The Yellow M is the sixth volume, but third story in the long-running Blake and Mortimer series. Following on from two longer stories, published over three and then two volumes, The Yellow M is often confusingly found as book number one due to its reprint by Cinebook.
All that number fun aside, The Yellow M is easily the most famous of the Blake and Mortimer series, not least for its iconic cover art, which perfectly encapsulates the shadowy brightness of the book like a pop-noir poster. It makes sense Cinebook present this as the first story as it’s an excellent introduction to the characters, themes and mood of the Blake and Mortimer universe.
First published in the weekly Tintin magazine, between 1953 and 1954, The Yellow M built on the success of both The Secret of the Swordfish and The Mystery of the Great Pyramid. Much like the closely linked Adventures of Tintin, previous escapades are mentioned but not relied on for understanding.
Blake and Mortimer, our leads, are a MI5 former Army Captain and a Professor respectively. While grounded in noir detective realism, their stories also include science fiction concepts drawn from the 1950s. They’re a double-act owing a fair amount to Holmes and Watson, though combining aspects of both alongside a more energetic style.
The story begins with news of an ongoing criminal, who commits daring crimes and leaves his mark (the titular Yellow M) all over London. Blake and Mortimer take on the case, vowing to discover the identity and motives of the mysterious man.
The Yellow M begins to kidnap group of men one-by-one, with Blake guarding the remaining member of the group and Mortimer searching for a connection between them. Just too late, the final man disappears, and Mortimer finds evidence of a mind-control experiment from years before that lead to the death of one and disappearance of another.
Blake and Mortimer must track down the Yellow M before he can enact his revenge plan.
Even as a long-time Tintin fan (see my review of The Blue Lotus), I wasn’t aware of Blake and Mortimer until I compiled my list of books to read and review. I’ve said before, I’m pleased I included Le Monde in my list as it’s opened up books outside of the English-speaking world more than any other.
While the design is unmistakably from the same publisher, where stories would need to conform to the weekly magazine format, the tone sets it well apart from Tintin’s simpler and lighter approach. The Yellow M is a smart detective adventure story, with action, science fiction and wonderfully illustrated panels.
What a shame that while I quickly read through every Tintin adventure, I never knew about their close cousin lurking in the shadows not too far away. I’m looking forward not only to reading more Blake and Mortimer, but also sharing them with my children as they grow up.
As I find from time-to-time, especially with the Le Monde books, there’s not a wealth of opinion online about either The Yellow M or Blake and Mortimer more generally. The Wikipedia page is slim and most search results are from book stores or recaps of the plot.
The one critical theme I noticed across some reader reviews is the wordiness of the book, something I’d agree with, but I don’t believe is to its detriment. Compared to say Tintin (a lazy but sensible proxy), the panels are dense with speech and thought but I don’t find this off-putting when reading. With the story originally being published weekly, there is a tendency to recap which feels odd when presented in a single volume
I recommend reading The Yellow M if you’re a fan on Tintin, comics or graphic novels. It’s beautifully illustrated and well written too. The characters are engaging and the the story keeps its energy and mystery throughout, whilst creating a time capsule version of 1950s London.
The Yellow M is one of Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century.
About the Author
Edgar P Jacobs was born in 1904 and created the Blake and Mortimer series in 1946, which he continued until his death in 1987.