The very first adventure of Adèle Blanc-Sec throws the protagonist into an incredibly convoluted plot that involves spiritism, remote viewing, a resurrected pterodactyl, a flying machine resembling that creature, the entire Paris police force, a mysterious theft, mistaken identities and forlorn lovers. If one can describe the entire series as a mix of the crime and fantastic genres, it’s peppered with implausible events, extravagant plot turns, and unforgettable characters.
It seems as if Jacques Tardi, to the contrary of his usual work, is less interested in creating psychologically-oriented character studies than an outrageous romp through a mass of references from the feuilleton (serials) tradition: the very individual titles seem to imitate French pulp fiction. Point in fact, Adèle Blanc-Sec is a writer of feuilletons, and much of the subject matter that makes up her adventures come straight out of that paraliterary field, with its exuberant cases and fantastical creatures.
Adèle’s unabashed freedom constitutes one of the reasons for the early critical success of the series in the late 1970s. At the time, seldom were the bande dessinées in which female characters were the lead, without reducing them to more domestic, “safer” environments. What is more, Adèle is an actual heroine, taking action in her own hands, making decisions and steering the intrigue. And all the while smoking, drinking, reading newspapers, shooting guns and defending herself as nonchalantly as any other (male) character, never relinquishing her power over to anybody.
Conforming to the classical hardbound, four-coloured, 48-page album format, this is Tardi’s closest project to a mainstream bande dessinée series, starting with its very title and also through its pre-publication in magazines (Sud-Ouest, (A Suivre), Télérama). The author published the first four books of the series between 1976 and 1978, returning to it sporadically: 2 albums in the 1980s, 2 in the 1990s and the latest instalment in 2007. The style has changed over the years, from the elegantly composed pages of the first few albums to the more functional, colourful pages of the last ones. Tardi’s drawing skills have also changed, from his tighter lines of the late 1970s to the puffy characters of the 1990s and 2000s.
If one can read the series autonomously, its associations with Le démon des glaces, Adieu Brindavoine and La fleur au fusil (comparable to American so-called “crossovers”) opens it up to an anarchic, anti-war, anti-power discourse that is a perennial trait of the author, albeit treated in the Adèle books with stark wit. By using a great number of in-jokes to actual events of history, some of which are “explained” by the fantastical episodes of the series, Tardi does not lose the opportunity to throw jabs at French society, always with pitch-perfect cynicism.
— Pedro Moura
See also: Tardi, Jacques