Sometimes it takes a thief to catch a thief, or it takes a thief to catch some back robbers, or it takes a thief to do whatever task is required of her so long as she can have a little fun along the way. This is the world of Bandette, the Eisner award winning book from Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover. The first volume, Presto!, collects chapters 1-5, as well as a number of standalone stories, and presents our leading lady’s adventures as a thief extraordinaire who’s not above calling in reinforcements to help her squash the plans of other, less sophisticated criminals, while rewarding herself with a missing Rembrandt or two for a job well done. If none of that even manages to get you to smile, then this book clearly isn’t for you because Bandette is pure fun wrapped in whimsy, tied up in the slightest bit of self-awareness.
A master thief backed by the power of Presto! Bandette is the bane of Absinthe, a former assassin and the current leader of FINIS – Friends In Need Improvement Society, an organization claiming to help those in need while secretly causing chaos and destruction through public bombings, political manipulation, arms trading, and murder. When Bandette blows their nefarious cover via the local news, she’s warned by a rival thief, Monsieur, that her life is on the line. Undeterred by the threat of death, even after participating in an exceptional fight with FINIS’ greatest, and most feared assassin, Matadori, Bandette is determined to bring FINIS and Absinthe down by allying with Monsieur to steal seven items of great value to their common enemy.
Bandette is a criminal, but she’s the best kind of criminal, one who’s not so evil that she won’t help the police or someone in need should the occasion arise. She also intends to have as much fun as possible while singing her own praises. She’s proud of who she is and what she does, making absolutely no apologies for herself. It also helps that she surrounds herself with her personal band of “urchins” ready to help her at a moments notice while maintaining a precarious relationship with Inspector Belgique. Her world is a colorful homage to multiple influences, the greatest of which is Tin-Tin creator Hergé. The devotion of Tobin and Coover to aping not just the Francophone style but the adventurous spirit of Hergé and other creators of his ilk can’t be ignored. They even throw in a little shout-out to the man in the book, naming the television station that exposes FINIS, HRG-A. Paul Cornell also points out in his foreword that Tobin’s dialogue is so very “French” that one would assume lines like “Now then, I would make you vow to keep my secrets, but you are a cat…and no cat has ever given away a secret.” or “And while a bull is not so very wise, I am a monumental genius!” sound as though they’ve been translated for English readers. It’s a testament to Tobin and Coover that they can invoke so much of the Belgian and French style of comics that anyone might mistake their work for the genuine article.
Hergé, however, is only one of several nods to different characters and books that have influenced Bandette. There are shades of Pippi Longstocking, Sherlock Holmes, Scott Pilgrim, and Batman fused into Bandette’s personality and the menagerie of characters surrounding her. This is a character incapable of being caught off guard, she wouldn’t allow such a thing to happen. Bandette is never unprepared, never fazed by the prospect of getting caught by the police or dying at the hands of inferior foes. She and the book she inhabits exudes an atmosphere of joie de vivre. There’s rarely a moment where Bandette isn’t smiling or admonishing others with a sharp, yet hilarious insult as she plots and schemes. Coover’s art keeps the infectiously happy mood alive through the frenetic energy of Bandette. She’s constantly moving about, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, flipping over gravestones, and doing high wire tricks on a clothesline while having a quasi-romantic lunch with her marvelous and handsome Daniel. It’s as if the book is trying to contain her, but the minute the front cover is opened, she jumps off the page ready to seek out her next great feat of unfathomable thievery.
Final Thoughts: This is a book that should be read by everyone. Young and old, girls and boys, all of them will fall for Bandette!