Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Little Less Doom and Gloom: Run Like Crazy, Run Like Hell

Run Like Crazy, Run Like Hell is the third of the Jacques Tardi/Jean-Patrick Manchett comics translated by Fantagraphics, and while it's brutally nihilistic at times, it actually offers more of a ray of hope at the end than either West Coast Blues or Like A Sniper Lining Up His Shot. The story involves a young woman named Julie who's plucked out of a psychiatric institution in order to work as a nanny for a rich industrialist's son. The son is out of control and the working conditions are weird, to say the least, but there's a weird resilience to Julie's character that's established from the very beginning.

The industrialist, Hartog, gets attacked by a former friend and business associate at the beginning of the book, but things get really weird when she and the boy are kidnapped. The actual employer of the kidnappers is strongly hinted at early in the book and is made plain about half way through, a revelation that's very noir and even sickening. The reality is that the kidnapping is all a set-up to make the emotionally disturbed Julie look like she killed the boy, an arrangement set up by the relentless assassin Thompson. Thompson is a magnificent character whom one is almost inclined to root for despite his total amorality, because of his work ethic and dismaying physical side effects he feels working his way up to a kill.

Of course, the plan goes horribly awry and Julie & the boy get away, starting a fantastic series of chase scenes, reversals, close calls on both ends, betrayals and surprising new allies. Through it all, Tardi's figure work, fluid panel-to-panel transitions and mastery of using backgrounds to enhance rather than detract from a narrative dominate the story. This one's a bit different from the other two Tardi/Manchette books in that the plot twists and violence are way more over-the-top and even ridiculous at times. Thompson is practically a super-villain and Julie remarkably clever. There's less of an in-depth examination of each character and more of an emphasis on the action mechanics of the story and its plot. The end eschews the typical Manchette nihilism and instead gives its heroes an unlikely happy ending.

The story veers between action spoof and straightforward action story as it proceeds, giving it an uneven feel. The villains actually feel villainous, rather than simply tools of a larger, unstoppable network of forces too vast to resist or even comprehend. Of the three books, this is also the one that seems the most ready to be adapted to film, in terms of both pace and the exterior nature of the characters' personalities. Whether or not this reduced level of nihilism is appealing to a reader is up to the individual in question, but there's no doubt that this book is quite different in tone and outcome than the other two. That difference gives it a little less depth as well, though all three wallow in certain kinds of noir tropes so unapologetically that it can't be said that any of them stray too dramatically from genre concerns. It's just that the genre treatments of the other two books are far more bleak and complex.

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