REVIEW: The Tiger Awakens: The Return of John Chinaman – Book 1 (2021)

A graphic novel by Serge Le Tendre, Olivier TaDuc

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I’m not going to lie, a book with a racial epithet in the title is somewhat of a cause for alarm to me, but seeing that this takes place during the goldrush, put my mind somewhat at ease. The term “John Chinaman” was basically a product of its time, where many nineteenth century people referred to just about any Asian person as such. It was interesting to see this book handle racial tensions of the time as well as it did – I actually loved seeing that. Apparently this is a volume in a long running series by these authors, but I was assured in the preface that it was stand-alone and that I needed no prior knowledge of the material to enjoy this.

“You’ve followed his adventures through the Gold Rush, the building of the Continental Railroad, and the taming of the frontier. Now Chen Long the Chinaman, the triumphant creation of Olivier TaDuc and Serge Le Tendre, is back for his greatest adventure of all: finding out he’s a father. Twenty years after his violent past drove away his true love Ada, the Civil War, prison camp, and opium have left Chen Long a broken-down shell of his former proud self. Can the tiger rise to save his son? A fitting conclusion to an epic series that explores forgotten pockets of western history.”

This is the second western-themed book by Europe Comics that I’ve absolutely loved, the first being Wild West. I have spoken before on the fact that I absolutely adore western comics for some reason, this is despite the fact that I’ve never really been a big western guy when it comes to TV or film, but for some reason I became hooked on them after DC’s new 52 initiative re-launched All Star Western many moons ago. I think the reason being that I’m not sued to them, and they seem to largely be resurrections of long dormant comics from the Golden and Silver Eras that I’ve never heard of.

Being informed that this book is after a long running series of other books definitely makes me want to go back and read the previous material. I have no idea if any of its available in English, but the way we are introduced to Chen Long, internally fighting decades worth of PTSD in an opium den, makes me NEED to know what happened. They especially draw on whatever experiences he had in the American Civil War, and how it has affected him the most. Perhaps if this does well, Europe comics can go backwards? Here’s hoping!

The writing, and more importantly, the translation is top notch – you can tell work was taken to make sure dialogue was made to be like other depictions of “The Wild West”. You always run the risk of having a depiction of American history from Europe come up feeling weird. I’ve listened to Doctor Who audio dramas that did an abysmal job of making the setting feel real, but these French comics always seem to hit their mark. Hats off to them! With great art, and no punches pulled when it comes to mindsets of the time, this book is every bit as dark as an HBO show, and would be a GREAT basis for a TV series or movie if they ever had an inkling to do as such. If you are in a western mood, I’d definitely recommend this!