In Review: Largo Winch – Cold Black Sea/Red-Hot Wrath

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Writer Jean Van Hamme and artist Philippe Francq deliver up another slice of the rather complicated life of billionaire playboy businessman Largo Winch in the two-part story Cold Black Sea and Red-Hot Wrath.

In New York at a party to celebrate the retirement of Sir Basil Williams, the head of the W Group’s merchant fleet, a waiter shoots Sir Basil dead in front of Largo and Sir Basil’s principle assistant Sybil Lockwood. The waiter, a Turkish national wanting revenge for the death of his son, is captured but before he can be taken in front of the local District Attorney he is assassinated. The FBI, following an electronic money trail that appears to also connect to Turkey, implicate Largo with the double murder but he is able to flee the country before they can arrest him. Largo has his personal pilot Silky fly him to first to Switzerland where they discover that the money transaction occurred because the banker’s daughter was kidnapped and held hostage. Flying on to Turkey, the pair then investigate the death of the waiter’s son who was a Turkish customs official. As the FBI close in, the trail leads Largo and Silky to an arms smuggling operation in the Black Sea that appears to be happening on W Group vessels.

These are translations of the 17th and 18th albums in the Largo Winch saga, 2010’s Mer Noire and 2012’s Colère Rouge, and I have to hand it to Cinebook for spicing up both titles somewhat from their more basic translations of  ‘Black Sea’ and ‘Red Rage’. The pair also bring Cinebook bang up-to-date with the French publications of Largo Winch which means that we will not be getting any more translated ones for some time. The 19th album, Chassé-Croisé, is due to be published in France on 14 November 2014 and, given that it will presumably be the first half of the story, I would be surprised to see it available from Cinebook before the second half is published and that could potentially be in 2016. It all means that we need to make the most of this pair – and fortunately they do not disappoint.

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The first book begins with a full-page of a text memo detailing how the W Group survived the financial crisis and after a three page artwork prologue the book then gives us three pages of a text interview with Largo himself. Along with a wedding that reunites many old characters from earlier books but, truth be told, has nothing to do with the main plot, it does rather make for a slow start. However the abrupt deaths of first Sir Basil and then his assassin, an attempted seduction of Largo, and then the appearance of the FBI causing Largo to once again turn into an internationally wanted man, puts the plot squarely back into familiar Largo Winch territory. There are a few sly winks to the reader about this familiarity, from Silky’s business as usual reaction to Largo’s need to leave the country quickly to the groom’s comment about heroes in comic books never getting married, but it all adds to the fun.

Despite the preamble about the financial crisis, Jean Van Hamme does not use this as the main thrust of the plot which soon brings the reader to arms smuggling around the Black Sea. Indeed as the second book expands on this in a rather James Bond fashion, the ring leader of the smuggling operation and their reason for doing what they are doing becomes the main focus. While who this character is is rather telegraphed for readers in the first book, the reasoning behind their motives, the ‘Red-Hot Wrath’ of the book’s title, allows us to see more of the background of the whole Largo Winch world.

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Philippe Francq’s art is a detailed and on-the-ball as ever. His cityscapes remain detailed, his men are heroic, his women are beautiful, and his transportation be it planes, helicopters, tilt-rotors, motorbikes or ships are accurate while his action sequences are as dynamic as ever.

This pair of Largo Winch books, Cold Black Sea and Red-Hot Wrath, may be the last new ones we will see in  a while but the series is going out, for the time being at least, on a high.

• There are more details of the English language Largo Winch books at the Cinebook website

• There are more details about all the Largo Winch books, as well as the two live action films, at the official Largo Winch website (in French).

• The next Largo Winch album, Chassé-Croisé, is due to be published in France on 14 November 2014.

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