Saturday, August 23, 2014

Comic Bookshelf: Young Blueberry 2

Though we pick up Young Lt. Blueberry's story in progress, it
does read well as a stand-alone, too.
With DC Comics' All-Star Western starring Jonah Hex facing imminent cancellation and Dynamite Publishing's solid Lone Ranger series having recently ridden off into the sunset, the traditional Western is once again becoming something of a rarity on the new comic book table. This is unfortunate as, while not many Westerns are currently being offered by readily accessible mainstream publishers, my thirst for them remains unquenched.

So like a thirsty fanboy, I have found myself digging through the online back issue bins in search of something along the lines of dusty trails and two-gun action. As fate (and fortuitous availability) would have it, I came across an English translation published by Comcat Comics in 1990 of a French graphic novel first published in 1969. Talk about a roundabout way to get at graphic novel with an Old West setting!

Young Blueberry 2: A Yankee Named Blueberry is written by Jean-Michael Charlier with art by a young Jean (Moebius/Gir) Giraud. The second in a series of English translations, this particular volume collects chapters 4 through 6 of the creative team's original story. While a fan of Moebius' more contemporary science-fiction works (such as the Eisner award-winning Marvel's Silver Surfer: Parable mini from 1988), my only previous engagement with the Lt. Blueberry character is through the mystic-Western film Renegade (2004) starring Vincent Cassel, based on the graphic novels featuring a more world-weary iteration of him.

Written as part of a larger tapestry of stories providing background for the already popular character, I had access to only the single second volume. Because of this, I read Young Blueberry 2: A Yankee Named Blueberry as an isolated adventure without the benefit of previous characterization.

Despite this disadvantage, this collection worked fine as a singular traditional adventure of Rebs and Yankees during the Civil War. Picking up "three days after successfully completing a mission" behind enemy lines, Blueberry, at this point in his military career described as being "primarily a bugler," attempts to rejoin his Yankee squadron. The first two chapters, "Death Ride" and "Man Hunt" tell the story of Blueberry's efforts to return to his squadron as well as his being hunted by an adversary introduced (I assume) in the previous volume. What follows is a tale of mistaken identity and unclear alliances wherein Blueberry finds himself once again thrust into a dangerous mission requiring he play both sides of the war.

The final chapter in the album, "Private Mike S. Blueberry", finds our protagonist still caught between the Rebs and Yankees. Given what has preceded, Blueberry is forced to prove his allegiance to the Blue Coats. (Apparently the mission that set all of this in motion was a mission so secret, no one knew that he was in fact a Blue Coat infiltrating the Confederacy ranks.) While the conclusion of this volume finds Blueberry successfully foiling the Confederacy's plans, he is also in pretty much the same predicament as at the onset: trapped behind enemy lines unable to prove his allegiance to either side.

Blueberry's character, as written by Charlier  is easily discernible without having read what preceded, especially as he is presented as an archetypal soldier, if only slightly more conscientious, attempting to fulfill his patriotic duties while staying alive. Because of this, there is always a level of narrative tension at play that allows our main character to consistently reveal (or reinforce) the traits to the reader. Within the context of a larger story, though, I could see this continuous plot strategy becoming somewhat repetitive.

This is also not the Moebius artwork of which I am familiar. Lacking the graceful clean lines and huge vistas of his later work (including the aforementioned Silver Surfer series), this Moebius is more constrained as the "camera" is pulled in tightly. According to the brief forward, the panels were also originally published in black and white, and were colored and reformatted for this edition, which may impact my reading of the art. There are, however, a few hints of the artist's style as it will eventually develop, particularly in the closing panels which feature a massive train derailment (one panel of which is spoiled on the  back cover).

Based on the level of difficulty that exists with acquiring Moebius books, even reprints such as this, with any degree of affordability, I am unsure when I might have the opportunity to take in any further adventures of Lt. Blueberry. My guess would be that some used bookstores or older local comic shops might have some hiding on their bookshelves. Some public libraries might also have a few in the Graphic Novels section. Should my travels bring me across additional editions, I would definitely continue following the adventures of Lt. Blueberry.

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