“The Final Flight” & The Male Gaze in BD

“The Final Flight” (Le Dernier Envol – original French title)

Created/illustrated – Romain Hugault

Story/dialog – Romain Hugault and Régis Hautière

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Let’s start at the beginning. As my last blog post detailed, “The Final Flight” was my first exposure to bande dessinée. I picked it up at a comic and music store in Louisville in 2010. It’s a good place to start because it’s been translated into English, which makes it more approachable for readers with limited or no ability to read French. Theoretically, it should also be cheaper and easier to obtain than many of other title’s I’ll discuss in the future (although the cheapest used copy listed on Amazon was priced at more than $50!).

“The Final Flight” is a collection of four short stories about pilots during World War II. Romain Hugault was responsible for the illustration and most of the story. He’ll be a common feature of my next few reviews, which will focus on the publisher Pacquet’s “Cockpit” collection.

“The Cherry Blossom” tells the story of a kamikaze pilot in 1945. “Reprieve” focuses on a P-47 pilot that conducts ground-attack missions to support the D-Day invasion. “Iron Cross” follows a hardened German ace on the Eastern Front in 1944. “Angel Drop” stays on the Eastern Front but switches to the perspective of a French pilot in the Normandie-Niemen squadron in 1943. There’s also a brief epilogue that brings the collection to a tragic end. It reminded me of the short story anthology “Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina,” which I loved as a teenager. All the different stories intersect, sometimes in surprising ways.

Hugault’s art is what really captured my attention and has made me a fan of the “Cockpit” series, which frequently publishes his work. His illustrations are lavish and realistic. Of course, the planes are the stars of the story and every detail, down to worn paint on the fuselage (as seen below), is captured.

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Each story is only nine or ten pages long, so there isn’t much character development. The focus is on aerial combat, which Hugault captures in vivid detail. At times, the dialogue can come off as cliché or stilted, perhaps because of translation.

In addition, the only female character that shows up is reduced to a sex object. This will be an ongoing complaint in the other titles I review, especially from Hugault. I know the BD industry is male dominated, and the “Cockpit” series is surely targeted at male readers. However, I really don’t like the repetitive efforts to titillate the reader. As I will discuss in the future, even when there’s an attempt to make a strong female character, Hugault is unable to avoid objectifying them. At the back of “The Final Flight,” there’s a compilation of pinup art that only reiterates the obsession with sex. I understand that pinup art is part of the World War II aesthetic, but I’d love to find a bande dessinée that features interesting female characters without subjecting them to the male gaze. I admit I’ll probably have to lookout outside of the “Cockpit” series, and certainly to another creator besides Hugault, to find it.

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