Giardino's (A Jew in Communist Prague) newest Max Friedman spy adventure takes this reluctant spy, former soldier and successful businessman away from his comfortable home on the outskirts of Geneva into the thick of the Spanish Civil War in 1938. Friedman's old friend Maj. Guido Treves has disappeared while fighting with the anti-Franco Loyalists, and his wife implores Friedman to go to Spain and find him. Narrowly escaping an aerial bombing of his Barcelona-bound train, Friedman next faces a gunman's attempt on his life. As the International Brigades depart Spain, allowing Franco and his Nazi-Fascist allies to advance, Friedman is intent upon making the perilous journey to the front, where Treves was last seen. His inquiries about his missing friend arouse the suspicions of the local police, the Communist Party and Franco's spies. Giardino's characters tend toward rugged, brave men and beautiful, dark-haired women. Drawn in a stiff but realistic style originally made popular in Europe by the Belgian cartoonist Herge, his renderings of dark, war-ruined streets, art nouveau interiors and austere military offices, faithfully recreate wartime Barcelona. The next volume of No Pasar n! takes Friedman to the front, where the danger, intrigue and action can only increase.
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Giardino puts off concluding the suspenseful A Jew in Communist Prague to delve into the past of Swiss businessman and spy Max Friedman, the hero of a couple of Giardino's earlier works. The prequel-equivalent is set during the waning days of the Spanish Civil War, when the wife of Guido Treves, a Republican loyalist officer and a friend of Max's, asks Max to find Guido, whom she hasn't heard from in two months. Readers already know that Treves is in danger for flouting the Communist apparatchiks trying to run the loyalist forces for Stalin's sake. Max sets off for Barcelona, where covert infighting between the Communists and other loyalists makes his life quite interesting. At this volume's end, Max is bound for the front and some definite information. Giardino's cinematic drawing style and realistic narrative and character development are sophistications that account for why graphic novels such as Giardino's enjoy huge cross-generational popularity in Europe. Ray Olson
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