2013 sees Cinebook working their way through the three parts of Edgar P Jacob’s first Blake and Mortimer story The Secret Of The Swordfish and they have reached Book 2 with the spoiler-ish sub-title of Mortimer’s Escape.
The cold war with the Tibetan Yellow Empire has turned hot and the rest of the world has fallen to an overwhelming onslaught by Empire forces. Professor Phillip Mortimer, who has been working on a new weapon codenamed Swordfish was rescued from Scafell Secret Plant in Britain by Captain Francis Blake and they attempted to relocate to a secret base in India. However their aircraft is shot down and while an injured Blake manages to make it to the base, Mortimer is captured by Colonel Olrik of the Empire forces. Over months Olrik interrogates Mortimer in an attempt to discover the secret of the Swordfish and where the plans for it were hidden during his capture. However the Professor does not break until he receives a secret message from Blake advising him to string Olrik along with snippets of information. In the meantime Blake attempts to recover the hidden Swordfish plans before mounting an attempt to rescue Mortimer from captivity.
This is the very first Blake and Mortimer story and which ran in Le Journal De Tintin between 1946 and 1949 and has since been collected in three books. The first book of the story (reviewed on downthetubes here) shows EP Jacob’s early artwork, cruder than B&M readers would become used to and with text boxes and speech balloons not necessarily in the order within a panel that modern eyes would expect. This book has a subtle change in the art with Jacob’s using what appears to be pencil shading on many of the characters, not unattractive in itself but unusual for what is normally considered a ligne claire style book while the layout of panels, on a few occasions, could do with arrows to indicate which one comes next as some batches of four same size panels appear to run vertically rather than horizontally. Yet these peculiarities rather than being annoying are actually endearing as it almost feels like Jacobs is learning and innovating as he flies solo rather than being part of the larger Herge/Tintin team that he was then used to.
Plot-wise the world spanning scope and chase of the first book settles down here into a more typically Blake and Mortimer science-and-spies story as Jacob’s shows the psychological cat and mouse battle between Mortimer and his captors which, despite going on for much of the book, never gets bogged down as the reader also gets to see Blake and the rebel forces plans to free Mortimer so that still mysterious Swordfish can be used to combat the rule of the Empire.
The Secret Of The Swordfish as a whole reminds me of the first Dan Dare story which began in Eagle in 1950, then untitled but which we now call Voyage To Venus, which also ran for some two years. While the plot details and art styles are different, both stories involve world altering events that are very much part of that immediate post-WWII period – Voyage to Venus begins because of a lack of food on Earth at a time when Britain was still on food rationing, while Swordfish has the then new idea of the Cold War turning hot and becoming the dreaded WWIII. To modern eyes both stories are on the long side and with early, and somewhat cruder, artwork than readers would get used to, yet both inspired long running series that modern publishers have shown a willingness to return to both with reprints and new tales.
Blake and Mortimer: The Secret Of The Swordfish – Book 2 Mortimer’s Escape builds the foundations laid in the first book into a solid story that shows Edgar P Jacob’s best known creations blossom into the characters and story format that the series would retain through the following decades.
• There are more details on the English language Blake and Mortimer books on the Cinebook website
• Part 1 of The Secret Of The Swordfish is reviewed on downthetubes here and the final book in the story, Blake & Mortimer Volume 17: The Secret of the Swordfish Part 3 has just been released
• There are more details of all the Blake and Mortimer books on the official Blake and Mortimer website (in French)