XIII (Thirteen in Roman numerals, Treize in French) is a successful long-running Franco-Belgian Comics series written and drawn by Belgians Jean Van Hamme and William Vance. The series was initially serialised in 1984 in Spirou and became instantly a hit. It was later published by Dargaud.
The series begins with a man found on a shore in Peacock Bay in the East Coast of the United States, suffering from amnesia due to a bullet wound to the head, and just the tattoo "XIII" on his collarbone to link him to his past. Volumes one through five deal with XIII searching for his identity and his past, only to find himself confronting the "Conspiracy of the XX" which aims for a coup d'état in order to overthrow democracy in the USA.
The rest of the series shows him dealing with the remnants of his past, stopping the number I of the Conspiracy once and for all, and facing more and more enemies afterwards, as a public reveal of his past would have very unpleasant consequences for some very powerful men.
A Spin-Off comic book series titled XIII Mystery explores the backstory of various characters of the initial series. Each album features a different art style by a different creative team, under the supervision of Jean Van Hamme.
The comic book series was adapted in 2003 as a First-Person Shooter by Ubisoft, and in 2008 as a two-part miniseries on NBC starring Stephen Dorff and Val Kilmer. A two season-long Franco-Canadian TV series was also produced, from 2011 to 2012.
For the full list of the installments of the original series and the spin-off, see the Recap page.
XIII provides examples of:
- All There in the Manual: The backstories of many characters are expanded upon in The XIII Mystery: The Investigation.
- Amnesiac Hero: XIII is amnesiac. He does not even remember his name.
- Assassin Outclassin': XIII would be single-handedly responsible for the reduction of the Professional Killer population of many a country, considering how many are sent after him, get outsmarted by him and usually die in the process.
- Assassination Attempt: The assassination of William Sheridan triggers the events of the plot. The assassination attempt of Wally Sheridan further complicates them.
- Banana Republic: Costa Verde when it was ruled by General Ortiz. San Miguel, too.
- Book Ends:
- Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: General Carrington looks like Lee Marvin. Jones looks like Whitney Houston. Carl Heideger looks like Henry Kissinger. Betty Barnowsky looks like Shirley MacLaine.
- Comic-Book Time: The series started as a uchronia in the 80's with many nods to the Kennedy era, The Vietnam War, CIA operations in South America and the Watergate scandal. XIII's date of birth, 1961, is mentioned in Three Silver Watches. In the Mayflower Day, it's suddenly set in the modern era (the characters use Facebook, President Barack Obama is referred...) but the characters haven't aged.
- Conspiracy Thriller: From The Day of The Black Sun to Full Red. Then again in Thirteen to One and from The Trial to The Last Round.
- Creator Cameo: In The XIII History, a medieval ancestor of XIII is named "Jean de Hame". It is a homage by Yves Sente and Youri Jigounov to Jean Van Hamme, the comics' creator.
- Derivative Differentiation: The first album of the series, The Day of the Black Sun, was heavily inspired by Robert Ludlum's Bourne Series. The following albums take another direction.
- Easy Amnesia: XIII was shot in the head. He recovers perfectly, except that he is amnesic: he does not remember anything of his whole life. His other mental and physical capacities are not affected.
- Fictional Country: Costa Verde and San Miguel.
- Freudian Excuse: The XIII Mystery spinoff series gives tragic backstories to several villains of the main series.
- Fugitive Arc: XIII is on the run from the law during most of the series.
- In the beginning, XIII is wanted for the murder of President William Sheridan. On top of that, he is framed for the murder of Jeremie and Matt Rowland and he is finally arrested for that at the end of Where the Indian Walks.
- In All the Tears from Hell, XIII escapes from Plain Rock asylum. He is arrested at the end of Full Red, but the Supreme Court clears him and he is released.
- In The Jason Fly Case, XIII escapes from the sheriff's office, so the sheriff and his men hunt him down, until Amos shows up and clears him at the end of The Night of August Third.
- In Top Secret, XIII is sentenced to life imprisonement for being an IRA terrorist and for participating in the kidnapping and murder of President Wally Sheridan, but he escapes. He is on the run from the law until he surrenders to the US authorities in The Last Round.
- Government Conspiracy: All the Tears of Hell reveals that the conspiracy that planned the assassination of William Sheridan is a group of powerful people with accomplices in the army and the government. In Full Red, some members of the conspiracy are exposed, like Calvin Wax, the Secretary of Defense, and high-ranking officers. In Thirteen to One, it is revealed that the present President of the United States, Wally Sheridan, the younger brother of William Sheridan, was part of the conspiracy.
- Identity Amnesia: XIII does not remember who he is.
- Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: A Quest for Identity, mixed with a complex Government Conspiracy, with a large cast and loads and loads of fake identities for the hero. Generally, there is one reveal per album.
- Long-Runner Tech Marches On: The first book came out in 1984. Cell phones didn't exist and PCs looked very different. The most recent books have USB flash drives among other things.
- Love Dodecahedron: There are many intertwined romantic relationships between the characters.
- XIII is in a long-time Friends with Benefits relationship with Jones, but he has affairs with Betty Barnowksy, Judith Warner, Maria Isabel de Los Santos (who is his ex-wife), and Jessica Martin.
- Betty Barnowksy has an affair with XIII. Later, she gets married with Armand de Préseau. Juan tries and picks her up and she nearly succombs to his charms.
- Jessica Martin is Giordino's mistress. She seduces Seamus O'Neil. She is in a relationship with Irina. She has an affair with XIII.
- Frank Giordino sleeps with Jessica Martin. He has an affair with Felicity Brown.
- Felicity Brown was the wife of Jeremie Rowland, while having an affair with his brother Matt. Later, she marries Ortiz. She has a affairs with Peralta, Spencer, Giordino and Don Rigoberto.
- A MacGuffin Full of Money: Maximilian's Gold.
- Name Amnesia: XIII does not remember his own name. In the first episodes, on several occasions, he thinks that he has finally discovered his real name, but he is proven wrong soon thereafter.
- Never-Forgotten Skill: The story starts with a man with amnesia. Just like Jason Bourne, his combat skills are not at all affected by the memory loss.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
- No Historical Figures Were Harmed: John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Che Guevara, and many others have expies in the series.
- Once per Episode:
- A Reveal about the conspiracy.
- XIII stops (and often kills) killers sent after him.
- XIII is given a new identity: Jake Shelton in The Day of The Black Sun, Steve Rowland in Where the Indian Walks, Ross Tanner in All the Tears of Hell, Jason Fly in S.P.A.D.S, John Fleming in The Jason Fly Case, Jason Mac Lane in The Night of August 3rd, Karl Meredith and Kelly Brian (alias El Cascador) in XIII: For Maria, Seamus O'Neil in Top Secret...
- The Perfect Crime: The assassination of William Sheridan. It was committed by a man who was officially declared dead and who was immediately shot dead by the conspiracy.
- Politically Incorrect Villain:
- The Conspiracy of the XX is basically neo-fascist.
- Greenfalls was a Ku Klux Klan hideout.
- The Big Bad of XIII Mystery: Betty Barnowski was part of the Conspiracy of the XX and claims that he and his band of sociopathic soldiers will turn the country back to what it should have been before it was given to "fags, jews and niggers." He also sends his soldiers to rob hallucinogens from local tribes at gunpoint and executes his men for failing him.
- Quest for Identity: XIII does not remember who he is, so he tries to discover it.
- Romantic False Lead: XIII meets and has fun with quite a few (Betty Barnowksy in S.P.A.D.S., Judith Warner in The Jason Fly Case, Maria Isabel de Los Santos in El Cascador, Jessica in Release the Hounds...). Jones is always jealous of this. XIII always takes up with her again, but only as Friends with Benefits, much to her displeasure: she would like a Relationship Upgrade.
- Second Episode Introduction: Major Jones and General Benjamin Carrington are both introduced in the second book Where the Indian Goes.
- Series Fauxnale: Four times!
- Full Red: XIII found out his identity. The last living members of the Conspiracy of the XX are arrested ...save Number I.
- Thirteen to One: The last big question about the conspiracy is answered: the Number I of the conspiracy is Wally Sheridan, but he managed to remove all the evidence, so XIII cannot denounce him.
- The Trial: The Moongose and Number One die. But on the last page XIII is jailed by Frank Giordino.
- The Last Round: The last villains die and XIII moves into the house of the old couple who took care of him in The Day of the Black Sun. It was the end of the series until Yves Sente renewed it.
- Stern Chase: From The Day of The Black Sun to Full Red, XIII has to flee from place to place, because he is chased by the hitmen of the Mongoose, by Amos and by the police.
- Themed Tattoos: The organization called the "Conspiracy of the XX" consists of twenty members, each of whom has their rank number tattooed on their collarbone in Roman numerals. The main character has amnesia and no clue to his identity but for the number XIII (13) tattooed on his collarbone. When he eventually meets up with the woman claiming to be his wife, he notices that she has XVII tattooed in the same area as his. Eventually it is revealed that Number I, the big boss of the operation, is the current president, Wally Sheridan, but he had his number tattoo lasered off by a doctor who was "silenced," thereby removing the evidence connecting him to the Conspiracy.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Felicity Brown disapears halfway through The Last Round. As far as we know she's still alive and free despite her numerous crimes.
- World of Snark: All the main characters are jaded soldiers, intelligence operatives or hitmen, so they all deliver a high level of sarcasm.