With the original run of XIII now complete for the first time in English, publisher Cinebook move on to the original French spin-off books, XIII Mystery, a series of one-off stories each focussing on individual characters from the XIII universe beginning with that series’ first major enemy, the assassin known as the Mongoose. Each XIII Mystery album, and seven have been published in France so far, has a different creative team showing other creators’ take on the XIII universe of writer Jean Van Hamme and artist William Vance and The Mongoose is written by Xavier Dorison and illustrated by Ralph Meyer.
Growing up in the Soviet sector of Berlin immediately after the Second World War the young Schreiner Weber discovers that the Soviet occupation is a brutal one and he eventually makes his way to America. There he hears that his adoptive father has been jailed back in Germany and that bribes will easy his time in jail. In his attempts to earn more money for the bribes, Schreiner meets up with Hans, a former German paratrooper who had helped his father in Berlin and who is an independent hitman, and persuades Hans who to take him on as an apprentice. So begins the path that would lead Schreiner Weber to become a cold-blooded murder and to be on a boat off the US coast with a man with a XIII tattoo approaching it.
This is a prequel partially set immediately before the first page of the first XIII book, The Day of the Black Sun, that shows readers exactly what happened to cause XIII himself to lose his memory, as well as giving a detailed back story to the character of the Mongoose. From his work on Cinebook’s other series, Spooks and particularly Long John Silver, we already know that writer Xavier Dorison is a safe pair of hands and he does an impressive job here of building a remarkably sympathetic back story for the Mongoose that even Jean Van Hamme in his postscript to the book said that he wasn’t expecting.
Turning Van Hamme and Vance’s slightly wizened, bald, merciless killer into a young vibrant man who gets lead astray in his attempts to earn more money to help his imprisoned father was an unexpected turn of events. Ralph Meyer’s clear and detailed artwork helps this along, from the dirt and rubble of post-war Berlin to the luxury hotels and restaurants that the Mongoose eventually becomes acquainted with through firstly his business dealings and then his wealth.
I approached XIII Mystery – The Mongoose with some trepidation, after all other than one book with Jean Giraud/Moebius on art duties, up to this point the XIII universe had been purely a Van Hamme and Vance one, however this book shows that the XIII characters can work without either of their original creators. That it performs the dual task of being a good prequel as well as a good stand-alone book that does not require its readers to have been immersed in XIII lore just goes to show just how impressive it is.
There are more details of the English language XIII Mystery and XIII series on the Cinebook website.
There are more details of the original French language XIII Mystery and XIII series on the official XIII website (in French).