Three graphic novels with European connections - the English occultist John Constantine in Hellblazer: Freezes Over, a French take on Victorian crime in Green Manor II: The Inconvenience of Being Dead and globe-trotting action in Largo Winch: The Dutch Connection.
Hellblazer: Freezes Over (Azzarello / Frusin / Dillon / Davis) collects three story arcs in Brian Azzarello's run on the famous London occult detective. The collection takes place midway through Constantine's travels across America. In all three stories, Constantine serves more as the catalyst than the protagonist - a type of narrative device that will be familiar to Azzarello's work on 100 Bullets. All three stories share a similar structure as well - an establishing set-up with the non-Constantine characters, the introduction of Constantine as an agent of change and a mysterious 'twist' ending that leaves some mystery alive for the future.
Individually, all three of the stories (especially the title one - "...Freezes Over") are pretty good. However, as a collection, it becomes a little repetitive. Three story arcs, each straight out of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, each with an unresolved mystery. This is too much of a good thing, and just changing artists isn't enough to disguise it.
Largo Winch: The Dutch Connection (Francq / Van Hamme) is the third collection of the Largo Winch series to be published in English by Cinebook. Like the two before it (and the zillion to follow), it contains one story arc, broken in half at the moment of greatest tension.
Largo Winch is a billionaire playboy, owner of the globe-spanning 'W' corporation. He's good with knives, the ladies and handling threats (however unconventional) to his business empire. The Largo Winch series is never high art. Winch leaps around the world like a crazed salmon, shagging the ladyfolk and stabbing his enemies. The adventures are punctuated by slapstick humor, but, underneath the boobs and the blades, the stories are surprisingly good mysteries with an affable, enjoyable lead character.
The Dutch Connection is the weakest story so far, and it overcompensates with extra breasts and slapstick. Someone is using Largo's business empire to shuttle heroin around the world. The cops think it is Largo, so he's forced to go rogue to find out who the real bad guy is. There's action a-plenty, but unlike the other stories, there's very little mystery or intrigue. The bulk of the story is told via lengthy exposition (huge blocks of text). Largo's cunning plans and sneaky surprises - which are normally more 'open' with the reader - take place with no forewarning (however subtle). The result is a very linear story that doesn't engage the reader to the same degree as the first two collections. The series has dipped from a Showtime series to a Cinemax action flick. With book 4, we'll see if the trend reverses itself.
Green Manor II: The Inconvenience of Being Dead (Bodart / Vehlmann), like its predecessor, collects a half-dozen mystery stories. The stories are all loosely connected with an odd framing device (a psychotic ex-butler) and their location, the Green Manor Club. The Club is the den of a seemingly-endless procession of murderers, plotters and assassins. Fortunately for the rest of Victorian England, the mortality rate is quite high.
The stories are generally between 6-10 pages long, with a sneaky twist ending, that, more often than not, managed to take me by surprise. The artwork, as noted in the previous review, is straight out of Asterix, adding to the overall enjoyment. The paper-thin framing device notwithstanding, this is a series and a format that could continue as long as the writer's imagination held out. And, judging by the quality of this collection, it is in no danger of exhaustion.