Saturday, June 23, 2012

Wayne Shelton 3 - the Contract

The third entry in the "Wayne Shelton" series of Franco-Belgian comic albums is a complete story, co-written by Jean Van Hamme, and once again pencilled by Christian Denayer. The departing writer ties up most of the loose ends in a script provided by the new regular writer, Thierry ("Aquablue") Cailleteau. The result is a fairly lighthearted entry in the series, that provides a genre rarity - an actual attempt at closure following the deaths of the secondary characters, while providing a genuine threat for the protagonist.

In many ways, "the Contract" is a holdover from the previous two-parter, albeit with a distinctively more modern bent. The new characters rely heavily on the use of computers, which nicely contrasts with Shelton's more traditional skill set. The Vietnam war veteran following a code of honor helps flesh out the world the story takes place in, and slowly introduces the idea that he has a price on his head. Wayne's changes the locale with each of these visits, that the creators also use to provide for well choreographed action scenes, never forgetting that the series is first and foremost an international spy drama. The protagonist is clued in to the nature of the threats on his life by an unorthodox police detective, the technologically savvy Sandra Luan.

There is some visual confusion when it comes to her character, as Denayer's introduction to the female detective looks very similar to Wayne's on/off girlfriend Honesty. The script establishes her as Oriental, but the character design the artist has chosen to employ differs from Honesty primarily by the nature of her hairstyle. Otherwise, Sandra plays a strange role in the volume, falling for Shelton's roguish charm in a set of circumstances that could only happen in an actioneer. Thankfully, the creators present her as being both smart and resourceful, but interestingly, they choose to sideline her for the latter part of the story. By effectively removing her from the most interesting part of the story, the creators opt to return the focus on the intimate motives of the villain.

By bringing back Horace Quayle, Shelton's employer from the previous story whom the protagonist have very definitely punished for aborting the mission and endangering his team's lives, the creative team must have been aware that they were employing the most common of adventure story cliches. Returning the villain from a certain death always strains the suspension of disbelief, but to do it so soon after his demise could mean only two things. It could be understood that Van Hamme was simply tying up a loose end as he was departing for the story he co-created, but it was more likely a simple case of the creative team not willing to depart from the good villain so soon after his introduction.

As depicted in "the Contract", Qualye's already failing health is being artificially continued in an expensive Romanian locale, meaning that he is quite literally living only to take revenge on Shelton and the remaining members of his original team. As a story, the album thrives on its villain, even including a very interesting story locale for the final showdown. Trapping Wayne in a building that is about to be demolished is something that is unlikely to be easily replicated in a movie, and the creators combine it nicely with the technological aspect of the story.

Unfortunately, Wayne's plan and the execution of the final sequence does feel a bit rushed, with the story ultimately hurting from the protracted first half. More problematically, though, the logistics of the plan once again operate around a very goofy premise that squares off against the relative realism of the plot. Having a more grounded version of James Bond is a pleasant surprise and one of the biggest strengths of the series, but to routinely feature reveals straight out of "Charlie's Angels" does tend to catch the reader unprepared.

The one page epilogue contrasts the strength of the previously established cast against Sandra Luan, and it's hard not to think of her as an unnecessary addition. This is probably why the character hasn't reappeared in Cailleteau's stories following the "the Contract". With the inclusion of Van Hamme's name in the credits, the story ultimately makes it hard to judge the new writer's contribution, but it's nevertheless fun and satisfying.

No comments: