Lucky Luke


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-49-6

It’s hard to think of one of Europe’s most beloved and evergreen comics characters being in any way controversial, but when changing times caught up with the fastest gun in the West (“so fast he can outdraw his own shadow”) and the planet’s most laconic cowboy moved with them, the news made headlines all over the world.

Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, lightning-fast cowboy who roams the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his sarcastic horse Jolly Jumper and interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures. His continued exploits over nearly seventy years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (68 individual adventures totalling more than 300 million albums in 30 languages thus far), with the usual spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

He was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) and first seen the 1947 Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947) of Le Journal de Spirou, before launching into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

Working solo until 1955, Morris produced nine albums worth of affectionate sagebrush spoofery before teaming with old pal and fellow trans-American tourist Rene Goscinny, who became the regular wordsmith as Luke attained the dizzying heights of superstardom, commencing with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967, the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, transferring to Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’ (The Stagecoach). Goscinny co-created 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, from whence Morris soldiered on both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris himself died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus some spin-off sagas crafted with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac, Xavier Fauche, Jean Léturgie, Jacques Pessis and others, all taking a crack at the venerable franchise…

Moreover, apart from that very first adventure, Lucky (to appropriate a quote applied to the thematically simpatico TV classic Alias Smith and Jones) “in all that time… never shot or killed anyone…”

Lucky Luke was first spotted in the UK syndicated to weekly anthology Film Fun during the late 1950s and again in 1967 in Giggle, where he was renamed Buck Bingo.

In all these venues – as well as the numerous attempts to follow the English-language successes of Tintin and Asterix albums – Luke sported a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – no doubt amidst both pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, which garnered him an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

The most recent and successful attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook (who have rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages, if not the covers…), and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re well past sixty translated books and still going strong.

Tortillas for the Daltons was the tenth of their 63 albums, now available both on paper and as e-books. As Tortillas pour les Daltons it was first published in Europe 1967: the charming cowboy’s 31st sagebrush foray and Goscinny’s 22nd collaboration with Morris, offering a beguilingly exotic and action-packed visit across the fabled Rio Grande in search of justice and good times…

It all begins in jail as vile owlhoots Averell, Jack, William and their slyly psychotic, overly-bossy shorter brother Joe Dalton are roused from their cosy comfort zone with the shocking news that they’re all being moved to a less crowded penitentiary – one situated near the Mexican border…

The infamous Dalton Gang are incorrigible criminals and no effort is spared to make sure they arrive at their destination. The warden even assigns faithful prison hound Rin Tin Can to the large escort but has apparently forgotten that the vain, friendly and exceedingly dim pooch is utterly loyal to absolutely everybody and no use at all in any kind of crisis…

Parking up for the night by the mighty border, the soldiers and security are sadly unaware that a gang of banditos are eyeing up the iron-studded coach and wondering just what manner of gringo valuables it might contain…

Despite striking with typical dash, verve and flamboyance, the gaudy thieves are ultimately quite disappointed with their haul, but in America the public breathes a huge communal sigh of relief that the Daltons are no longer a menace to their property. Sadly, the Mexican government kicks up such a fuss at the unwelcome additions to their population that the US authorities summon Lucky Luke to Washington DC and beg him to retrieve the contentious criminal tourists…

Not that the Daltons have actually broken any laws yet. They’ve been spending all their time trying to convince bandit supremo Emilio Espuelas that they are as good at being bad as any Mexican.

Whilst he may not accept that, the sinister sombrero-wearer is pretty certain that the odd quartet will be an unnecessary and costly burden. It takes all Joe’s efforts to convince him not to kill them outright. Eventually however, the burly brigand agrees to accept them as apprentice thieves. That tenuous situation almost ends when the assembled scoundrels scout the sleepy village of Xochitecotzingo and Joe a has a fit. The little loon has seen Lucky Luke riding into town with dumb mutt Rin Tin Can in tow.

After his introduction in 1962’s Sur la piste des Dalton, (On the Daltons’ Trail) Rantanplan – “dumbest dog in the West” and a wicked parody of cinema canine Rin-Tin-Tin – became an irregular feature in Luke’s adventures before eventually landing his own spin-off series title. The moronic mutt is in top form here, spreading confusion and mirth far and wide especially after meeting his cross-border counterpart – a clever chihuahua named Rodriguez

Joe Dalton’s devious mind goes into inventive overdrive after spotting his laconic nemesis: determined that Emilio must not learn of the hero’s presence, else he sell the brother back to the emissary of America for a tidy profit…

As Luke avails himself of the local hospitality and acquaints himself with the friendly foreigners’ funny customs, Joe leads the multinational miscreants in a good old US bank raid but has failed to take into account the hamlet’s lack of a proper venue to store money…

As international relations go into a steep decline, the extremely suspicious Espuelas is ready to cut his losses. In town, Lucky is experiencing similar difficulties lost in translation. The local law enforcers have a long tradition of keeping the peace by not asking for trouble by chasing outlaws…

Eventually, however, the canny cowboy drums up a little support, just as Joe convinces Emilio to rob the lavish ranchero of the region’s richest man. Sadly for them, that’s exactly where Lucky and Rin Tin Can are staying…

When noble Don Doroteo announces a grand party, the villains are tempted beyond their ability to resist. Emilio even finds a way for the Daltons to be useful at last. Disguised as a Mariachi band, the gringos can move about the event in preparation for a classic Mexican raid – but only if nobody asks them to play or sing…

Sensibly devolving into total farce and a ferocious gunfight, Tortillas for the Daltons is a wild and woolly comedy romp, offering fast-paced, seductive slapstick and wry cynical humour in another delicious yarn in the tradition of Destry Rides Again and Evil Roy Slade, superbly executed by master storytellers and providing a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for today’s kids who might well have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation: © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.