The Daltons’ Escape (Cinebook Review 2)

It’s fair to say that most British people’s knowledge of Belgian and French comics begin and end with just two series – Tin-Tin and Asterix – be it from English translations in the library or the animated adventures rented from video shops.  For Geek Syndicate I am looking a little deeper, continuing my excursion courtesy of the wonderful Cinebook who translate and publish for the British market.

To this end I found myself reading Lucky Luke last night.  Now, this is a cowboy character that I was actually vaguely familiar with from my GCSE French days, when the cursed Mrs Weir dumped a book on each desk in the expectation that pictures would somehow make the languge fit into our brains better. (Non.)  I always wondered whether it was any good or not but sadly never became proficient enough at French to find out and (until now) never got my hands on an English translation.  One of the creators is Goscinny, of Asterix fame, so my expectations and hopes were high.

Perhaps a little too high, as it turns out.

The art style here is very similar to Asterix, as are the typography and colours.  The characters are drawn with the same variety and charm as Goscinny’s other book and the Wild West setting is as ripe as it always has been for adventure.  All served to sucker me in before serving the knock-out blow.  It’s just not funny.

One-liners and visual gags are tossed out panel after panel but the vast majority seem to fall short of their targets.  Now it could be that a kid would get a kick out of it.  A child has very different tastes to an adult after all, and it has been decades since I picked up my first Asterix book.  (That said they still put a grin on my face.)  I can only say that despite my pre-disposition to good-will, borrowed from ancient Gaul, this book left me cold.

This is Book 30 but it is set early in the chronology of the series.  The Daltons are a feared family of bandits, happy to turn their hand to anything, so long as they’ve got a gun in it and the thing’s worth stealing.  Lucky Luke is a constant thorn in their sides; a Bugs Bunny to their Yosemite Sam.  In this volume the Dalton’s are in prison having been caught the very first time by LL and they’re determined to escape in order to wreak their revenge – a poster campaign as it turns out (sheesh).

The Daltons themselves show promise visually.  Looking identical except for their heights, they make for a whimsical picture; a Russian doll gang  of outlaws riding in single file.  It’s the kind of thing you’d expect on a Pink Panther cartoon and I was well up for a bit of bickering banter and blacking of eyes.  Unfortunately their characterisation doesn’t get far beyond being Mean and being Dumb.  The bickering lacks any kind of bite and there’s very little in the way of comedy violence.  Only Joe Dalton shows any personality and it’s basically little-man syndrome, with lots of shouting and jumping up and down.  Lucky Luke has, if anything, less personality.  A laid back dude, he strolls through the whole piece with a cigarrette and perhaps three expressions on his face.  This might be something if he had real peril to face, hard choices, tough dames – but as it is he comes across as cardboard dull.

Positives, positives…

Between them Goscinny and Morris have crafted a nice looking book.  The costume work feels authentic (albeit heavily stylised), the landscapes are fairly sparse but work as well as Wile E Coyote’s for setting the scene, and the shanty towns and shacks feel right.  There are one or two interesting ‘camera’ angles as well.  Panel-wise it’s a little formulaic and unimaginative.  It doesn’t actively detract from the book, but I can’t help feeling that an opportunity was wasted for widescreen landscapes and campfire silhouettes.

That’s about all I’ve got.  Sorry.

2/5 (and it’s all for the art-style)

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.

Next up is a double whammy of the space opera Valerian and Laureline

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