‘The Man Who Shot Lucky Luke’ Reviewed: Matthieu Bonhomme Brings A New Look And A Classic Sensibility To An Old Favourite

It’s the man who shoots faster than his own shadow – but not necessarily the one you remember. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t pure, magnificent Lucky Luke.

As you’ll know from previous volumes of Lucky Luke (see here), I’ve been a fan of Morris‘ gloriously laconic cowboy since I was a wee thing perusing the part of Dudley Library’s kids section where I usually found the Asterix and Tintin volumes. And then one week, up pops a volume that looked different, some tobacco smoking cowboy in a yellow shirt with a red bandana round his neck.

There weren’t many of the books available, not back then, but Lucky Luke made a lasting impression on that young me. Fast forward many years later and I’m reading and loving Lucky Luke all over again, this time courtesy of Cinebook, who’ve been diligently reprinting the entire Lucky Luke library over the past decade or so.

But this – well, this is different. This isn’t quite the Lucky Luke I know and love, this is Matthieu Bonhomme’s version of Morris’ original, an original that was developed and improved with the addition of the great Rene Goscinny as writer alongside Morris’ sumptuous and deceptively simple artwork.

Over the years, Morris worked first with Goscinny and then with other writers and, following Morris’ death in 2001, French artist Achdé took on the art in a style that kept the classic look of Morris’ laidback cowboy. However, there have also been a series of special editions and homage volumes presenting a rather different version of the fast-shooting Luke.

All of which brings us to this, Matthieu Bonhomme’sThe Man Who Shot Lucky Luke.

Long story short, it’s wonderful, it’s thrilling, it’s true to the original whilst being its very own thing. And most importantly of all, it’s fresh and it’s wonderful. This might not be Morris’ Lucky Luke, but it’s very much its own magnificent version.

Now, without spoiling anything – yes, the title’s obviously not a literal thing, well, not quite. Suffice it to say, Luke makes it to the end of this one to ride away from town singing that familiar song.

It’s easy to concentrate on the differences with Bonhomme’s version here, but that’s just seeing the art and missing the fact that Bonhomme’s version of Luke is written and executed in pretty much the perfect Luke style. The very best Lucky Luke‘s are perfect little three-act plays – from introduction, through plot development and repeated gags, to a conclusion that brings all the happenstance and ridiculous together. And that’s just what Bonhomme writes here.

Our lonesome cowboy isn’t having the best of times as he comes into the sleepy little mining settlement of Froggy Town, he’s wet, he’s tired and, worst of all, he’s out of tobacco. In short order, of course, he finds himself deep into the town’s issues, including clashing with Sheriff Bone and his brother, investigating the mystery Indian who robbed the stagecoach, and generally being unable to keep himself out of trouble.

Frankly, in terms of plot, that’s all you really need to know. The point is that this really is a classic Lucky Luke, despite not necessarily looking like one at first glance.

Along the way, there’s plenty of twists and turns, you get to see just how Bonhomme gets himself out of that first-page shocker of seeing Luke laid out, face down in the mud, shot in the back, there’s the chance for several wonderful running gags. Then there’s the magnificent running plot thread of having Luke battle an addiction to tobacco, one that Bonhomme manages to treat with stunning comedy but a pure line of sentiment that’s so beautifully done, all the way through to the finale of Luke riding off into a perfect background, a wisp of straw perched between his lips. It’s just all so perfectly done.

In fact, the whole thing is so perfectly done that it doesn’t take too long into this that you get the sheer joy of realising that this is absolute, pure, complete, unadulterated Lucky Luke, worthy of some of the best of the Goscinny/Morris volumes.

Of course, the art looks very different, that’s the whole point, from the cover onwards, this really isn’t Morris’ version of the character, not necessarily a darker version but certainly one rendered with more realism and in a very different style to what we’ve come to expect from Morris.

Except, you know what, you look past the surface and get into the bones of the artwork and you realise that it’s not all that different after all. Sure, the look may be different, but the structure is just the same, the essentials are just as strong, the building blocks all there, just the dressing changes.

And when you realise that, you realise that Bonhomme, despite looking so different to Morris’s Luke, has actually done one of the most reverential versions of the character.

Simply – this IS Lucky Luke, it gets to the heart and soul of the character, looks absolutely beautiful and manages to be completely true to all that has gone before.

I’m so glad that Cinebook are really going all-in on Lucky Luke, including these homage volumes, the Adventures of Lucky Luke after Morris – it’s building up into an English language library finally worthy of the series, including these different takes on the character. I’m not only looking forward to reading the next of Bonhomme’s volumes – which is next in the reading list – but also seeing the versions by Guillaume Bouzard (Jolly Jumper Stops Responding) and Mawil (Lucky Luke Saddles Up).

The only real problem I have now – Cinebook are pretty much caught up with the entire Lucky Luke series now, which means that I’m going to have to wait a lot longer for the next installment. All I know is, by now, after many different writers and a fair number of new artists, I’m excited for whatever comes next.

The Man Who Shot Lucky Luke – Script, Art, Colours by Matthieu Bonhomme, Translation by Jerome Saincantin.

Published by Cinebook

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