And now for something completely different. See, the Inquisitive Biologist does occasionally read other things than academic books. Something light and fun, but something that still tickles the mental faculties. So, this time I will be reviewing two comics. And French ones at that. Sacré bleu! But if I am not mistaken, I think that many of my readers are at least a little bit geeky, so these comics might interest quite a few of you.
When a friend on Facebook linked to this French superhero, created by Pascal Jousselin, I knew I just had to get this. Jousselin seems not to have much of a social media presence, and with the comics written in French, my impression is that they have flown under many people’s radar. As pictures say more than a thousand words, let me share a panel with you. This is from the English translation of volume 1 (as I write this, both volumes have been translated into English as a 96-page bundle simply titled Mister Invincible).
That’s right, Imbattable cleverly plays with the comic book layout, with the titular superhero able to cross over between panels. His fellow citizens, trapped as they are within the confines of the world Jousselin has created, see something completely different: to them, Imbattable appears to travel in time. This, of course, creates no end of possible jokes.
Now, this breaking of the fourth wall might sound like a gimmick, but I can assure you, Jousselin has created a comic that is far from a one-trick pony. The gags are clever, but just in case his bag of tricks might run out, he populates his world with other characters who have similarly unusual powers that play with the medium in different ways. One example is Two-D Boy, who manipulates perspective.
Yet another character can weaponise his speech bubbles. And volume 1 also introduces a villain with a superpower so unusual, that it took me several pages to figure it out. I will not spoil the surprise for you here.
But wait, it gets better still! As if the sometimes mind-bending play with this concept wasn’t enough, there is even some proper paper-craft involved. To fully appreciate this, you really need to have the physical copies of these comics. I have not read the ebook version, but I seriously question how well this translates to that medium. Just take a look at below panel.
Above scan does not quite do it justice, but this page has part of the top-right section cut out, showing part of the next page. The clever bit is that as you read this, the dialogue from the next page interacts with the story on the current page. And once you turn over the page, the same is true for the dialogue on the previous page when this missing section now sits on the top-left side. How clever is that!
Volume 1 features a mixture of single-page and multi-page stories, with one particular story-arc stretching over ten pages. Having finished it, I simply had to order volume 2. Much to my delight, Jousselin here continues the clever gags in new ways, introduces new characters, and even new papercraft tricks. Admittedly, I was less blown away by the longest and most ambitious story arc in this volume, which sprawls over 14 pages, but that is probably because the quality of the rest of the stories is so high. The last story-arc in this volume, featuring an invader from space who is a close match for Imbattable, more than makes up for this though.
Now, I do not normally read much in the way of comics at all, so I might be going out on a limb with the following statement, but… I am not aware of other comics that reinvent the medium in such a clever way. The closest I could think of is the obscure 1972 German comic Rüssel in Komikland by Leo Leonhard and Otto Jägersberg, of which I have a Dutch translation that my grandfather gave me. I am sure this says more about my ignorance than anything else, and no doubt some of my readers will be able to point out other comic book authors who have done clever things with the medium.
Luckily, my French is of a sufficient standard that I could follow most of the dialogue in the two Imbattable comics. Smart and funny, these two comics would make perfect gifts and I am really curious to see if Jousselin will write more volumes. [Edit: a third volume was indeed published in 2021.]
Other recommended books mentioned in this review: