Hitler is Dead Vol. 1 - Vigilant and Ruthless, review: the beginning of an unusual spy thriller

Hitler is Dead Vol. 1 - Vigilant and Ruthless, review: the beginning of an unusual spy thriller

Hitler is Dead Vol. 1 - Vigilant and Ruthless, review

Star Comics brings to Italy, through its Astra label specialized in western productions, Hitler is Dead Vol. 1 - Vigile e Ruthless or the first volume of a trilogy coming from France written by Jean-Christophe Brisard, journalist and reporter with assets several books and documentaries on geopolitical and historical issues with particular attention to the dictatorships of the past and present, and illustrated by the Tuscan designer Alberto Pagliaro, very active beyond the Alps having collaborated with the major French publishers and recently also seen a Dylan Dog at work Color Fest.

Hitler is Dead Vol. 1: where is Hitler's body?

Berlin, May 2, 1945. After a battle lasting several weeks, the Army Rossa has finally taken possession of the now ruined capital of the Reich. Hitler is said to have died. But what was the Führer's end really and above all, if he was really killed, where is his body?

It is Stalin himself who thunders from Moscow demanding the body of the Beast: a body to exhibit, photographic and scientific proof, to demonstrate to the world that the "sun of the future will be red in color". But we must hurry because the march of the Americans and the British is quickly converging towards Berlin and Stalin knows well that the nation whose army will demonstrate that it has materially eliminated the Führer will have an important specific weight not only in front of public opinion but at the table at which we will have to sit down to sign the surrender of Germany.

Thus begins a manhunt or rather the corpse. The first to obtain a result are the agents of the mysterious Smerš (the counter-intelligence agency) under the orders of Lieutenant Helena Kagan who, in the heart of that same devastated Berlin, steal some charred bodies from Hitler's alleged bunker. The problem is obviously recognizing these corpses in order to establish their identity with certainty before triumphal announcements and signatures on official documents.

But that's not the only problem. As soon as the news of this discovery arrives in Moscow, the NKVD and its ambitious leader Colonel Molotov set in motion its agents headed by the tough captain Saveliev to conduct investigations in parallel that discredit the discovery of the agents of the other agency and track down the real body of Hitler. Thus begins a long-distance duel fought in the palaces of power in Moscow but above all between agents on the field between misdirections, threats and actions aimed at discrediting each other in the eyes of their superiors.

When the 8th May 1945 the surrender is signed and the end of the conflict the game seems to be over but in reality the match between Smerš and NKVD. While Comrade Kagan finally found a way to identify the charred corpses, Comrade Saveliev scoured the prison camps in search of Hitler's cabinet. In fact, a sensational hypothesis is making its way: the Führer may have escaped death by leaving Europe.

Jean-Christophe Brisard prepares the Cold War "climate"

With Hitler is Dead Vol. 1 - Vigilant and Ruthless, the beginning of an unusual and very robust spy thriller rigorously chiseled by Jean-Christophe Brisard that shows, in the precise reconstruction of the days following the fall of the Führer, all his historical-journalistic competence moving to the limit of graphic journalism and finds, in the references to the tensions in the buildings of the power of Moscow on the one hand and in the game of misleading agents on the other, the key to turning towards a graphic novel, clearly understood as a novel as the component of reality is strongly intertwined with the fictional one constituted by the protagonists of the events.

The author (re) painstakingly constructs the Berlin setting and the exact moment in which the turning points of the "investigations" occur. There are punctual space-time references as well as punctual references both to the political situation inside the Soviet Union and to that of Europe which was preparing to be divided into blocks and geopolitical areas of influence. With such a realistic approach, Brisard introduces a series of plausible characters who only rarely reveal emotions that go beyond "fidelity" to the ideals of the revolution and / or to the fulfillment of the assigned mission, in this sense it is enough to see the revelation on the origins of Lieutenant Kagan more than the background of Captain Saveliev.

However, as in the best tradition of the spy-themed thriller genre, it is the interweaving of the plot that is the real strength of a narrative from the very first pages extremely tense and pressing. Starting from a simple and direct premise (finding Hitler's body), Brisard plays with the reader and his expectations. The action-motivation-acquisition scheme is punctually disregarded throwing the reader into a labyrinth of mirrors, misdirections and subterfuges that increase as the search becomes more widespread and the finding of the corpse becomes of vital importance not only for the fate of the Soviet Union and ideally for Europe but also for the life of the characters involved both in Germany and in Moscow.

Borrowing some key themes and narrative solutions of all those works of the aforementioned genre set during the Cold War period, the author has the great ability to mix the narrative program by introducing characters who, over the course of the pages, rarely demonstrate what they really are, always moving in a gray area in which Berlin like a no man's land it is a merciless (and in some ways unprecedented) scenario for a sunset of values ​​that can already be glimpsed in men and women direct or indirect protagonists of the corpse hunt and which will materialize only several decades later.

Jean-Christophe Brisard's narrative is opaque and therefore never predictable and always satisfying, at times reminiscent of the Vittorio Giardino di Rapsodia Hungarian but combined with the robustness of certain tales by the less sci-fi Tom Clancy.

Alberto Pagliaro, sharp and uncompromising pencils

Alberto Pagliaro's excellent and very solid proof at the drawing board. Not falling into the easy temptation to normalize his style towards a realism that would bring him closer to the historical-journalistic rigor of a part of the author's screenplay, the Tuscan designer starts from an approach entirely devoted to the anatomical-expressive synthesis in which it is a broken line and cutting edge to be the lowest common denominator.

But Pagliaro is not satisfied with this personal approach and delves into the blacks of his thick and rough, nervous inks that create strong contrasts and chiaroscuro, helping to create on the one hand a ghostly Berlin and on the other a secret and secret Moscow. indulgent. The chiaroscuro thus created goes very well with the development of the plot, always opaque and harbinger of sudden changes, while the colors are spread with homogeneous and clear backgrounds, always leaving the inks and the positioning of the lights to create the shades of a tending palette. already in its dark tones.

Pagliaro's is an aggressive style that does not seek compromises. His characters are always tense and ready to shoot both physically and emotionally with expressions made in a direct and evident way by exploiting the harshness of his line. This is then combined with an excellent storytelling in a table which, built according to the dictates of French comics, alternates heterogeneous and effective solutions very well. We go from horizontality to verticality with a good alternation also in terms of close-ups (fundamental in some more "verbose" passages necessary to unravel the complex relationships between the characters) and medium planes without disdaining some fringed boxes and some inserts that give greater breath especially in the first pages of the volume.

The historical reconstruction (environments, weapons, uniforms, vehicles) is very good, perhaps if one wanted to find a flaw in the work of the designer in this first volume it could be traced to an excessive adherence to the aesthetics of the time as far as the Soviet officers are concerned: at a certain point there are several with handlebar mustaches and, thanks to some sequences with very close dialogues, we get lost a bit in reading not being able to immediately identify who belongs to which faction.

The volume

Star Comics packs a nice hardcover volume 21 × 28 cm with a simple but effective graphic design. Excellent print yield on coated paper and excellent weight, excellent and smooth are also translation and adaptation. From a carto-technical and editorial point of view, the only note that can be made is linked to the total absence of extras and / or an editorial apparatus: given the setting and the rigor of the reconstruction of the events, some critical passages by the author himself it would have been really interesting.

Pop Culture Award

The Pop Culture editorial team decided to award one of its "Pop Culture Award" for the month of June to Hitler is Dead Vol. 1 - Vigilant and Ruthless.

It is a tense and engaging reading that, grafted onto the espionage thriller trend, makes the most of the historical setting, also strengthened by the rigorous historical-journalistic reconstruction of the screenwriter Jean-Christophe Brisard, never being taken for granted. The pencils by the Italian Alberto Pagliaro are also excellent, illustrating the volume with an aggressive and chiaroscuro style, obtained with deep and nervous inks, which finds the lowest common denominator in a broken and sharp line.

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