Comic review: The Corsairs of Alcibiades

The Corsairs of Alcibades: Book 1 - Secret Elites - Éric Liberge & Denis-Pierre Filippi ***

The Corsairs of Alcibiades has all the essential ingredients for a thrilling and successful comic-book adventure series. It has a classic 19th century steampunk setting, where there are mysterious secretive societies developing plans to overthrow or at least completely transform the social order. The revelations of how they plan to do this are gradually revealed through a diverse group of individuals who have been recruited, but who first have to pass a series of dangerous tests to prove their abilities. A cursory glance at the detailed fantastical artwork also makes this a very attractive package indeed. The execution of the plotting however, at least in this first volume of the series, suggests that perhaps it's even trying to pack too much into a single opening episode.

When I say recruited, obviously mysterious underground organisations don't advertise in the papers, so it's more a case that the latest potential recruits are abducted and not given much choice in the matter. The situations in which they are apprehended does however give us some idea of the particular skills and qualities that the organisation is looking for. In England, 1825, Curtis is involved in a burglary that is on the point of going wrong when the situation suddenly becomes even more dangerous with the appearance of a group of armed masked men who whisk him away. Mayline seems to be involved with an organisation that is under siege from the authorities when she is also 'recruited'.

Mayline and Curtis find that they are have been gathered along with a large number of petty low-life criminals and anti-establishment revolutionaries wanted by the authorities. What is expected of them isn't made clear, although if they pass the various stages in the selection process and prove to have the necessary skills they are promised that it will grant them admission to "a new university where the elite of English society are to be educated". A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Well, we're in that same era of high pulp adventure, so The Corsairs of Alcibiades sounds good, sounds sufficiently mysterious and offers plenty of potential.

The remainder of the first volume of the series, Secret Elites, certainly sets about delivering on that potential. Teaming up with Peter and Lydia are a university student and a caretaker's daughter who have solved clues in some mysterious document pointing to hidden treasure, and Mike, another 'recruit' who has obtained a key that will open the necessary doors. The team successfully work their way through a series of secret passages and rooms avoiding great traps and dangers, and along the way they witness some of the incredible mechanical devices and inventions being tested by the Alcibiades.

With secret organisations, hidden treasure in underground caves, symbols and clues to solve and the promises of adventure on the high seas, The Corsairs of Alcibiades: Book 1 - Secret Elites certainly has all the essential ingredients and it's attractively presented with detailed clean artwork from Éric Liberge and strong visual characterisation that makes it easy to follow progress and who is who. The story itself is not so easy to keep up with. It all moves along too rapidly, running from one dangerous adventure and situation to another with not enough downtime to let you get to know the characters, skills and personalities sufficiently. It's hard to see any actual realistic design to the tests either, which seem to operate more on random chance.

More than just being a little confusing there's a feeling that the potential to develop these great situations has been somewhat wasted, but you would expect there to be some initial confusion in the first volume of a series like this, and at the very least the wares that Éric Liberge and Denis-Pierre Filippi lay out in this opening volume of The Corsairs of Alcibiades and where the end of the first book leaves us certainly suggests that the series has a lot more to offer.

Originally published in France in 2004 by Dupuis, The Corsairs of Alcibiades is published in English translation now in digital format only by Europe Comics.

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