Lucky Luke volume 16 – The Black Hills


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-83-0 (PB Album)

Doughty but dependable cowboy champion Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured do-gooder able to “draw faster than his own shadow”. He amiably roams the fabulously mythic Old West, enjoying light-hearted adventures on his rather sarcastic know-it-all wonder-horse Jolly Jumper. The taciturn nomad constantly interacts with a host of historical and legendary figures as well as even odder folk…

His unceasing exploits over 7 decades years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe – if not the world – generating upwards of 85 individual albums and sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages… so far…

That renown has led to a mountain of spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons, a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies and even commemorative exhibitions. No theme park yet but who knows when…?

The brainchild of Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) and first seen in Le Journal de Spirou’s seasonal Annual L’Almanach Spirou 1947, Luke sprang to laconic life in 1946, before ambling into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

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

In 1967, the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, joining 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 died in 2001, having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus numerous spin-off sagas crafted with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac, Xavier Fauche, Jean Léturgie, Jacques Pessis and others, all taking their own shot at the venerable vigilante…

Lucky Luke has previous in this country too, having first pseudonymously amused and enthralled British readers during the late 1950s, syndicated to weekly anthology Film Fun. He later rode back into comics-town in 1967 for comedy weekly Giggle, where he used the nom de plume Buck Bingo.

In each of these venues – as well as many attempts to follow the English-language album successes of Tintin and Asterix – Luke laconically puffed on a trademark roll-up cigarette which hung insouciantly and almost permanently from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – amidst pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, thereby garnering for himself an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization. For historical veracity, that tatty dog-end has been assiduously restored for this particular tale and indeed all of Cinebook’s fare – at least on the interior pages…

The Kent-based publisher is the most successful in bringing Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves, and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re at 73 translated books and still going strong.

Les collines noires was Morris & Goscinny’s 12th collaboration, originally serialised in 1963 (and the 21st album release in 1971): a tale of epic exploration and devious skulduggery that begins in Washington DC as a senate proposal to invite settlers into the untrammelled wilderness of the Cheyenne-infested Wyoming territory is provisionally passed despite the ardent proselytizing of passionate Senator Orwell Stormwind.

The measure is, however, made contingent upon a full scientific expedition and feasibility study of the region. All they need is a skilled guide to lead and defend the assessing team of cityfied scientists… someone tough, brave and extremely capable…

As Lucky Luke prepares for the expedition – consisting of utterly unprepared, naive and aging Professors Simeon Gurgle (Biology), Ira Doublelap (Geology), Darryl Bundlofjoy (Geometry) and Gustav Frankenbaum (Anthropology) – he is unaware that certain wealthy parties are taking steps to ensure that the expedition comes to a nasty end…

The trek west begins – and almost immediately concludes – with a lengthy and eventful rail journey with shady gunman Bull Bullets commencing a cunning campaign of sabotage. He has not reckoned on the perspicacity of Luke…

When framing the boffins for heinous crimes fails, the owlhoot steals the train, but even wrecking the “Iron Horse” proves insufficient to halt the convoy as the researchers take stagecoaches, other wheeled overland vehicles and even dabble painfully with horseback in their determined progression to the fabled and deadly Black Hills…

By the time they reach the Great Plains of the Midwest, Bull is running out of ploys and simply subcontracts to local killer the Nebraska Kid, but the plan to kill the ancient sages in highly-suspect duels comes a cropper at the first hurdle when old Frankenbaum reveals some unsuspected but still handy skills gained during his student days in Vienna…

Against all odds, the bumbling boffins make it to the edge of civilisation and open their appraisal of the terra incognita of Wyoming, forcing Bull Bullets to take direct action. His schemes to incite the Cheyenne to bloody slaughter don’t go the way he intended, though. The quartet of wise men – with the covert aid of Lucky – soon have the Indians on side and providing a full explanation of who and why their expedition has been targeted by villains unknown…

This is another perfect all-ages confection by unparalleled comics masters, affording an enticing glimpse into a unique genre for today’s readers 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 © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.