Monday, June 25, 2012

Wayne Shelton 4 - the Survivor

"The Survivor" is the fourth album in Dargaud's "Wayne Shelton" series, and the first volume fully scripted by Thierry Cailleteau. Once again pencilled by Christian Denayer, the story is designed as a two-parter, extrapolating on Wayne's tour of duty in Vietnam. By picking up the obvious story point, the new scribe is working more or less in the same vein as a lot of the early "Punisher" stories, with a piece of unfinished business coming back to haunt the veteran in the present day.

Shelton's Asian girlfriend is nowhere to be seen, with the creator reestablishing Honesty Goodness as Shelton's partner. Sandra's unceremonious exit from the series is relegated to a couple of panels, and even those are used to further define the leads. The story opens with a high society fundraising attempt serving to introduce the pair to new readers, as well as provide the inciting incident for the story as a whole. Thus, the ceremony is predictably disturbed by an outside force, in this instance a modern hippie wanting desperately to get in touch with Shelton.

The hostility Wayne shows the character is once again as surprising as its sudden, but the protagonist decides to listen to the plea for help. Denayer's character design communicates a broad portrayal of a wild haired male, whose youthful recklessness is supposed to be symbolized by his T-shirt. Despite the characters continually alluding to the Cannabis symbol on Chulepas' shirt, it's clear that the script calls for a more youthful, and immediately more despicable type, than what Denayer shows us. When the closest pop cultural archetype your shifty loser hues to is of an elderly hippie scientist, clearly there is a case to be made against such cardboard characterization.

More importantly, Chulepas reminds Wayne of a particular episode in his military career, which prompts a two pronged flashback. Despite showing a much more traditionally heroic Shelton, the creators use these pages to set up the villain of the two-parter as a completely irredeemable wild dog. Hooker is presented as cunning and ruthless, involving Wayne and his squad in the drug-running CIA operation, and forging an enmity that lasts for decades. In the mean time, the slobbish war criminal has made a life for himself as a pirate in Indonesia, which is the designated exotic locale of the story.

Most interestingly, Chulpas hints that Wayne's own son is calling for his help against Hooker, and if anything, the album revolves around the relationship between the two. For a start, Shelton is unaware of having sired any illegitimate children while in Vietnam, with revenge being his primary goal for flying to Jakarta. Honesty's role is a much more fleeting one, as she plays the role of the girlfriend with whom the protagonist reconciles. Even then, she exits the story before Wayne meets the man claiming to be his son, and is absent during the tragic events that finish out the volume. 

Presumably, Cailleteau is repositioning her to help Shelton in the next album, but at the moment, the crux of "the Survivor" revolves around the Tran, asking Wayne's help in getting out of the prison and having revenge on Hooker. Having a prison break as a major plot point in two of the three stories so far seems repetitive, but Denayer circumvents the problem by portraying a fairly interesting helicopter rescue. As always, each of the vehicles is depicted in high detail, with clear layouts providing an interesting sequence executed from the high view.

Yet, the prerequisite action sequences  in "Wayne Shelton" gain most of their impact through character work, with the second half of Shelton's Vietnam flashback serving to set up the connection between him and Tran. As he learned of his origins, the Vietnamese youth has praised Shelton for his altruism, but the rest of his background seems arbitrary and under-worked. It's just assumed that he would seek to destroy Hooker, but there is little to the character besides. Tran is used to underline the distinction between the two Vietnam veterans, who have both continued on as mercenaries. Cailleteau picks up on Van Hamme's lead, but contrasts the morally ambiguous Shelton with far more compromised characters.

Hooker, as depicted by the creative team is a predator in human form, who continues to spread terror, thus making it easy to sympathize with the lengths Tran and Shelton go on to finish his threat once and all. The album closes with a betrayal and a personal loss that paint the protagonist in the corner, forcing him to fight back from the perspective of the underdog. Hooker's female accomplice is likewise depicted as a bloodthirsty sadist, positioning the villains as the complete opposites of Shelton and Honesty. 

Despite the quick pace and a continual string of action sequences, "the Survivor" serves mainly to set up the rivalry, and raise the stakes in such a way that the reader legitimately wants to see the hero triumph, and rid the world of a psychopath that has done so much evil to both himself and the world. With the threat explained and Shelton reminded that the present day Hooker is every bit as ruthless as he was decades ago, the creators have more than justified the great lengths Shelton would go to get his revenge in "Vengeance", the adequately titled follow-up.

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