked and all-out attack of the rest on the world with each country capitulating as their capitals are destroyed. The Emperor’s henchman Colonel Orlik has special orders to capture intact Britain’s Scafell Secret Plant where Professor Phillip Mortimer is working on a machine codenamed Swordfish.
As Empire missiles and bombers range over Europe, Captain Francis Blake is sent to Scafell to destroy the plant and its secrets as well as to get Professor Mortimer to a place of safety. The men manage to escape the plant in the nick of time on a long range jet bomber codenamed Golden Rocket aiming for a secret base in the Indian subcontinent. However when the bomber is tracked and shot down by Empire forces, Blake and Mortimer have to make the overland rendezvous with the secret base before Olrik can capture Mortimer and interrogate him for the Swordfish secrets.
As the first story in a series that is still being written today, the scope of this Blake and Mortimer adventure is breathtaking – within the first 15 pages the entire world is attacked and defeated by a megalomaniac dictator and our heroes are chased half way round the planet by a villain who is actually introduced into the story before they are. Written and illustrated by Jacobs, the story here can be broken down into three main segments, the Yellow Empire’s attack, the flight of the Golden Rocket, and the overland chase of Blake and Mortimer by Olrik and the Empire troops. The first two sections are action packed and interesting, despite Jacob’s fondness of large expositional speech bubbles at the beginning, while the final section of overland chase does begin to drag a little before the book’s cliffhanger ending.
In comparison to his later B&M books the artwork is more simplistic than readers would be used to and the layout of some panels perhaps shows Jacob’s inexperience of working by himself. There are text boxes that should be read first positioned at the bottom of some panels while the order the speech bubbles should be read in is not always the order more modern eyes would use.
Yet despite these minor drawbacks, The Adventures of Blake And Mortimer: The Secret Of The Swordfish Part 1- The Incredible Chase is much fresher than I would have expected a nearly 70 year old adventure story to be and, of course, for Blake and Mortimer fans it is a genuine curiosity to see the early days of both the characters and the books.
• There are more details of the English language Blake and Mortimer books on the Cinebook website. All three parts of The Secret Of The Swordfish are due for publication by Cinebook in 2013
• There are more details on the series in general on the official Blake and Mortimer website (in French)