COMIC REVIEW: Lucky Luke Vols. 26 & 32 (Cinebook Reviews #13)

Well, sorry it’s been so long.  I’m back again today though, trawling through my stash of Cinebook releases to guide you through some more of their fabulous selection of Franco-Belgian comics, translated for the consumption of English speakers the world over.  In an attempt to catch up with my backlog I’ve decided to cover two of the Lucky Luke releases in one review.  Readers of my earlier Cinebook Reviews (#2 to be precise) will know that my first encounter with the quick-draw cowboy was not a happy one.  I’ve a suprise for you this time around because I absolutely adored one of them.  Read on to see which, and why.

A quick precis – Part homage, part parody, all whimsy, the albums are a light-hearted look at a by-gone age, full of famliar tropes and settings.  Lucky Luke is a wandering figure of justice in the Wild West, a sharp shooting cool dude who rights wrongs then rides into the sunset with a smoking cigarette and a song on his lips.  The character was created by the Belgian artist Morris back in the mid-1940’s and joined by legendary Asterix writer Rene Goscinny in 1957 for Rails On The Prairie – the first of the golden-era Lucky Luke adventures (and the first book we’ll look at here.)  Incidentally, for reasons of their own Cinebook have chosen to release these volumes in a different order to that in which they were first published.  Whilst Rails On The Prairie was the 9th album published originally, here it is here number 32.  From what I have seen though, each adventure is stand-alone and in the best tradition of comedy there is little to no character progression to confuse matters.  On to the Prairie then…

Civilisation is coming to the Wild-West, or at least trying to.  First thing they need is a safe means to cross the huge distances, and that means the ‘Transcontinental Railway Company’ putting their rails down (and raking the bucks in) in the purest of Capitalist ideals.  The railway means an easier life for the pioneers, bringing new settlements and prosperity every step along the way.  Things have ground to a halt at Dead Ox Gulch though, due to sabotage.  Enter the lonesome cowboy on his faithful steed to beat back the boys in the black hats and help drive those rails through the country.

The artistic style favours simple characature and minimalist backgrounds, making room for action and silliness.  It certainly gives the comic an all-ages feel with the empahsis on the younger end of the spectrum.  Early on in the tale we see the single greatest three-beat gag, setting up Luke as one cool cowboy.  The quick-draw is pure Warner Bros and plastered a grin across my face as I realised what had just happened.  The story has quite an epic feel as the journey tracks across the country, but strangely this wide-scale view of events dilutes the action.  In place of a hard fought battle of wits and guns – found in the best westerns – we have a picaresque piece.  Minor problem after minor problem is faced and resolved along the journey, and whilst there is an overall baddie heading up the opposition there is no conflict of character to give it dramatic tension.  The humour has a better hit rate than in The Dalton’s Escape and Lucky Luke himself seems to be a more proactive and heroic figure, but all in all it’s a Luke-warm affair.

2.5/5

 

The Bounty Hunter is much better.  Vol. 26 from Cinebook (Vol. 39 originally) this album was produced in 1972, a few years after Sergio Leone revitalised the Western genre with his Dollars trilogy.  Lucky Luke has always been a laid back kind of a cowboy in the vein of John Wayne.  The eponymous character here is the spitting image of actor Lee Van Cleef (who plays the ‘bad’ in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly).  Wearing its heart on its sleeve this volume therefore sets the ‘old’ Wild-West against the ‘new’ – and there’s no doubting which the creators prefer.  From the very beginning Elliot Belt is derided as a tattle-tale and a betrayer.  He may grow into a fearsome bounty hunter but at centre, they indicate, he and his kind are nothing more than despicable vermin.  Much of the humour in this volume comes at the expense of Belt.  His single-minded attempt to capture the Cheyenne known as Wet Blanket brings the bounty hunter into conflict with Lucky Luke who is convinced of the Indian’s innocence.  Belt may be hardened and shrewd, but Luke knows the Indians and may just be shrewder yet.

In every way this is an improvement on the previous volumes; from the sharper artwork to the narrative structure.  The characters here are much better defined as well in terms of action, dialogue and physicality.  It also has exactly the kind of personal conflict missing from the earlier works, lending a real edge to Luke.  We actually see him get angry here, show some passion and get serious about his job.  His cool factor jumps up several notches thanks to some fancy gunwork and blistering reaction times.  The gags are more gigglesome than I have seen before (I particularly enjoyed the Frankenstein masks and the silly show-tune) and the affection that the creators have for their world here comes through in every panel.  Seeing Lee Van Cleef in comic form was a joy to me as well.  I loved him in For A Few Dollars More, and despite the hard time his characature gets here, for me he keeps his cool through most of the book.

Whilst not the perfect Western (see Western) it has a lot of fun with the genre and shows us why this character has survived – and indeed continues to be written – to this day.  Hedging my bets slightly in case even better volumes emerge I’m going to give this one a warm-hearted

3.5/5


GS Reviewer: Dion Winton-Polak
You can hear me blather about books on Scrolls, the podcast for literary geekdom here on the Geek Syndicate Network.
Follow me on Twitter @Dion_Scrolls too if you like.

 

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