Kids have been reading stories about cowboys and the West since the days of dime novels; and though the Western genre has been eclipsed in recent years by the popularity of wizards and superheroes, it still has its loyal fans. While not as hard bitten as DC’s Jonah Hex, Cinebook’s Lucky Luke Adventures are an entertaining, humorous portrait of the Old West that is suitable for young readers and can be enjoyed by all ages. Three volumes of René Goscinny and Morris’s venerable series have recently been released.
Lucky Luke versus Joss Jamon (46 pp, 978-1-84918-071-9, $11.95) : Set up by Joss Jamon and his gang, Lucky must capture and return the scoundrels to Los Politos within six months or Lucky will hang in their stead. Meanwhile, Jamon has moved on and taken over Frontier City. This is the classic “Good Man Cleaning Up a Bad Town” story told with humor and verve. On one level, it’s a straight up, comedy adventure along the lines of James Gardner’s Support Your Local Sheriff. On another, there’s a bit of satire on the democratic election process going on.
In The Dalton Cousins (978-1-84918-076-4), Joe, Jack, William and Averell Dalton try to replace their legendary cousins as Lucky’s premiere foes. All it will take is a little practice on their part. This just might be my favorite volume of the series. The Dalton Cousins aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed and Lucky is able to come up with some creative ways to keep them out of mischief. I particularly like the sequence where he joins their gang and leads them on a fake bank robbing spree. There are times, however, when Lucky is forced to fight and/or shoot, which leads to some solid action-packed scenes. Parents of younger children should be aware there’s a bit of printing error. A capital “L” and “I” placed too closely together turn the work “FLICK” into something else entirely.
The Grand Duke (978-1-84918-083-2) is “His Imperial Highness the Grand Duke Leonid,” a Russian who wants to experience the “Wild West” before he signs a treaty with the United States. Lucky’s job is to let the Duke get a taste of bandits and gunfights without letting him be exposed to any real danger. To complicate matters, an assassin is after the Grand Duke, leading to several “Roadrunner v. Wile E. Coyote” situations in which the best laid plans go awry in the funniest ways.
As I mentioned above Goscinny’s scripts work on two levels. Younger children can enjoy them for the comic action adventures they are, while older readers can enjoy them for their sly commentary on human nature and institutions. The characters and situations are, at first glance, one dimensional and conform to the stereotypes we’re used to seeing in B-Westerns. There are blustery bankers, saloon girls with hearts of gold, stoic Native Americans, greedy undertakers, cowardly town folk, and the Cavalry rides to the rescue; but Goscinny plays and subverts the stereotype a bit. The stoic Native American becomes an erudite lecturer you can’t shut up and the Cavalry, well, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Cavalry ride to the rescue quite the way it does in The Grand Duke.
While Morris’s art style isn’t manga-like, I think children accustomed to the Pokemon look will adjust quite easily to Morris’s art. Both styles use characters drawn in a simplified manner.
This allows the characters to express emotion in a way more realistically drawn characters can’t. It also allows for exaggeration for humorous effect.
While adhering strictly to the grid format, Morris creates a strong sense of movement. Because Goscinny will often allow the pictures to tell the story without words, it’s much like looking at the individual frames of a movie. As the eye passes over them, it creates the illusion of motion. There is a superb sequence in The Dalton Cousins showing Lucky drinking his soda pop, grabbing a gun and shooting a bottle flying toward him, and then returning to his drink, his smoking gun holstered. The three individual panels are without frames or backgrounds, focusing the eye on the action.
The coloring on these books is gorgeous. It’s very much in the basic Four Color tradition, yet with that seemingly limited palette the most incredible things can be done. The pages are bright and friendly looking with lots of yellow, blue, and red, yet there are also some stunning uses of black. In a sequence where Lucky is chasing Jamon, the villain is beneath a pine, the branches throwing the upper portion of his body into black shadow. The next panel shows everything entirely in silhouette – tree, rider, horse – against a blue sky. It’s dramatic and effective and is right up there with the work of Will Eisner and Milt Caniff.
With the release of Cowboys and Aliens and its attendant publicity, this is the perfect time to introduce your own favorite young reader to the joys of the “Wild West” through the age appropriate and highly enjoyable Lucky Luke series.