The Alliance of the Curious Deluxe HC
Publisher: Humanoids
Release Date: December 2012
Price: $29.95
Creator: Philippe Riche
Format: 96 pgs., Full-Color, Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-5946-5033-8
Age Rating: Mature
ICv2 Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Collecting the two French albums L'Association des Cas Particuliers: Sapiens and L'Association des Cas Particuliers: Neandertalensis and presented in English for the first time, The Alliance of the Curious is an innovative and beautifully-conceived experiment in mystery and suspense genre, graphic literature.
Known in France for a variety of bandes dessinees, Riche is no stranger to Les Humanoides Associes, having published shorter stories in Metal Hurlant and Pas de Chance in the publisher's Tohu Bohu collection.  The release of The Alliance of the Curious will hopefully grant Riche greater and much deserved attention here in the United States.
Opening on an intense heat wave sweeping Paris, Alliance quickly introduces readers to a strange, elderly man who is arrested for stealing lemonade for his aged, invalid mother.  Suddenly destitute and homeless, the man wanders throughout the city as he intersects with moments and sequences that are seemingly out of place and time.  Are these the delusions of an alcoholic or the torments associated with the heat?  Riche is clever to weave the drama together as the stranger experiences temporal shifts instigated by specific Parisian locales, calling to memory either past events in his own life or potential shared memories with possible ancestors. 
Running parallel to this tour of Paris' past is another narrative centering on junk dealers, or pickers, who come into possession of the old woman's belongings.  Amidst the boxes is a skull reliquary adorned with arcane symbols.  Not recognizing the item, the pair seeks out an expert and the adventure and mystery that is Alliance only builds from here.  Throw in the Order of Saint Louis and uncovering the lineage of the France's royal bloodline, as well as the stages of human evolution, and the Alliance is worthy of Humanoids' advertising tag of "a quest a la The Da Vinci Code on acid."
Riche's art is a fascinating blend of styles as his line art betrays a familiarity akin to British illustrator D'Israeli (Matt Brooker).  Yet, Riche inverts the familiar with a wide-ranging, varied color palette that shifts between the solid flat tones associated with traditional European albums and stark, muddled greytones and earthtones in the later-half of the book. 
What distinguishes Riche even more, however, is the infusion of humor into the story.  Whether in the back-and-forth dialogue between the pickers or in the moments leading up to the book's finale, Riche's utilization of comedic moments offset the beats and rhythms of the suspense genre in truly imaginative ways.  Some readers may find Riche's conclusion an abrupt, off-kilter shift in story-build up and progression; however, when viewed in the larger context of Riche's humor and the possibility of future adventures, the decision holds greater resonance.
Possessing a distinctive voice not found in current American comics, particularly within the mystery and suspense genres, Riche is a welcome addition to the U.S. market.  As with other titles in its catalog, Humanoids is at the forefront of importing original European comics into the American scene.  Their continued dedication to producing prestigious print editions which showcase the diversity of comics from Europe and beyond for both casual and regular readers as well as collectors should not be missed. 

--Nathan Wilson