Buck Danny volume 1: Night of the Serpent

By Francis Bergése, colours by Frédéric Bergése translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebooks)
ISBN: 987-1-905460-85-4

I’ve finally picked up some of the newest translated versions of a favourite continental classic serial, courtesy of the wonderful Cinebooks; a fine publishing outfit dedicated to bringing more of the fabulous wealth and variety of European comics to the infamously resistant English-speaking World.

All-American Naval Aviator Buck Danny was created by Georges Troisfontaines and drawn by Victor Hubinon before being handed to Jean-Michel Charlier, then working as a junior artist. Troisfontaines was director of the Belgian publisher World Press Agency whilst Charlier’s fascination with human-scale drama and rugged realism had been seen in such “true-war” strips as L’Agonie du Bismark (‘The Agony of the Bismark’– published in Spirou in 1946).

With fellow master-storytellers Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny, Charlier formed the Édifrance Agency, which promoted and specialised in communication arts and comics strips. Charlier and Goscinny were editors of Pistolin magazine (1955 to 1958) and created Pilote in 1959.

Charlier’s greatest triumph is the iconic Western Blueberry (created in 1963 with Jean Giraud/Moebius). Charlier wrote Buck Danny until his death whereupon his artistic collaborator Francis Bergése (who had replaced Hubinon in 1978) took sole charge of the adventures of the Yankee Air Ace.

Like so many artists involved in stories about flight Francis Bergése (born in 1941) started young with both drawing and flying. He qualified as a pilot whilst still a teenager, enlisted in the French Army and was a reconnaissance flyer by his early twenties. At age 23 he began selling strips to L’Étoile and JT Jeunes (1963-1966) after which he produced his first aviation strip Jacques Renne for Zorro. This was soon followed by Amigo, Ajax, Cap 7, Les 3 Cascadeurs, Les 3 A , Michel dans la Course and many others.

Bergése worked as a jobbing artist on comedies, pastiches and WWII strips until 1983 when he was offered the plum job of illustrating the venerable and globally syndicated Buck Danny. When Charlier died Bergése took over the writing too and even found time in the 1990s to produce some tales for the European interpretation of Great British icon Biggles. He retired in 2008, passing on the creative chores of Buck Danny to illustrator Fabrice Lamy and scripter Fred Zumbiehl.

Buck Danny premiered in Spirou in January 1947 and continues to this day. The strip describes the improbably long and historically significant career of the eponymous Navy pilot and his wing-men Sonny Tuckson and Jerry Tumbler. It is one of the world’s last aviation strips and a series which has always closely wedded itself to current affairs such as The Korean War, Bosnia and even Afghanistan.

Like all the Danny tales this premier edition is astonishingly authentic: a breezy and compelling action thriller – originally published as Buck Danny #49: La nuit du serpent in 2000 – with colouring by Frédéric Bergése (I’m assuming that’s his son, but I’m not certain) which blends mind-boggling detail and technical veracity with good old fashioned blockbuster adventure.

At Kunsan Airbase, South Korea a veteran American pilot goes on dawn border patrol only to be hit by an uncanny light which blinds him and seems to negate all his F-16’s guidance systems. Despite his best efforts the jet crashes in the De-Militarized Zone and the North Koreans claim a flagrant breaking of the truce and a huge publicity coup.

Strangely though, the downed Colonel Maxwell is still missing. The Communists don’t have him and the pilot’s tracking devices indicate he’s still out there somewhere: lost in the No Man’s land between North and South.

The American military swings into action, determined to rescue their pilot, clean up the mess and deny the Reds either a tangible or political victory. Danny, Tumbler and Tuckson are at a Paris air show when they get the call and are soon en route to Korea for a last-ditch face-saving mission.

However as the trio prepare to join the covert rescue mission, evidence emerges which casts doubt on the authenticity of the alleged super-weapon. Meanwhile Colonel Maxwell has stumbled into a fantastic secret under the DMZ…

Fast-paced, brimming with tension and spectacular action, this is a classically designed thriller which effortlessly plunges the reader into a delightfully dizzying riot of intrigue, mystery and suspense before its captivating conclusion.

Suitable for older kids and boys of all ages the Adventures of Buck Danny is one long and enthralling tour of duty no comics fan or armchair adrenaline-junkie can afford to miss. Bon chance, mes braves…

© Dupuis, 2000 by Bergése. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd. All Rights Reserved.