When an American pilot is shot down on the border between North and South Korea, Colonel Buck Danny is brought in to rescue him before a diplomatic disaster becomes a full-blown war.
Buck Danny: Night of the Serpent is heavy on military details but light on characterization. Normally that’s something I abhor. However, the sincerity and enthusiasm of Francis Bergèse’s work won me over.
The story is pretty straightforward. Except for an impossible coincidence near the end, there aren’t any real twists or surprises. This is very meat-and-potatoes storytelling. The problem is introduced. The people who can solve the problem are introduced. The problem gets solved. However, that cut-and-dry storytelling doesn’t mean there isn’t any suspense.
Bergèse includes several moments where you wonder if Danny will succeed in his mission--beginning with, “Will he actually get to Korea before the North Koreans find the injured pilot?”
In the comic book culture, a story that goes straight from Point A to Point B often gets a bad rap as being too childish--but I think the majority of readers in the world prefer something they don’t have to stretch their brains over when they read for enjoyment. A story like Night of the Serpent will work for many readers where something like Batman: The Long Halloween will just leave them shaking their head in puzzlement.
The structure of Bergèse’s story feels like it was designed to be a comic strip. Each set of three to five panels is a complete vignette that ends with either a humorous scene or a cliff-hanger. These vignettes flow together well, and there are no captions that recap the events every few pages. However, neither does the narrative have the sense of wholeness that you would get in a book that was created as a full-length work.
Bergèse paces the story well--smoothly transitioning between the unlucky pilot, Danny and his team, the U.S. military, and the North Korean forces. In a development that builds suspense and allows Bergèse to show off his knowledge. He takes the time to show exactly how Danny would get from Paris, where he’s performing in an air show, to Okinawa, the staging point for the rescue mission.
The details of the mid-air refueling, the maps charting their progress, and the one character’s complaint of how uncomfortable it is in the cockpit after an extended period of time all add verisimilitude to the story. On the other hand, if you’re looking for in-depth characterization or want a study of a man under stress, then this isn’t the book for you.
The only distinctive character is Captain Sonny “Froggy” Tuckson. He’s the short-tempered individual who provides the comic relief in the story. Danny, the hero of the series, is the strong, silent, man-of-action type who does what needs to be done. He’s a bit like the older Terry from Terry and the Pirates or Steve Canyon, the eponymous hero of Milton Caniff’s later comic strip--only Danny isn’t as voluble.
Like Caniff, Bergèse draws in a clean, uncluttered, realistic style. The characters might express surprise or frustration, but it’s not highly exaggerated.
The detail Bergèse incorporates into his panels is amazing. Even when it’s nothing more than four men in a room in Ryad, Saudi Arabia, he shows the desks and chairs they’re using, the room’s projection screen and projector, the Saudi seal and Arabic writing on the lectern. Even the thermostat is visible on the wall. These details, which you don’t really notice at first, give the story a strong sense of place and add to its feeling of authenticity.
Where Bergèse really shines as an artist is in his depiction of military hardware. He loves his machinery, and it shows. The various planes, helicopters, and wheeled vehicles are finely rendered and detailed.
Aircraft enthusiasts will salivate over the panels showing the aerial maneuvers and dog fights. Bergèse comes at those scenes from different angles, which gives the reader the sense the planes are peeling away or diving toward him.
Colorist Frédéric Bergèse also deserves a mention for his work on the night scenes. They’re incredible! Even though you have black aircraft moving against a barely starred night sky, you can still make out what’s going on without difficulty.
Because most of the story takes place at night, the book could have become just a series of dark panels, but Frédéric Bergèse doesn’t allow that to happen. By using varying shades of blue, black, and even blue-green, he conveys the sense of darkness without monotony or muddiness.
While Buck Danny: Night of the Serpent may not be to everyone’s taste, it’s a solid adventure tale.
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