THOUSAND FACES BOOK 1: TWO MULES, A RIFLE AND TEN BULLETS
European comics are rarely ever treated properly in the US. Case in point: this graphic novel, the first of two parts. THOUSAND FACES Book 1 initially appeared in French and made its English language debut in 2005, but Book 2 never appeared in English due to the dissolution of Humanoids/DC. Thus we have a single volume comic that’s thrilling, ambitious, imaginative…and incomplete.
It’s an 1800’s set “weird western” sketched in broad, epic strokes. The epic-ness extends to the artwork, which is often presented in globular wide shots that mimic the view through a fisheye lens.
Through a highly elliptical (perhaps a bit too much so) flashback-laced narrative we learn how a shape-shifting demon has manifested itself in the body of one Professor Laney, a London based physician who uses his demonic powers to work medical miracles. Much of the story is told from the point of view of Laney’s sidekick Quinn, who flees to America after stabbing the demonic professor. But the latter is hot on Quinn’s tail.
Quinn winds up in South Dakota, where he’s taken in by a Sioux tribe after using his medical expertise to save the life of one of their tribesmen. It’s here that Quinn learns of the true nature of his former master, who the Sioux call Thousand Faces. Quinn also meets young Billy, the lone survivor of a raid carried out by Quinn’s Sioux pals. Billy becomes Quinn’s surrogate son, and eventually his instrument of vengeance after Quinn is killed and Billy takes his place in the fight against Thousand Faces…and it’s here, on this unfinished note, that--goddammit!--this first and only English language volume of THOUSAND FACES concludes.
The setting may be South Dakota but this is very much a European comic. The frankness of the sex and violence attests to this, as does the flashback-happy narrative and overall treatment of the Sioux: the Native Americans of THOUSAND FACES are neither the mindless savages portrayed by old Hollywood movies nor the stoic do-gooders of the newer ones, but a fierce and proud people prone to some extremely bad behavior.
In the end, though, THOUSAND FACES is marred by its incompleteness. For all its considerable virtues there’s an undeniable sense that the really good stuff was saved for Volume two.