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Review: ‘Ten Thousand Years in Hell’

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Ten Thousand Years in Hell
Writer/Artist: Maurice Tillieux
Fantagraphics; $19.99

The title story in Ten Thousand Years in Hell, a new collection of a pair of Gil Jordan, Private Detective stories from the early 1960s, takes its title from a courtroom scene. Jordan and his comic relief sidekick Crackerjack are before a tribunal in a fictional South American dictatorship and they are about to be sentenced to a notorious labor camp. Crackerjack, still suffering the effects of the laughing gas he was accidentally exposed to—a canister of the stuff got mixed in with the tear gas they pair are being bombarded with on the cover—he inadvertently gets into a bidding war over his sentence with the judge, transforming their initial ten-year sentence into a 10,000-year one.

10000Years-in-Hell-COVERThey don’t stay that long, however, and in fact are able to escape in a matter of days. Despite the maybe bleak-sounding title, Ten Thousand Years in Hell is really an all-ages comic, similar in its mix of action, adventure and humor to other, more widely-known European comics of the era, like Tintin and Asterisk, or, here in the states, Carl Barks’ Disney duck comics. Anything that a concerned parent or a librarian might flag as potentially inappropriate for the youngest readers is mostly due to cultural changes over the last 50 years: Crackerjack gets drunk at one point, there’s a lot of cigarette smoking and there’s at least one background gag involving ethnicity (As a crowd gathers around the scene of a car crash, one bystander sniffs, “They were drunk as Poles!”, while the man next to him replies angrily, “My name’s Sfrkvsrscky! Say that again!”).

It is therefore a little more mature than, say, The Smurfs, which were born of the same magazine that Gil Jordan was and which the highly-animated artwork might recall at certain points, but it remains just as appropriate for (almost) all readers of all ages in this decade as it would have for all readers of all ages in the 1960s.

Gil and Crackerjack are a pretty classic comic duo, with the handsome former playing the sometimes slightly irritated straight man and motivating most of the action…as well as fighting any fights that need fought and coming up with any plans that need come up with. Crackerjack, his assistant, is there for laughs and little else, being a round little collection of vices—cowardice, gluttony, bad joke-telling—that propels most of the humor.

In the title story, they are approached by the brother of a scientist who has developed a kind of super-gun based on sonics. He has been kidnapped and brought to The Republic of Massacara, a tiny military dictatorship that covers a bunch of hostile forms of terrain: Mountains, desert, and a supposedly headhunter-filled jungle. Gil and Crackerjack’s investigation is stymied immediately upon their arrival, when they are arrested and sent to the prison camp, but that turns out to be a break, as the scientist they are searching for is also being held in the camp. They make a daring, exhausting escape through all of that harsh terrain.

That’s followed by another adventure, “Boom or Bust,” for which they don’t even need to leave the continent. A mis-delivered letter gets them involved in what has to be one of the most elaborate bank robbery schemes ever conceived, one that involves seemingly unrelated moving parts as a rash of van thefts throughout Paris, secret explosives testing near a completely deserted town in the countryside and an attempt to scare an old soldier from his family estate via threatening letters and the actualization of a legend involving a spectral black hound.

Given Tillieux’s masterful cartooning and complicated but zippy plotting, the book turns out to be more like an hour in comics heaven than 10,000 years in hell, but granted the latter is certainly a more evocative title.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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