With three volumes of the Last Man series set to release this year I wasn’t sure what to expect from the series. When you go in on one volume in a way you’re deciding the fate of the next two. This series is originally from France which should have given me clear indication that it was worth investing in and explains why there are two more volumes (The Royal Cup and The Chase) set to release this year. The story is set in a fantasy world. We meet one of our main characters Adrian Velba, a young boy that’s getting ready to fight in his first tournament. There’s an annual tournament held and different schools send their students in with the hope of winning and defeating the current champions. The rules dictate that each fighter must have a partner which is pretty interesting and ensures that there’s always a second chance. Adrian’s partner is probably the weakest in class and given that Adrian himself is small… well his chances aren’t great.
After class Adrian’s mom picks him up and she finds a quiet and pouty son. She bribes him with food and soon Adrian opens up about his frustrations and excitements and you can tell that mother and son have a great relationship. We also discover that there’s no dad in the picture as they head home and Adrian’s mother makes him a meal and eats none herself. It's little details like that that make the story so good because Adrian's motivation for winning the tournament is his mother.
The day of the tournament Adrian is greeted with some bad news as his idiot partner ate food that didn’t agree with him and now he can’t be in the tournament meaning Adrian is also out. Frustrated Adrian stays to watch, but with sharp tears in his eyes.
Around this time we meet Richard Aldana. He’s a man’s man to say the least. He’s late for the tournament and every time he stops to talk to someone they have no idea what he’s talking about. Things like “motorcycle” and “cigarettes.” That’s the interesting part as it’s clear that Richard is from our world, but somehow he’s in this other world with magical fighting tournaments. As Richard gets to the event he discovers that he needs a partner and doesn’t have one, but after over hearing Adrian and his mother, he runs a con and gets the boy to sign on. Win, win right?
Adrian’s mom actually plays a huge role in this story. She’s an independent, very attractive woman and basically every man in town desires her. She also doesn’t take any shit and threatens Richard if he harms her son. As time goes on she's the first to really suspect Richard of not being what he says he is. I’m sure it’s probably pretty clear to anyone that actually spends time with him, but then he hasn’t done that with anyone else.
The story is charming, the world is full, vibrant and really it was a place that I wanted to visit. There’s a lot of mystery attached to the story. Where is Richard from? What happened to Adrian’s father because clearly there’s a lot more to that story and there may even be something up with his mother as well? There’s a lot of moving pieces to the plot which is what makes the world feel so alive.
The pacing of the story is that of an animation and considering one of the creators has an animation background I’m not surprised. In fact the overall feel and vibe I got from Last Man: The Stranger was that of an animation. Adrian’s mother’s design had a classic feel like Cinderella.
The art is in all black and white with grey scale and it is dynamic. It’s an interesting premise mixing an almost Eastern European looking world with one of martial arts and then the added bonus of a displaced modern man. There is something always interesting to look at and in particular the action/fighting is fluid making it easy to follow.
What really sucks you into the world is the facial expressions and the varying detail on them. At times everyone has soft features, almost void of detail while other times there’s a vast amount of detail. In particularly the children and women usually have soft features and the harder details are saved for the men and during fights. There is on particular scene, that I won’t fully explain, but a character is basically losing their shit and beating their head against a wall. It’s very intense and honestly frightening given the position the other character is put in.
That’s why this story is more than just fantasy, more than martial arts, but really just a fantastic situation populated by real people living seemingly normal lives. But it can’t stay that way. That’s why stories like this are both great and terrible because you know that once the story becomes comfortable the only way it can continue is with drama lurking around the corner… but damnit if I don’t crave that drama.
Three completed volumes in one year… we are lucky because I can say with certainty that I will be back for the next two. I’d also like to recommend an age group for this book which isn’t something I usually do… everyone. I know that’s not an age group, but really I would have loved something like this in middle school. In fact I would have read a lot more if I had graphic novels like this because superhero comics were as close to fantasy books as I could find. Here I am though an adult still reading comics and I absolutely loved this. Check out Last Man: The Stranger, and get ready to pre-order the next two volumes.
Last Man: The Stranger Creators: Balak, Michaël Sanlaville and Bastien Vivès Publisher: First Second Books Price: $9.99 Release Date: 3/18/15 Format: TPB; Print