This is the fourth (or thirteenth, depending on which numbering you use) adventure of M15 Chief, head of counter intelligence, Captain Francis Blake. There’s plenty of background information neatly captioned in the first several pages, so readers will quickly catch up with the characters and plunge right into the action. A spy network has been operating for months and the intelligence service has been unsuccessful in tracking them down. They’ve captured one of the links in the network, but he refuses to talk. Then they manage to get some film only to discover…it’s Captain Francis Blake on the film! He immediately captures the spy as a hostage and flees. His old friend Professor Mortimer is shocked but decides to trust him and help him no matter what. After a chase across England and up to Scotland, treachery, old enemies resurfacing, a charming and mysterious lady, and several climactic battles on the edges of cliffs and in caves, Captain Blake is exonerated and the spy network is defeated, although Blake’s archenemy Olrik escapes (so there can be another adventure of course!).
Fans of Herge’s Tintin will instantly recognize the artwork and plots of Edgar P. Jacobs, who influenced several of Tintin’s adventures. Jacobs’ characters and art were continued by members of the Jacobs Studios, in this case Jean Van Hamme and Ted Benoit. The pacing and plot is a little slower than the adventures of Tintin. There’s more information about spy networks and more time spent with the characters talking together, but there’s still plenty of action, gunfights, leaping off cliffs, etc.
The comic is drawn in the classic strip style with cleanly defined lines and rectangular dialogue balloons. There’s no definitive point in history mentioned, but the clothing and backgrounds and a few mentions of Captain Blake’s war history set the stories after one of the World Wars, probably World War II.
It’s a great adventure story and those who like classic mysteries and thrillers from the early part of the twentieth century, like myself, will be delighted with this newly translated reprint. However, it’s unlikely to appeal to children or teens. It’s much wordier than the more accessible Tintin comics, with more violence, although no blood is shown. Readers who aren’t familiar with the conventions of spy thrillers set in this time period will find the context confusing. Most likely to appeal to adults who enjoy classic mysteries and to collectors, this series will be of interest to larger public libraries or academic collections.
The Adventures of Blake and Mortimer, vol. 4: The Francis Blake Affair
by Edgar P. Jacobs, Jean Van Hamme
Art by Ted Benoit