Run Like Crazy, Run Like Hell is a divinely unromantic crime thriller.
It’s got all sorts of romanticized parts and pieces, but creator Jacques Tardi (adapting a Jean-Patrick Manchette) always finds a different angle to present.
There are four main characters and four supporting ones, then some supporting supporting ones, but the principals are Julie, a young woman recently released from a mental health institution now working as a governess, her charge, Peter, his uncle, Hartog, a wealthy philanthropist, and finally hired killer Thompson, who’s trying to finish this one last job.
Thompson and Julie are the most obvious ones to romanticize—Thompson’s a grizzled old killing machine, Julie’s a patsy (they target her because of her mental health history) who reveals herself to be a noir hero—but Tardi maintains a nice detached narrative distance with both of them. The comic observes them from afar, even though they’re the protagonists of their arcs.
The comic’s first act has of fun dialogue introducing Hartog and Peter’s house; Hartog’s Peter’s guardian, his parents having died in a plane crash. Peter’s an amusing little jerk who usually shuffles through the comic without comment, but always with some personality. Much of the first act is setting him up, then setting up his conflict with Julie, which gets resolved at the beginning of the second act.
Their first time out together Thompson and his goons nab them and hold them hostage, making Julie send Hartog a letter saying she was kidnapping the kid because she hates rich people. But she’s not in on Thompson’s actual plan; Tardi waits a long time fully reveal that twist.
Hartog’s got the least to do in the second act, since the kidnapping coincidences with a business trip out of the country; Julie’s in charge, or would be if she hadn’t been kidnapped. There are a number of peculiarities around the Hartog house and the way Tardi introduces them—detached, from Julie’s uninformed perspective—pay off in the third act when he comes back into the story. It’s kind of Hartog’s story, it’s just Julie and Thompson ending up being the chess pieces with Peter sort of the joker card.
To mix metaphors.
Tardi does a phenomenal job tracking the stress and trauma of the events without ever slowing the pace or letting up on the suspense. The comic is just over a hundred pages, with Tardi establishing the action plotting early on then bringing it back in the end. There’s so much danger from so many possible perpetrators in the final act; it’s incredibly intense.
The detached narrative distance but the reliable focus on Thompson and Julie sets it up as kind of a dual character study, which has contrasts nicely with the lack of romanticization.
Tardi’s art is smooth and nimble, whether it’s the crime suspense or the more humorous moments. Eventually even the humorous moments get some suspense to them, as Julie finds her situation getting worse and Thompson proves an almost inhuman threat.
Run Like Crazy, Run Like Hell is an excellent comic. Tardi does outstanding work start to finish, always finding the right character moments, always finding the right suspense moments. It’s delightful. Albeit unpleasantly so.