January 14, 2009

Lucky Luke

Vintage Goscinny

A very rare comic series. These were written originally in French, by Rene Goscinny (of Asterix fame) and pencilled by Morris. Of course, they were translated into a couple of dozen languages, which was how I got to read them in English.

Goscinny really shone here, and came up with some magnificent stuff. The plots are well thought out (mostly) and character build-up is done magnificently.

The basic theme is simple. Lucky Luke, a skinny wise-cracking cowboy is the fastest gun in the west.  With his faithful (and very intelligent) horse Jolly Jumper, he is the friendly neighbourhood do-rightly of the land.

Like in Asterix, much of the humour stems from the fact that the his adversaries, such as they are, aren't too bright. There are few allusions to contemporary life, but many of the people, places and events are historic rather than fictional. At the end of every book is a page which gives the history of the real people, places and events on which the story was based.

It's been a really long time since I read Lucky Luke, but here's a brief outline of the ones I remember.

  1. Dalton City
    The build-up to the main plot is very well done in this one. Fenton is a big-time crook who runs his own town populated exclusively by low-lives. Lucky Luke takes over as sheriff of Fenton City, and ships the entire populace to the state penitentiary, leaving it a ghost town Now enter hardened-criminal Joe Dalton, who is breaking rocks in prison alongside his 3 brothers, Fenton and a sweet old fogie called Joe Milton. Milton gets a governor's pardon, but the half-witted telegraph kid gets the spelling wrong, and Dalton is released instead. Dalton wastes no time in getting his brothers out, and decides to rebuild "Dalton City". The rest of the story is about how Lucky gets the Daltons (and a whole lot of others) back to jail.
  2. Stagecoach
    Oh, this one is awesome. A Wells-Fargo stagecoach from Dallas to San Francisco is carrying an old prospector's entire haul of gold. Everybody and their pet dog are set to rob the coach, and Lucky is employed by Wells-Fargo bank to ride along for protection. An intricately carved story about hilarious wannabe highway robbers how the trip touches the lives of everybody who's in for the ride.
  3. The Tenderfoot
    My personal favourite. Goscinny goes all out to rip the British apart in this one. The main plot, as usual, is very well thought out. A local ranch owner dies, leaving his entire property to his grand-nephew, an English gentleman, and asks Lucky Luke to see that he gets it. The top-hatted club-man arrives, all stiff upper lip, with a valet in tow. The baddies, also after the ranch, are all set to give the "tenderfoot" a tough time.
  4. Jesse James
    This story features historical characters, namely Jesse James, his Shakespearean scholar brother Frank James and half-witted cousin Cole Younger. The three take on Lucky Luke, and no prizes for guessing who comes out on top. The Pinkerton detective agency make an appearance too, as a bunch of inept jokers.
  5. The Dashing White Cowboy
    This story runs a bit like a detective novel. A group of stage actors tour the country putting up shows in the town saloons. Coincidentally, the town banks always get robbed during the show, so Lucky Luke tours with them to investigate this string of coincidences.
  6. Apache Canyon
    Union soldiers and Apache Indians are still fighting in this one, and Lucky Luke steps in to make the peace.