Friday, June 22, 2012

Wayne Shelton 2 - the Treason

The other half of Jean Van Hamme's opening story concludes with "the Treason", once again pencilled by Christian Denayer (the one constant in the publication of "Wayne Shelton"). The story structure is almost mathematical this time around - with the first 30 pages serving to set up the operation, and the rest split equally to cover the execution of the plan and the attempted getaway. It goes without saying that Shelton's plan fails to cover every eventuality, but the writer executes the story in such a way that the protagonist still manages to improvise and finish the mission on his own terms.

Such a far fetched plot necessitates some naivety, but the creators manage to make most of these scenes charming enough that they continue to entertain. Despite the downbeat ending, "the Treason" never stops being diverting, and as such it absolutely succeeds as escapism. Shelton's plan to infiltrate the ex-Soviet community in order to position himself and his associates never stops being dubious, but it's mostly due to the brevity of their stay. Honesty has clear reasons for spending most of the album in the hospital, but it's Boyadsik the actor who suffers severely from the hurried pace.

For the elderly expatriate to fall in love with the in keeper so quickly and so completely just days after meeting her seems far fetched, even in a story where seemingly every ten pages a truck bursts through a building, causing confusion everywhere. The addition of the character otherwise works to keep the story grounded, and present a civilian perspective.

On the other hand, the assignments that Shelton gives to both Vanko and Honesty count as typical spy fare, albeit still being functional for the purposes of the story. Thus, the copying of a key gets presented in great detail, while some of the more far fetched aspects of assuming another identity get moved to the margins. Most interestingly, Pierre Madrier emerges as a full rounded character, with Van Hamme doing some very interesting work to follow up on the clues left to his identity.

"The Mission" concluded with Honesty finding some seemingly contradictory information regarding the accomplice that has wormed his way into the operation. This next volume sees Madrier as another cog in Shelton's plan, providing the reader with the inside perspective of the prison the group is trying to break into. It comes as no surprise when the independent minded young man reveals his own agenda, which actually humanizes him in the the creators continually avoid when it comes to Lord Belly and Juan the stuntman.

All of these characters act their professional best when the mission finally starts in earnest, but the chief set piece still comes off as a little goofy. Having people masquerading as part of the effort to get someone out of the prison remains a campy trope, no matter the execution. Yet, having Wayne come up with a tactic that frees up the whole prison in the process seems too excessive and calculated primarily to have Denayer come up with impressive visuals.

Wayne's mission is instantly deemed a success, with the only potential setback lying in the getaway. It would be nice to say that the bloodletting that starts and never really lets up until the end of the volume has something to do with Shelton's approach to freeing the prisoners, but there is no evidence to support this in neither the text or the illustrations.

Shelton and Honesty ultimately end up punished through a lack of competence in one of their new allies, and the betrayal on the part of their employers. The latter (ie. the titular treason) is set up in the opening volume, but still comes as a shock to the reader, unsure which of the many variables will come back to trouble the protagonists.

Both the character deaths and the raised stakes feel much more natural than the prison break the whole story revolves around. Except for the slightly off-key sequence involving a sealed off mine, the creators proceed to finish the volume on a somber, if righteous note. The epilogue is as sudden as it is brutal, firmly establishing the main characters as well-trained people willing to forge their own path.

Unfortunately, Van Hamme's involvement with the series vanes following the second album, with his returning only to plot the next volume. It will be almost ten years after he started collaborating with Denayer on the title, that the the reunited on "Wayne Shelton". "The Treason" than is another fine chapter in the adventure series, nicely drawn and nicely paced, that works to round out the introductory two-parter but on it's own doesn't seem as smart as "the Mission".

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