World War I saw the first large-scale use of a variety of chemical weapons, namely the numerous poisonous gases responsible for so much terror and death in the trenches. But, in the alternate Earth of The Chimera Brigade, those chemicals (along with X-rays and radium – all the usual suspects in comics) also imparted a lucky few with superpowers.
It’s been twenty years since superheroes first arrived on the scene, and Europe is once more inching closer toward war. In Volume 1, we meet Irène Joliot-Curie, daughter of Marie Curie, as she infiltrates a secret meeting of super-powered beings in the newly-created city of Metropole in the Austrian Alps. There, Dr. Missbrauch, this comic’s super-powered Hitler stand-in, declares his intention to start a new country where the “ubermensch” will rule over everyone else. We are also introduced to Saint-Clair, known as The Eye – the protector (and possibly dictator?) of Paris. There are also the skull-headed totenkopfs, the mechanoid soldiers of the communist organization called “We,” and various other super-powered people, including a man who can turn into a swarm of cockroaches, and the size-changing Elastic Man.
There’s a good sense of the political climate, as well. Obviously, the conquering ambitions of Missbrauch will be familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of history. But there’s also the spy-intrigue aspect of things in regard to the embattled Joliot-Curie and her husband Frédéric. They were already having to deal with constant protests outside their home at the Radium Institute, as well as (not entirely false) accusations of being communist spies. But they really incur the wrath of Saint-Clair when they send The Man Who Walks Through Walls to try to free the Cockroach, who’s been hidden away in Saint-Clair’s underground lair.
Volume 2 introduces us to a new character: Dr. Jean Séverac, a man who fell into a 16-year-long coma after being injured during the war. He finally awakened five years ago, but he’s been plagued by nightmares of the Chimera Brigade, a legendary group that supposedly saved Marie Curie numerous times during the war. He goes to Irène and Frédéric to try to understand what these dreams might mean, but they are interrupted by the Elastic Man, who has been persuaded by Saint-Clair to attack the Radium Institute. Looks like it’s time for the triumphant return of the Chimera Brigade!
This comic is fantastic. Just when you think you’ve seen every way superheroes can be done, along comes something like this. You don’t see European superheroes very often – and you hardly ever see mainland European superheroes (does Asterix count?). Then there’s the time period. Sure, superheroes were created in the thirties, but this is an era that fiction generally considers to be the domain of the non-powered pulp-hero. Of course it helps that the writers, Serge Lehman and Fabrice Colin, are French, so naturally they bring a unique perspective to this book. And the art, by Gess, is perfect.
You like superheroes but are getting bored with the same-old, same-old? You like alternate histories? Then pick up this comic already!