Saturday, October 30, 2010

Shadowland: Moon knight #1-3

After several years of centering their whole publishing line around event mini-series, from "Civil war" to "Secret invasion", the last couple of years saw the company taking a step back and turning attention back to the individual titles. This is especially evident following "Siege", with the following crossovers being limited in scope and impact to their respective "family" titles. This has been a regular X-Men practice for decades, but in 2010, Marvel decided to use Daredevil as a center piece of just such an publishing strategy.

With "Daredevil"'s history of being traditionally the most successful of Marvel's street level superhero character titles, it made perfect sense to use the book's long foreshadowed "Shadowland" storyline as a lynchpin for spotlighting that particular part of their line. When it comes to the ongoing titles participating in a crossover event, Marvel has been very particular of late, usually commissioning a separate tie-in mini-series, so as not to derail the regular creative team's plans for the title. This has lead to a slew of clearly labeled three parters, readily available on the stands, with intentionally peripheral stories that serve to entertain just such a customer interested in a very specific product.

Where "Shadowland: Moon Knight" defers from the rule is that the character's ongoing series has been cancelled just before the crossover, thus making the following tie-in mini-series something of an exception. Written by the regular "Vengeance of the Moon Knight" scribe Gregg Hurwitz, adamant on providing some sense of closure to the cancelled titl, and pencilled by the "Deadpool the Merc with a mouth"'s Bong Dazo, the series had a complicated task of balancing between two previously unrelated storylines, while ostensibly trying to appeal to the average reader.

From the start, it's very easy to identify which of these plots the writer is more interested in, as he duly follows the editorial mandate of actually spotlighting the role Moon Knight has to play in the proper "Shadowland" mini-series, but otherwise steers clear of the connection, building the story he really wants to tell around the crossover. This approach definitely benefits existing "Vengeance of the Moon Knight" fans, but can hardly be considered fair to the readers who picked up the obligatory tie-in, interested in seeing the wider event story to the fullest. This is perhaps understandable, seeing as how the potentially interested members of wider superhero audience don't really have a place to continue reading Moon Knight's solo adventures if the character starts sparking their interest in this very moment.

On the other hand, the grim and disturbing atmosphere to be found in the pages of "Shadowland: Moon Knight" clashes even with the tone of Hurwitz' cancelled ongoing. And while a disturbing ending for this part of Moon Knight's fictional life was always an alternative judging by the set-up in the writer's opening arc, it seems that somehow Shadowland's own brutally grim outlook impacted on the crossover, beyond the obligatory Daredevil scenes. This is nowhere as apparent as in Dazo's pencils, whose work seems particularly intense the whole time, starting with the oversized first issue.

His work with inker Jose Pimental on Deadpool's likewise cancelled second ongoing title, likewise felt exaggerated and raw, but maintained a fitting sense of immaturity. On Moon Knight, once again under Matt Milla's colors (supplemented by Chris Sotomayor's work for the first two thirds of the mini-series), following the very first page, this playfulness turns into a perverse exploration of the darkest parts of the Marvel universe, with crooked and bent characters leering maniacally, through gritted teeth, while sulking through the story that echoes of madness and supernatural.

There is literally no respite for the the character, as the body count starts piling up from the moment Daredevil enlists the aid of Profile, designed by Charlie Huston and David Finch as Moon Knight's chief human opponent. The criminal genius finds a way to once again shake up the protagonist's status quo, by creating a threat that proceeds to shake up all of the parts of Jake's past, that he thought he's managed to deal away with. Thus, the conspiracy comes alive in the form of Shadow Knight, composed equal parts of Moon Knight's paranoid connection to the Egyptian mythology, and his darkest personal failings, that sets out to endanger his current fragile balance, under the auspices of securing an item important to the wider crossover.

The gauntlet the character's been put through is severely rigourous and mirrors the darkest excesses of 1980s superhero "realism" when the character starred in first ongoing series. And while his status as Marvel's answer to Batman, with all of the tortured heroism that entails, always made for severely brutal stories, rarely has a single adventure seemed this bleak and depressing. The threat comes from Moon Knight's past and starts severely punishing him, on every level imaginable, leading to some very questionable creative choices. And while it's one thing to attack the constantly changing array of the character's alter egos to represent the psychological cost of the emotionally catastrophic events engulfing Jake, it's quite another to so severely attack his longtime partner, Marlene.

And while the superhero girlfriends have been longtime defined by the careless status of damsels in distress, the personal cost of the title characters' crime fighting has long surpassed the slight inconvenience witnessed in their Golden age debuts. Paralleling the complicated maturation of the genre, an accidental trend of graphically depicted torture to the female form, has been getting it's louder and louder opposers, thus it's difficult to see the reason for it's continuation, in the pages of a tie-in mini-series, of all places.

The way it's handled, this kind of development certainly raises the stakes in the final showdown between the two avatars of Khonshu, it would have likely provoked a severe outcry, if it had been more extensively featured in the main Shadowland mini-series. Just looking at Dazo's brutal drawing of Marlene, bruised and battered, but still showing a provocative look at her cleavage seems beyond cynical. It's telling that her subsequent appearance amounts to exactly one panel designed to spotlight Moon Knight's current state of mind. Her recovery relegated to a side-glance shot in the mirror reveals not so much a lack of space devoted to the character, but more or less a complete disregard to the deeper motivation behind Moon Knight seeking vengeance, beyond driving the plot where the editorial saw fit.

On the whole, this whole project does fulfill a lot of the promise set up in the early Hurwitz-Opena issues, it's just that the execution itself is very particular. The themes of whether Moon Knight could find acceptance in the wider Marvel universe by avoidance the use lethal force against his enemies, and the possibility of his continued mental well being have been directly dealt with, in this unlikely tie-in mini-series. The only problem is that the execution behind it doesn't carry through on the relative strength of the plot.

It's hard to look at Dazo's tortured work and think that the story has inspired him beyond potentially raising his profile in the industry. He does some of his character work by utilizing the shadows to show Jake's fractured mental state, but even these decisions, when noticeable, seem like narrative tricks long familiar to the Batman readers. The artist fares much better with the introduction of New Orleans as the setting of the final duel, with no doubt the lack of actual Shadowland tie-in scenes inspiring him to end his commitment on a high note. The somewhat more whimsical atmosphere really seems to bring forth the artist's interest, making his work in return have that much of an added weight and definition, to help smooth out the increasingly bleak outlook of the fight.

It's not so much that he renders a local fortune teller Jake encounters with a particularly memorable design, but the care that Dazo and Pimental show in rendering almost all visitors of the Mardi Gras with a distinctive design, which then colorist Milla proceeds to generalize with subdued colors, so as not to interfere with the chief kinetic elements of the page. And while it's unfortunate that the artistic team finds so little inspiration in the Shadowland scenes that dominated the parts of the earlier issues, it would be unfair to say that the event has in any real way clashed with Hurwitz's plans for the rest of the story.

For instance, Shadow Knight, despite the overblown nature of the threat he poses, gets a very natural introduction to the story, his presence foreshadowed by the events depicted in flashback. Those particular character beats, rendered in distinctive sepia tones, certainly work much better in developing the relationship with the title character, than the brief segments devoted to Marlene.

Likewise, Hurwitz treats the story's McGuffin with a serviceable in-story reason that connects the Daredevil and Moon Knight trappings. Still, it's hard to escape the feeling that all of the writer's efforts were merely compromises, realized through the medium of a sympathetic editor. Yet, for all of the effort of Axel Alonso to preserve as much as he can from Hurwitz' initial pitch, it's hard not to wander what would have happened if the proposed "Vengeance of Moon Knight" run continued to it's logical conclusion, under the artistic development of the title's original penciller Jerome Opena.

It surely couldn't have lead to such an intense and repulsive arc finale as the Shadowland tie-in mini series, and along the way would have clearly returned to the rematch with Bushman, whose reintroduction formed the main plot of "Shock and awe". Unfortunately, the economical realities of North American superhero marketplace have once again worked against any long term planning, which shouldn't really come as a surprise, considering Moon Knight's history with the company. The 35-year old property has seen multiple perspectives, relaunches, and different creative teams tackling the character and his supporting cast, with all of them seemingly very honest in their attempt to produce their most professional work.

Unfortunately, Moon Knight, as well as most of the participants in the Shadowland crossover, hasn't been able to lay claim to Daredevil's success of more or less uninterruptedly producing hundreds of monthly issues. With the recent news of the avatar of Khonshu being announced as a cast member of the Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning incarnation of "Heroes for hire", even his place on "Secret Avengers" seems to be in question. Meanwhile, the editorial doesn't seem willing to completely abandon the concept of the character's solo series, as evidenced by "Shadowland: Moon Knight"'s ending.

Just like the previous Huston/Finch launched series, that ended with Mike Benson and Jefte Palo providing a transition to the "Vengeance of Moon Knight", a title that was apparently already in preparation at the company. What's interesting is that this time, Marvel has committed the award winning "Daredevil" creative team of Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev to redefine the character, in what is not yet as being a mini-series, or a continuing project. The creators promise a scope rivaling their previous collaboration, that has firmly established them, both together and separately, as major talents in the genre.

The resulting effort remains to be seen, but for now, Moon Knight remains Marvel's substantially less popular answer to Batman than the superhero in whose story he just guest starred in. Just like Black Panther, who is expected to have a more direct benefit from the Shadowland event aftermath, Marvel is continually investing in Moon Knight, no doubt with the mind to once develop the property outside it's inherent medium. And while the cancellation of the "Vengeance of the Moon Knight", and the Hurwitz-Opena take behind it certainly doesn't bode well for any plans such as the once discussed Moon Knight TV series, the editorial's continued enthusiasm is bound to turn up interesting material along the way.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Vengeance of the Moon Knight #7-10 "Killed, not dead"

With the conclusion of the "Shadownland: Moon Knight" tie-in mini-series, Marvel have officially ended the Greg Hurwitz run on the character, while announcing the plan to continue with the character in a different direction. This comes on the heels of breaking up the creative team following their first arc on the title, with artist Jerome Opena getting employed to assist with the relaunched "X-Force".

At the time, the editorial had only announced that #7 and 8, guest starring Deadpool, would feature the fill in art of Ten ("Ghost rider") Eng Huat. Following the dwindling sales results for the title, Marvel have no doubt hoped to attract some of the attention by featuring the comedic Merc with a mouth, content that the "Vengeance"'s focus on broader Marvel universe would make it somewhat more creatively justified. This approach ignored that now, at the peak of his popularity so far, Deadpool has been overexposed to the point of absurdity. Therefore, his presence alone certainly doesn't help the two-parter turn into a novelty factor for an already too jaded audience. Even if it did bring in those new readers, what little "Killed, not dead" had to present itself certainly did Moon Knight no favors.

This tale of the two anti-heroes' conflicting interests over a hospitalized criminal, and his right to live, does appear to at least continue Jake's character arc under Hurwitz' authorship, but that's the extent to what it does to separate it from the underlying Silver Age of the Marvel Universe. Deadpool is, like always, completely over the top, but the end result is neither funny enough for the reader to be entertained, nor is nuanced in such a way to convincingly lead one to empathize with the wrong woman whose grief is at the center of the story. Amid Haut's stylish angular anatomy, and energetic points of view is nothing less than a missed opportunity, teasing the reader with the premise of juxtaposition between the mercenary pasts of the characters, only to abandon the subplot in the second issue.

Having just such a throwaway story between two more ambitious arcs in an ongoing title would be a much more reasonable decision, providing the regular penciller with a headstart on the upcoming issues. As it stands now, Marvel's B-titles such as "Vengeance of the Moon Knight" are essentially so unsuccessful that the publisher gains more from the stop and start tactics of constantly relaunching and cancelling the series (with the added benefit of rethinking the brand in-between), than by the continuing publication of a traditional ongoing title, where one creative team follows on the heels of another. Trying to make the best of a bad situation, all the editorial could think to do was use the final two issues as a training ground for introducing new artistic talent to the company's pool of freelancers.

Hence, Juan ("Black summer", "No hero") Joze Ryp makes his debut for Marvel in an over-sized issue, teaming up Moon Knight with Spider-Man, after the company's flagship mismanaged cameo appearance in the opening arc. Once again, the story has little bearing on Jake's new Batman-like status, being decidedly lighter, and focusing on a cliched interpretation of both leads. Hurwitz's story seems to draw as much inspiration from Moon Knight's classical appearance of a superhero being flown around on a helicopter, as well as "Spider-Man 3", hoping that the reconfiguring of the title past it's Marvel Knights phase will endure such a lighthearted approach. In practice, "Collision" becomes an instantly forgettable diversion, seemingly aimed solely at testing the penciller's storytelling skills.

As such, the museum heist perpetrated by the Sandman certainly bring to the fore Ryp's kinetic and detailed style, alebeit rendered more universal, than his Avatar press work. And by abandoning horror and gore as his trademark subject matter, the artist still manages a story that feels much richer, and interesting in appearance than the regular, serviceable work offered in Marvel's less popular titles. That said, Juan has much more trouble rendering Moon Night's new body armor as lean as Opena, as well as spending far too much time on splash pages in an issue that's already stretched way past the limits of it's simple story.

The heavy Geoff Darrow influence is still hard at play, but Ryp somehow makes it his own, with superhero fans traditionally favoring just such an intensively realized version of New York, and the chaos on the streets in the hero/villain scenes. Just like Eng Huat, his commitment to the title covers one more issue, albeit that being a new story, clarifying Moon Knight's place in the Avengers franchise. At the time of the solicitations, there was still some doubt whether the title would continue past #10, but all was made clear soon, when no new "Vengeance" material was being announced past the "Shadowland" tie-in mini series.

Thus, the title proper ended it's run in another generic story, imitating the style of Ed Brubaker and Mike Deodato jr.'s "Secret Avengers", albeit with the Moon Knight as the spotlighted character. Such a slight distinction makes for a very unrewarding reading, particularly when the team title the protagonist has been included in still hasn't found it's own voice. Hurwitz finds his niche in showing the team protecting an ancient artifact from falling into hands of a rather over the top Captain Barracuda and his crew, ostensibly dusted off from the archives of Marvel's decades old filler material.

It goes without saying that just such an issue serves as no recommendation for the Secret Avengers title, neither is it a proper Moon Knight tale, by any stretch of the imagination. In returning the character to his West Coast Avengers phase, Marvel is simply following the tradition, of cancelling his solo book, and keeping the property in the minds of fans by having him play a role in one of the satellite Avengers books. As for the artistic contribution, even Juan Joze Ryp can do little to elevate such a silly story, and be inspired to make it stand up as an enjoyable superhero romp. Working under heavy coloring of Andres Mossa, his art becomes indistinct and blurry, brining forth the rawest parts of his style under the nightmarish sky and murky tanker walls. This is particularly off putting, following the open and lighter colors of the artistic team's collaboration in the previous issue.

In many ways, this issue hardly makes a case for it's existence, except by acting as a clear signpost of where the fans can expect to find the character next, now that "Vengeance of Moon Knight" has been cancelled.

Looking at the four issues following Opena's departure, it becomes clear that Marvel has rushed it's new ongoing series into existence. Following so quickly after the previous volume's conclusion, the publisher would have perhaps been better of by soliciting the 6-issue "Shock and awe" Dark Reign tie-in as a mini-series. Thereby, judging by the success of it's performance, the editorial could have made a more sensible decision regarding the start of a potential ongoing follow up.

Still, their entrust the creative team with a monthly series doesn't seem so misguided, when taking into account the general tendency of mini-series to underpeform in today's market. North American comic shops are simply overflowed with superhero books, and launching a new series starring a character that can at best be considered fan favorite, by employing a creative team that still has to find sizeable following, would have always been a risky proposition. That eventually, the work itself proved only adequate, certainly did the title no help in at least attracting the positive reviews that could have potentially helped the title stay afloat a little longer.

Yet, this was still not the end for Hurwitz's take on the character, as a last minute "Shadowland" event tie-in mini-series ended up providing something resembling a true ending towards a few of the main themes set up in his and Opena's opening "Vengeance of the Moon Knight" storyline.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Blueberry Fort Navajo 2 - Thunder in the West

"Thunder in the West" is the 1966 follow-up to Charlier and Giraud's western debut, originally serialized in Franco-Belgian's seminal "Pilote" magazine. Continuing directly from their "Fort Navajo" debut, the creative duo comes back with a story that is much more clearly in line with the overall lieutenant Blueberry saga. By dispersing with the ensemble cast scenario of the debut album, they put Mike Steve Donovan first and foremost as the hero on a quest of vital importance. Still, this decision feels very much like an organic progression, and is all the while fully integrated into the historically inspired setting of the looming war between the US army and Indian tribes.

In a lot of ways, "Thunder" is a much more wholesome entry in the series, despite being the second of the five volumes in the cycle. Charlier accomplishes this by having the background plot continue around his hero's mission that takes him away from the direct involvement in the events in Fort Navajo. The expensive setting of the Apache wars lends itself neatly for just such a treatment, in turn dividing this second volume in roughly three acts. When all is said and done, Blueberry's solo adventure takes up only the middle third of "Thunder", but despite the important events plot-wise taking place before and after his ride to Tucson, it forms the heart of the story.

At the same time, this fictional episode provides for a much more mythic portrayal of the journey, as if the temporary diversion from the historical canon of Apache wars inspired Charlier and Giraud to imagine Blueberry as a western Ulysses of sorts. Yet, despite the all around storytelling innovations in the "Thunder in the West", this early entry in the lieutenant Blueberry saga still has all of the hallmarks of the Fort Navajo story arc.

And although later editions have somewhat softened up the garish coloring of the original, the whole of Fort Navajo remains a very complicated and laborious beginning, with a very rigid plot, and a much more formulaic realization than the later, more freewheeling Blueberry adventures. This is not to say that the exposition heavy volume is solely of historical importance, but that it's hard to view it as something other than the training ground for the massive loose story that follows it up. Because, genuinely, the many twists and turns the Fort Navajo saga offers are very interesting, with "Thunder in the West" particularly being a good example of both creators doing extensive work to get the reader to invest emotionally.

Once again, the plight of the Indians, wrongly accused, and forced to defend themselves, forms the emotional core of the story, with a very important exception. Due to special attention given to Blueberry, the reader is drawn to start sympathizing with his efforts, beyond the casual attention given to whether one of the introduced US soldiers will live or die, that must have been a common reaction to the plot-heavy "Fort navajo" debut. And, Blueberry is not the only one to benefit from continued focus in "Thunder in the West" - lieutenant Crowe particularly displays a complex morality only hinted in the previous album, quickly becoming a major factor in Charlier and Giraud's depiction of the conflict.

Interestingly, the major plot point achieved at the close of "the Thunder" feels perfunctory for just that - the lack of extra care taken to fleshing out the particular concern. As for the chief impressions beyond the characterization, most of them involve the more practical concerns, voiced in the many action scenes. Once again tying in with the "Fort Navajo" debut, the creators extensively spotlight Blueberry's abilities as an experienced hunter and tracker. Giraud is called upon to time and again illustrate with clarity one of lieutenant's tricks, improvised at the moment, that usually serve to help him stack the odds in his favor. In a very real way, by slimming the cast of Fort Navajo to one clever soldier, the creators abandon all semblance of objectivity and focus on symbolizing a hero's plight, albeit illustrated with all of the realism that they can muster.

It is important to note that despite the storytelling approach of the day, favoring large doses of dialogue, broken only to be replaced by the captions, Charlier and Giraud still manage to provide a very suspenseful in "Thunder". The creators' sense of timing is impeccable, and most of the twists manage to be both entertaining and, in retrospect, logical. Likewise, when the stakes feel too much to convince the reader of Blueberry's survival, Charlier wisely introduces, and in one case, reintroduces, a companion to even the odds against the lieutenant.

Most impressively, the duo's compatibility achieves a stylistic highpoint in the scene depicting Blueberry's approach to the Diamond ranch. This single page is so brilliantly laid out and executed, that the reader is kept feeling every step of Blueberry's approach. As the point of view switches around, the scene reaches the climax of it's tension just as the reader is about to turn the page, and discover the truth of the matter at hand. By utilizing such a thrilling approach, Charlier and Giraud almost approach the horror atmosphere and keep it going just enough to get their point across and then continue with the plot.

In many ways, the best parts of the album as a whole mirror the experience of the Diamond ranch scene. The creators cover a lot of plot, albeit somewhat less epic parts of the conflict, with inspiration and a lot of ingenuity, and still eventually leading to fairly important story points, as signified by the final chase that finishes of the album. "Thunder in the West" remains a transitory chapter, a more personal one that fits well into the over action oriented fictional representation of the Apache wars conflict. Yet, by giving Blueberry the requisite spotlight, Charlier and Giraud slowly start working towards making him a character broader than the Fort Navajo epic, and capable of continuing in the other West-oriented adventures, that have come to define him much more definitely than his military days. The end result is, of course, one of complete success, in that by trusting their instincts and refining their craft, the creators have eventually created the complex and definite portrayal of the essential Franco-Belgian western comic, one whose fame far outstrips it's somewhat humble Fort Navajo origins.

As with many a long-form serialized story, there is simply no point in going back and bemoaning the lack of the familiar level of competency as shown in the title's mature phase. What's important is that "Thunder in the West" was deemed interesting by it's concurrent audience, and that support has helped Blueberry's up and coming creators work their way to the more memorable tales. Today's readers will no doubt be drawn to the Fort Navajo saga by recognizing it as the beginning of a long run starring a popular character, and looking at the work like that, it's best to take it as an engrossing genre story that equally serves as a showcase of the evolution of style of Charlier and Giraud, with the latter being of particular importance considering his eventual medium transforming influence and productivity.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lieutenant Blueberry "Fort Navajo"

In 1963, French premiere comics outlet "Pilote" started serializing "Fort Navajo", a western publication by the magazine founder Jean-Michael ("Buck danny") Charlier and the newcomer Jean ("Jerry Spring") Giraud. Envisaged as the post Civil war ensemble piece spotlighting several different soldiers stationed in the eponymous outpost deep in the Indian territory, the story was heavily inspired by the Bascom affaire, that started the 25 year long Apache wars.

Starting out with a familiar scene set in a western saloon, the creators introduce the main characters, lieutenants Graig and Donovan, as an odd couple of action heroes. Yet, it is the latter, the anti-hero of the two, nicknamed "Blueberry" that has gained so much prominence and spotlight since, that the series was effectively rebranded under his own name following the debut episode. Following the opening scene, Charlier and Giraud almost immediately start launching a complicated plot mechanism that would showcase all of their creative choices regarding Fort Navajo as a story setting.

Thus, a simple investigation into a robbery they stumble upon on their way to the garrison, leads rapidly into a severe misunderstanding with the local Indians, threatening to erupt into an all out war. In order to rapidly accelerate the revenge story, Charlier uses a number of plot contrivances, all leading to the worst possible outcome, that still matches the key events, as they happened some 100 years previous.

In the process, the writer establishes only a handful of non-historical characters, and most of them in shorthand. This collection of archetypes is easily excusable when taking into account the epic brush strokes of the conflict. Lieutenants Graig, Blueberry and their new friend, half-Indian Crowe all get somewhat more nuanced portrayals, with distinctive character designs. Even then, only the Civil War soldier Blueberry comes out as a fully formed character, with formally trained officer Graig a distant second.

Still, their superior major Bascom is likely to elicit the strongest emotional reaction from the reader. Charlier depicts the historical character as a racist career man that directly makes all of the most controversial decisions, leading to the conflict with Apache leader Cochise. The storytellers cleverly paint Bascom almost like a force of nature, a character that the reader both fears and loathes, but taking a closer look, one realizes that there would simply not be much of a story without him.

Laying the groundwork for the rest of the story, "Fort Navajo" is a somewhat exposition heavy debut, but it nonetheless manages to carry across a lot of plot and three intricate action scenes. The first of these highlights the difference in the approach lieutenants Blueberry and Graig take in investigating what seems like an Apache raid. During the initial skirmishes with Indians, Mike Steve Donovan displays a lot of his later trademark wisdom and experience, by tricking his opponents in order to help his new friend.

Following the dialogue heavy opening, these chase scenes highlight Giraud's aptitude towards the material, revealing the young artist as endlessly adept at providing very naturalistic depictions of animals and the western surroundings. His detailed style is somewhat more formulaic when it gets to the characters, who seem to possess a somewhat plastic, and too visibly researched grimaces. When it gets to open spaces, and the combat dynamics, though, even this early, Giraud seems unequaled in depicting the plausible and memorable Wild West atmosphere.

Simply put, the artist's depiction of desert feels searing hot, simple and unforgiving, yet lined with a bevy of characteristically western rock formations that enrich and carry across the unique atmosphere of the prairie.

Yet, perhaps the series' biggest achievement is that in humanizing the Indians, it carries over a feeling of realistic politics, not only mirroring the historical Apache wars, but getting the reader to really appreciate the complexity of the situation. The original album is content to introduce the conflict and masterfully raise the foreboding feeling, with both sides victims of an elaborate set-up. After the massacre that serves as the book's central point and it's emotional highlight, the volume ends with a powerful and subdued scene clearly depicting the outcome of the negotiations and spelling disaster for the three lieutenants. Outranked by their greedy superior, and outgunned from all sides by the Apache tribes, these fictional stands ins to the violence that exploded around Fort Buchanan in Arizona, invited "Pilote" readers to accompany them through the dark days ahead.

Considering the talents of Charlier and Giraud, even though their first collaboration seems tame and classical compared to their later work with Blueberry, it was a very sensible proposition that lead to some of the greatest moments in the history of Franco-Belgian comics, while at the same time paving a way for Giraud's later experiments that would lead to him adopting the Moebius pseudonym and cement his world wide fame.