Last Man Volume 1: The Stranger Packs A Fierce, Charming Punch
There is a memorable scene in the television show Spaced where Tim and Brian are having a conversation about chaos theory in the Star Wars universe, where everything that happened can be attributed to the actions of one man: the gunner on the Star Destroyer. "Well, if he'd shot the pod with Artoo and Threepio, they wouldn't have made it to Tatooine, they wouldn't have met Luke, Luke wouldn't have met Ben, they wouldn't have met Han and Chewie, they wouldn't have saved Princess Leia, none of it would have happened." The same notion applies to a single character in Last Man Volume 1 – The Stranger from First Second Books. Had a minor character not have gotten a stomach ache after eating seafood gumbo, Adrian Velba wouldn't have been paired with one of the greatest fighters of all time.
The Stranger is the first book of the epic Last Man series to be translated to English. Originating in France in 2013, it's up to its sixth volume overseas, with the second and third volumes also being released in English later this year. Created by Bastien Vivès, Balak, and Michaël Sanlaville, the series has garnered critical acclaim since its debut, and it's sure to be just as big a hit over here when it's released at the end of the month.
Adrian Velba isn't much of a fighter, but he's determined to compete in the kingdom's grand tournament. The winner gets the cup filled with gold coins, and Adrian wants to win it so he can help support his hardworking, single mother and ensure they'll always have food on the table. He's a very noble young lad, but still has a lot to learn at the fighting school he attends. After his partner Vlad is too sick to fight, Adrian is forced out of the competition because the rules state you need a partner to compete with. Heartbroken, Adrian has to wait until next year before he can try to be eligible again.
Enter Richard Aldana. Not from this medieval fantasy land, he's a man from our dimension, somehow accidentally misplaced in time and space. He's also competing in the tournament, but hasn't a clue how he arrived to such an odd place to begin with. Richard doesn't incorporate magic into his style of fighting like everyone does, but rather is a ballroom brawler, letting his heavy fists and K.O. punches do his talking for him. As fate would have it, he wasn't aware that he needed a partner to compete, and out of desperation just to be eligible to fight, spies a depressed Adrian and hatches a plan. They might be an unlikely duo, but they quickly move through the brackets, much to everyone's surprise and disbelief.
Richard's fighting style is completely unorthodox and savage to the citizens of the kingdom. Instead of waiting for his opponent to conjure a spell or fighting pose, he immediately attacks them before they have a chance to attack him. The fighters of this world are like the Final Fantasy video games; everyone gets a turn to attack, and it's up to the opponent to deflect or counter the move before it's their turn. Aldana doesn't subscribe to this kind of fighting, and despite collecting heavy penalties, continues to win the matches for him and Adrien and defy some astronomical odds. While Adrien doesn't feel like he's pulling his own weight, Richard keeps him content and even tries to teach him some new moves. If it means spending more time with Adrien and his attractive mother, Aldana doesn't mind it one bit.
It's incredibly apparent that the creators, Vivès, Balak, and Sanlaville were highly influenced by manga, video games, and Miyazaki films when creating the Last Man series. Each creator is a star in their own right back in France, with Vivès a star from the world of French comics, Balak a star from the world of French animation, and Sanlaville a star from the world of French video gaming. Together with their powers combined, Last Man is a beautiful blend of epic proportions. Fans of Naruto, Final Fantasy, and Infinite Kung Fu will fall in love, and want to learn French to get quickly caught up and avoid the wait.
The matches are exciting and things of beauty, with fighters like the Soares Brothers and Team Gregorio-Elorna capturing the essence of what the tournament and fighting is supposed to be highlighting; precision and best use of magical attacks. The arrival of Adrien and Richard completely reshuffles the deck, making the underdogs the most likely to succeed in challenging the defending champions Lord Ignacio Cudna and Cristo Canyon.
Like a traditional manga, there's a big cliffhanger, making the wait truly excruciating. Thankfully, fans won't have to wait that long, with volume two (The Royal Cup) being released in June and volume three (The Chase) being released in October. With art this fun and beautiful, and a story so enticing, Last Man is the new series worth waiting for. It's the best export from France since Jean Giraud.