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Like A Sniper Lining Up His Shot
posted September 23, 2011
 

imageCreators: Jean Patrick Manchette, Jacques Tardi
Publishing Information: Fantagraphics, hardcover, 104 pages, September 2011, $18.99
Ordering Numbers: 1606994484 (ISBN10), 9781606994481 (ISBN13)

This latest in Fantagraphics' line of books featuring Jacques Tardi and the second of those books to feature an adaptation of the work of Jean-Patrick Manchette is lovely-looking, stylish and bleak as hell. The story of an assassin's attempt to extricate himself from the job of assassinating -- an almost hoary concept -- Like A Sniper Lining Up His Shot develops most of its power from the extended, subtle character study of its lead. The conclusion to which the work comes also rises from a cliché of the genre: our lead is really only good at killing people. Where Like A Sniper differs from most books and movies of its type is that the authors actually explore the consequences of the character's titanic inadequacies. It turns out our man can't really think on his feet all that well, his plans for leaving the service of his various employers suffers from life-altering dollops of hubris, and he's a severely lousy judge of character. This last trait place him back into the orbit of a decidedly unpleasant lost love, from whom Manchette and Tardi tease the tiniest hints of redeeming qualities before shoving the reader's face in the snow again. The short third act, where we learn what becomes of the assassin, proves so ruthlessly depressing it's almost a human rights violation.

Tardi's artwork is beautiful here, although you probably already knew that. No one in comics does the frowning face better than Tardi, and Like A Sniper proves to be an absolute showcase of down-turned mouths and the unhappy people bearing them. For those of us who grew up on American comics and look to the human figure for clues as to how we might react, the end result here is constant negative reinforcement if not outright confusion -- people react oddly to the presence of other people in the room, and move along in ungainly fashion when left alone. These are deeply unpleasant people. The lushest moments in the book belong to sound effects and acts of violence, globby moments of ink almost festive-looking when they appear. The slaughter of number of policemen is depicted in a way that seems active and energetic more than tragic. One character dies in a way he becomes a panel stuffed with tiny drawings, as if Tardi wished to disassemble him completely. What a show.