June 04, 2015

Thursday Review: LAST MAN 1: THE STRANGER

Summary: A collaboration by French comics and animation luminaries Balak, Bastien Vivès, and Michaël Sanlaville, Last Man 1: The Stranger is the first installment in a series that's been popular in France and is now being released in the U.S. by First Second (who kindly provided a review copy). I always really enjoy reading graphic novels from various countries, and this was no exception.

Peaks: The unique setting was, for me, one of the most intriguing aspects of the novel. Early on, we are introduced to Adrian Velba's world, a sort-of-medieval town where the annual gladiatorial games are the most anticipated event. But these are not your run-of-the-mill jousts or sword fights—the games are magical, and competitors fight in teams for the prestige, honor, and riches of the gold-filled winning cup.

Adrian goes to a magical fight school, but he's…kind of the youngest and smallest right now. But he's excited and optimistic anyway, and when he ends up partnered with the mysterious new-hero-in-town Richard Aldana, he thinks he might just have a chance. Aldana, meanwhile, is a bit of a nomad, but despite his fighting prowess, he's clearly in a different world here—a world with some unexpectedly magical forces flying around. But he does notice that his fighting partner Velba's mom sure is hot…which might be a good perk if she wasn't so protective of her son. There's a fair amount going on here with all three of these characters, and several interesting side characters, but the story never gets confusing, though it's a bit surreal at times.

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The style of the drawing here is loose, flowing, and dynamic, with the only color being flat areas of black, white, and gray. It works well for conveying a sense of movement in the action sequences (of which there are many) while also making sure the reader can still tell what's going on in each panel. I liked it; there's something simple and appealing about it, even as it stylistically owes a bit to the Japanese manga style.

Valleys: This is so much a serial it isn't even funny. If you can't deal with total middle-of-the-action cliffhangers, then you might want to make sure you have book 2 at hand when you finish this one. Just sayin'. Not everyone has a problem with this, but I crave instant gratification when it comes to books. I require resolution.

Conclusion: I suspect fans of other popular kids' manga series will enjoy this one, and fans of The Last Airbender and other series that combine action and fantasy. The adult characters have as much screen time (and character development) as the kids, so I see this one as having crossover appeal as well.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of First Second. You can find LAST MAN 1: THE STRANGER at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

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