Spirou à Moscou ("Spirou in Moscow," by Tome & Janry) came out in 1990, just around the time of the fall of communism in Europe, though it was written before the Berlin wall came down. It takes place in the late 80s atmosphere of glasnost and perestroika; as one character says, "Cold War is over." Still, the Soviet Union clearly remains a police state.
This book is a favorite of mine for the way it mixes thrilling action and absurd comedy, like a cross between James Bond and Airplane! When you think the Russian stereotypes have gone as far over the top as possible, Tome & Janry push them one step further. In this scanlation, I've tried to do the jokes justice.
The story follows closely after the last book, La vallée des bannis. Exhausted from their ordeal in the Himalayas, Spirou and Fantasio are about to go on holiday to Tahiti (which will lead them to the adventure told in the next book, Vito la Déveine). But at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, they are drugged and abducted...
(13 pages out of 44)
(See what I said about Russian stereotypes? To keep things balanced, one of the French soldiers seems to be attacking with a baguette.)
Once Spirou and Fantasio realize that the colonel was telling the truth, they demand to be taken back: "We want nothing to do with this Chicago-style hot-dog from the sky business! Turn the plane around!" "With empty fuel tanks?" he answers.
(I really only included this page for the nice shot of them walking from the plane, Fantasio looking grim. The reveal that the one hostage is colonel Marechal's son is also pretty funny: I like the idea that this is a completely unauthorized operation that he and Charbonnier are running on their own. At the end, of course, we find out that the other hostage is Charbonnier's daughter.)
(Love that panorama view of Moscow!)
Their new KGB handler, colonel Lafidmerev, explains the mission they've been recruited for. The Russian mob is out of control. The people demand that the government do something about it. But the KGB is powerless: the mafia has infiltrated their organization, and know their every move in advance. The leader of the Russian mob in Moscow appears to be a gangster by the name Tanaziof; he calls himself The White Prince and claims to be a descendant of the Czars, but in fact he's a westerner, and someone Spirou and Fantasio have met before...
Just as colonel Lafidmerev is explaining all this, a sniper shoots the driver, causing the car to crash. Spirou and Fantasio barely escape (the assassin thinks them dead), and find a taxi to take them to the French embassy. Now they have some time to think things over...
Zantafio! Fantasio's villainous cousin. The two heroes have thwarted his plans many times before. His schemes are often outlandish (he once set himself up as general Zantas, dictator of Palombia), but always intended to enrich himself. Before this story, he hadn't been seen for more than 15 years.
"Tanaziof" arrives unannounced to a reception at the embassy, and announces his plot: He will overthrow the Soviet leaders and make himself Czar. (Zantafio as absolute monarch: worse than communism.) His revolution will begin tomorrow at noon, when he will steal Lenin's mummy from the Lenin Mausoleum! (To show how powerless the regime is.) Colonel Lafidmerev rushes out of the hospital to oversee security.
At the reception, Tanaziof's sniper, Nikita, discovers that Spirou and Zantafio survived his assassination attempt. Terrified of what Tanaziof will do to him if he should find out, he decides to lure them into an ambush at Moscow's great open-air swimming pool, the Moskva Pool.
(By the way, it's true that the Moskva Pool was built on the site of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, which was demolished by the bolsheviks. After the Soviet Union fell, the church got permission to tear down the bath and rebuild the cathedral.)
Back to colonel Lafidmerev:
Yes, Spirou and Fantasio have tailed Nikita, and disguised themselves as henchmen of the Russian mob. Spirou knows that Zantafio can't be allowed to get away with or harm the mummy: the Russians would be outraged. They need to get away. Fantasio knows a way:
They're swiftly captured, and tied up next to a bomb in the shape of a matryoshka doll.
Saved at the last second! They split up and chase through the tunnels in search of Zantafio and the mummy. And here comes the nezchan fan service:
And the final chase is on!
I'll leave it at that, and not spoil the last twist. I hope you'll all agree that it was a lot of fun.
Edit: 2-year-late update to mention that Cinebook has announced this album as an upcoming title in the back of Spirou & Fantasio: Running Scared. I look forward to seeing how their translator (probably Jerome Saincantin, who has done a good job with the other books so far in the series) renders it in English. If you happen to read this, Jerome, one bit I was quite proud of was translating "Saint Barbouz," the patron saint of KGB agents on p. 33 (where "barbouz(e)" is French for spy or spook), as "St. Narkov". You're welcome to steal that if you like it. (And for that mangled pun on the first page of my scans, I'd now probably go with something like "Tsarry, lads! Time to go!")