By Morris and Goscinny
The Daltons are to Lucky Luke what the Joker is to Batman, the Daleks are to Dr Who, and Lucy Van Pelt is to Charlie Brown; the inevitable recurring nemesis that plagues the hero but without which would leave them a little less interesting. We've had several Daltons stories so far in this thirty-six volume run, but Morris and Goscinny keep them fresh by spinning out the possibilities as they suffer the consequences of their actions. In this story Lucky Luke has been called to Washington for a meeting with the Supreme Court where one of the Senators has drafted a bill to reform criminals and wishes to try it out on some villains before presenting the bill to the House. This means they want Lucky Luke's advice on the worst desperadoes out there, which naturally means the Daltons, and they want Luke to supervise them on their month's parole. Should they stay clean throughout that month then they win their freedom.
For the Dalton's part, they see this as a way to get back at Lucky Luke. Although they must not commit a crime for one calendar month else run the risk of being returned straight to prison without trial, they figure that if they can get through the month then they can pick Luke off afterwards and no court would ever dare convict them again.
Luke takes them to Tortilla Gulch for their probation month but unfortunately all the townsfolk think the Dalton's have escaped and everytime they try to enter into any form of transaction the shopkeepers hand over the till and pass out. Luke intervenes only for the townsfolk to presume he's in cahoots, and by the time they get the major involved the town think he's joined the bad guys too. Eventually they settle this misunderstanding, but what follows is an increasingly infuriating situation whereby the Dalton's find themselves assisting Luke, taking part in polite society, and being viewed as friends and neighbours, much to the chagrin of Joe Dalton. Things come to a head when four men decide to take advantage of the Dalton's predicament and begin to impersonate them to carry out various crimes, figuring the Dalton's will take the blame and find themselves thrown back in to jail. The only way to right this wrong is for the four Dalton's to assist the Law.
This tale cleverly turns the Daltons' lives on their heads and wrings much humour from it in the process. From the bamboozlement of the town's people to the bafflement of Averell Dalton, this adventure is packed full of gags - as you'd expect. The fact that the Dalton's come so close to having a settled, worthwhile life utterly escapes them, but then again where would the fun have been in that.
And if you liked that: Try an Iznogoud, also by Goscinny from Cinebook
By Millar & Yu
Mark Millar's now synonymous with injecting comics with a fresh approach, spinning stories beyond the repeated cliches and offering the reader something that reflects a more mature readership. So it won't come as much of a surprise to learn that Superior is Millar's take on the Superman mythos, although rather than set it in a world dominated by heroes in capes, it all takes place in one dominated by movies about heroes in capes. It's interesting that the skew is on the movies, not the comics, and is probably typical of Millar writing with one eye on the movie rights - and why not, as the stories are none the worse for it.
So in the story Superior is a character now featuring in a fifth motion picture and enjoyed in particular by a boy, Simon, with multiple sclerosis. The MS has serious consequences on his life, not least from a bunch of idiot contemporaries at school who see him as an easy target. Then one day, he's visited by a strange talking monkey in an astronaut suit that offers to grant him a wish that sees Simon transformed into a real-life Superior and a promise that all will be explained in one week.
What follows is Simon doing what all good superheroes should do - saving the helpless, righting wrongs and catching bad guys. His sudden appearance on the world stage makes him an instant hit with the public and a worthy wielder of the powers he possesses. Little consideration is given to what will happen at the end of the week, and when the monkey reappears the resulting exchange is a shocker.
It's a little difficult for me to say any more without giving away the twist, but suffice to say it's a clever one, although it does head down a route I am utterly tired of in books, comics and movies, but that could well just be me. To be fair, I'm not sure it could have worked in any other way other than perhaps a John Constantine story. But credit where it's due; it's well paced, well executed and the exploration of a child actually granted the powers they've wished for is enjoyably done. One of the nice touches comes in the form of the befuddled actor who plays Superior on screen and whose likeness is what Simon has transformed into.
Leinil Yu's artwork has the mature, realistic quality that helps suggest this is taking place slightly outside of the everyday world of comic book superheroes, and his rendering of Superior is so good that he stands on his own as a character rather than another Superman knock-off.
Overall, I don't think this is Millar's best work, but it's an original take on a genre bloated on repetition that, no doubt, will find it's way to cinemas in the near future.
And if you liked that: Mark Millar's arguably superior (ahem) Kick Ass 2 is available in paperback now
By Lambil & Cauvin
The Union Army isn't doing so well, what with depleted numbers and next to no horses for the cavalry. A battle is looming so Sarge and Blutch are given the task to purchase new mounts (using the delayed pay of the soldiers in the hopes that some of it won't be needed after the battle, if you see what I mean). It's by no means an easy journey for the pair, but their task is made somewhat easier by the assistance of a legendary trainer of horses known as Bronco Benny.
Their path to the horse breeders in the mountains crosses rebel outposts, a dangerous feat in itself, but once past that they then have to contend with the Native Americans who appear rather displeased to see them. By the skin of their teeth they make it to the breeders and find they're in luck - they have a stockade full of horses. However, on of them is a white stallion held in high regards by the Native Americans, hence the local antagonism. When Bronco Benny sets his eyes upon the horse, though, he's captivated by it and determined to break it in. Meanwhile the Native Americans are busy blocking the only pass through the mountains, meaning Blutch and Sarge may well be trapped with their new mounts, but that turns out to be the least of their problems.
There are some lovely comic touches here, including the replacement mounts supplied by train that number three donkeys, a camel and a horse seconds away from expiring, but the most enjoyable part is watching Bronco Benny try to break the stallion - beautifully done. As with other Bluecoats books, the nastier parts of war aren't ducked away from, and although they don't dwell on them, they're mentioned often enough to bring an undercurrent of realism to the comic tale and remind the reader the seriousness of this period in history.
I've a growing fondness for Willy Lambil's artwork too. He's got a wonderful cartoon style with just the right mixture of humour, fluidity and detail. If your cartoon diet hasn't got as far as the Bluecoats yet then you deserve to discover it for yourself.
By Terry Bave
Publisher: Terry Bave
Iím of the right age to have grown up reading the likes of Whizzer & Chips, Whoopee and Buster, enjoying the antics of Odd-Ball, the Slimms and Sammy Shrink. Any trip to the newsagent resulted in hopeful glances to the comic rack and no holiday was complete without a bumper summer special of cartoon antics, nor Christmas without a thick hardback annual. I didnít know it then, but many of those pages were drawn by the incredible Terry Bave.
And he didnít just draw. With the help of his wife, Sheila, Terry was responsible for creating and writing many of the strips across a golden age of childrenís comics. Heís now collated a life-time of personal cartooning history into a jam-packed 300 page volume of memories, characters, strips and gags. Itís quite a formidable work, even including a lengthy list of contributions to books and comics as well as all the characters he and Sheila created.
It comes across again and again that Terryís primary motivation was the entertainment of children. This was so much more than a job, and his love for creating quirky cartoons and fun-packed strips is there to see in every panel.
In places itís a somewhat melancholy read as Terry records the rise and fall of childrenís comics in Britain, but despite the mergers and folding of titles his enthusiasm never seems to be dented as a new opportunity was always presenting itself.
On a personal level, this book is rich in memories. I remember picking up the first issue of Wow! in a newsagent one day and I became a loyal fan for itís entire run. I loved Wow! and in my head itís a huge part of my childhood, and yet I learn from Terry that it lasted just a year! In fact, Terry covers its entire history in just three brief paragraphs!
Itís a book incredibly rich in nostalgia and full of passion for the medium. Anyone who has ever been touched by the fun that titles such as Whizzer & Chips and Cor! could bring will get so much joy from every page. You really canít help but be touched by Terryís vibrant enthusiasm for what he was doing and who he was doing it for. There are several generations of people whoíve had a richer childhood because he put pen to paper, and I firmly count myself among them.