Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

28 February 2015

Bandette, v. 1: Presto!

Collects: Bandette #1-5 ()

Released: November 2013 (Dark Horse/ original comics from Monkeybrain)

Format: 144 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9781616552794

What is this?: With the help of her gang of urchins, Bandette, a young woman in sorta-France, is the world’s greatest thief — or just about.

The culprits: Written by Paul Tobin and drawn by Colleen Coover

The word to remember for Bandette, v. 1: Presto!, is “charming.”

The protagonist, a young woman whose nom du crime is Bandette, is charming. The stilted dialogue, which suggests a not-quite-fluid translation from French, is charming. The plots, which don’t take themselves seriously, are charming. Her moral standing — a master thief who sometimes aids the side of good but is not above helping herself to other people’s loot — is charming. Bandette’s personal credo — “Presto!” — is charming in its simplicity. Colleen Coover’s art, which tells the story admirably without worrying overly much about realism, is charming.

Bandette, v. 1: Presto! coverAt this stage in the review, you’ll know if this book is for you. Many people will have already written off Bandette as sickly sweet. That is not the case, though. Coover and writer Paul Tobin skirt that pitfall as deftly as is possible, keeping Bandette carefree and lighthearted without being cloying; the protagonist is confident and sure of her abilities in a way that allows her to remain unconcerned yet exhilarated in the face of assassins and bank robbers.

Bandette lives in a world that resembles but is not quite our own. It is a European world, full of dashing, daring thieves and international crime gangs and signs in French. Bandette makes allusions to European comics: the Chocobolik candy bar is a reference to Diabolik, the anti-hero thief from Italian comics; Inspector Belgique looks like he could have stepped out of Tintin; and at one point Bandette is pursued by the villainous motorcycle riders from the “Take on Me” video (by the Norwegian band A-ha). It’s likely I’m missing other references. Still, there are jarring notes; French urchins would hardly be likely to play baseball on the streets of any French city, for example.

Coover’s art is excellent, conveying the book’s light-hearted tone as well as the dialogue and plot does. Coover’s Bandette is acrobatic and graceful, almost always in motion, and unmistakably youthful. Although the style looks cartoony, Coover manages subtlety throughout the book — in the backgrounds, in the details, and even right in front of the readers’ eyes. (In two different scenes, Bandette and her chief rival, Monsieur, pick the other’s pocket; the thefts are obvious because that is what we expect stylish thieves do to one another, but Coover actually draws both thefts — details I missed on my first reading.)

The only criticism I have of Presto! is that the volume feels slight. When I stop to consider whether it is, I realize Presto! is a good value: a $15 hardback, 144 pages in color, collecting five (online) issues. No, the amount of content is fine; the amount of story is the problem. In Presto!, Bandette rights a wrong by stealing stolen artwork, stops a bank robbery, is targeted by an international crime syndicate, and agrees to “the great thieving race” with her greatest larcenous rival. That summary contains a great deal of action, but Presto! doesn’t leave the reader with that impression. The international crime syndicate makes one attempt on Bandette’s life, although future attempts are promised. The robbery and the larcenous justice are brief episodes meant to show Bandette’s character, supporting cast, and world. The volume ends as soon as the great thieving race is agreed to.

Perhaps, though, the story is cut at that point to leave the reader wanting more. I know it worked with me. I hope the second volume, Stealers Keepers!, will provide more of a complete story, although for another $15 for the other part of a single story, Bandette looks like less of a bargain.

The final 40-plus pages in Presto! fall into the category of “extras.” Tobin’s eight “Urchin Stories,” showing Bandette’s allies, are illustrated by as many different artists; Steve Lieber’s art for the Inspector Belgique story stands out by being reminiscent of Coover’s work without being a slavish imitation. After the eight short illustrated stories is Tobin’s prose piece featuring Daniel, one of Bandette’s urchins. This is the best of the extras; the story tells how Daniel met Bandette, fell in love with her (although he’d never admit it), and aided her on another adventure. The extras are rounded out by pages detailing the process of creating Bandette; Coover’s explanation of how she creates the art is much longer than Tobin’s script pages.

Presto!, then, is a charming, airy pastry rather than a substantial meal. But that is nothing to be ashamed of; we all need filling meals, but we still crave those pastries. In fact, we can never get enough.

Rating: Dark Horse symbol Dark Horse symbol Dark Horse symbol Dark Horse symbol (4 of 5)

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