Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Blueberry 6 - the Man with the silver star

In 1969, Charlier and Giraud finished serializing their original Fort Navajo saga in the "Pilote" magazine, featuring the break out character Blueberry. In the same year, the creative team have decided to follow it up, and proceeded with offering "the Man with the silver star", a decidedly more relaxed take on the Wild West story tropes. And after the epic that was Fort Navajo, it's certainly easy to understand why the creators felt the need to slow down and focus on character development, before deciding how to proceed with the series. In retrospect, "the Man with a silver star" turned out to be unique, in that it's the only album that truly stands alone without ties to any of the subsequent volumes.

That said, however slight it may appear, the sixth album in the series is certainly not without it's charms. First off, the creators don't hide their intent to homage "High noon", going so far as to feature a sheriff modeled on Gary Cooper in the opening segment. In presenting a more realistic version of the events that form the basis of the cinematic classic, Giraud and Charlier achieve a pleasant comedic effect, that doubles as providing the set up of the album. Interestingly, "the Man with the silver star" could easily be passed off as a McClure spin-off, seeing as how is both the catalyst for the story, with a character arc that only feels subdued due to Blueberry's presence. Admittedly, the old miner's story veers heavily in the direction of making him a two-dimensional character, by once again highlighting his weakness for strong spirits, but thankfully by giving it so much prominence, Charlier does manage to make it a plot point.

Thus, just as the reader is eased up in writing off Jimmy as the comedic sidekick defined by his relationship with Blueberry, the writer uses a last minute twist to reveal his intentions for the McClure. It's important to note that this kind of character growth is achieved by misdirection, amid a myriad of expertly shuffled subplots. Nominally, most of the album deals with the people of Silver Creek being terrorized by a nearby gang, and willing to enlist a military officer to restore order to the town. Taken on it's own, it's a cliched story, but the creators still find a way to derive a lot entertainment from the scenario. And while a lot of the album carries an irreverent tone, the creators do manage to provide the appropriate suspension when the scene calls for it.

When it comes to Blueberry, the reader is reintroduced to the character wholesale, with little to no mention of the Apache Wars, basically reverting to his previously established personality of a skilled soldier who has little regard for military discipline. In any event, his leaving for Silver Creek city is played as a gag, as just the first of the many obstacles he and McClure must confront to restore order to the terrorized settlement. Perhaps most interestingly, beyond the typical roles of scared townsfolk and their malevolent oppressors, Charlier and Giraud devote a lot of space to setting up a clear victim of the present situation, in Miss Marsh, the grade school teacher. Just like exploration of far reaching consequences of the racism factored heavily into the set up for the Fort Navajo storyline,so does the division of gender roles inform a major theme in "the Man with the silver star".

Unfortunately, following a fitting ending to her storyline in this album, Miss Marsh was neglected by the creative team following this album. This is unfortunate, considering that she is likely the series' highest profile female character following Chihuahua Pearl. In any event, her relationship with Blueberry shows us Donovan still at his shiest, which is in line with how he behaved with miss Daisy in Fort Navajo. Looking past his relationship with Miss Marsh, the reader can recognize the same infallible anti-hero that Mike has been prior to his association with Jimmy McClure.

Blueberry is once again a charming rogue, with Giraud illustrating panel after panel of people's wide eyed reaction to Donovan's quick wit and ingenious solutions. Once again a master strategist, the protagonist's plan goes awry only due to his helper's incompetence, which is thankfully somewhat reversed by the end of the album when two of his cohorts find a way to be of direct assistance. In any way, despite the nature of the trope-filled story that is little more than Charlier and Giraud's tongue in cheek "High noon" homage, the creators show remarkable skill in producing a very readable diversion.

Despite the nature of the conflict, most of the story is relatively slow paced and believable, with the bandits particularly sporting a very realistic outlook. "The man with the silver star" certainly won't be the volume anyone associates with the most memorable moments in the saga of Mike Steve Donovan, but even as a typical genre piece it remains a strong and adequately put together story, that is certainly much easier to sample than each of the multi-album epics that were published around it.

1 comment:

SallyP said...

One of these days I REALLY have to track down these early early issues of Blueberry. I have all of the later ones, and I do have the very first Fort Navajo book, but I'm missing the rest, including this book, and I'd surely love to actually be able to read it some day!

But it is an excellent review, and I'll be checking out more of them.