The first of Thierry Cailleteau's "Wayne Shelton" stories closes with "Vengeance", showing the reader precisely the difference the script makes in a Christian Denayer pencilled story. The writer starts with the exposition, bringing the reader up to speed with the events of the preceding album. Using the new character, another of Shelton's longtime military friends, as the recipient of the overlong plot explanation goes a long way to setting up the tone of the story. Contrasting the previous album's Vietnamese survivors with an insurance agent reflects directly to the plot, showing that the protagonist no longer wants to stop his nemesis, but dismantle his criminal empire in tow.
Until he's hatched his scheme, Shelton has to rely on Honesty and Larkin, his friend's former butler, that has slowly established himself as an integral part of the series. There is nothing much to the character so far, except for his being a good humored British gentleman, more advanced in age than Shelton, and quite happy to help. Honesty's role is again supportive, with Shelton's lover disappearing for dozens of pages only to show up for a night of love making before Shelton's confrontation with Hooker certainly won't endear the series to female readers. Yet, even though the character plays no part in the final strike against the villain that was two volumes in the making, she remain the only character Shelton is compelled to be completely honest with, and who gets to ask him the relevant questions concerning the morality of her actions.
An interesting plot point regarding her own age gets picked up in a discussion and dropped immediately. Volker, Shelton's friend working for Lloyd's insurance indicates that they have been together for at least 15 years, which would make misses Goodness likewise on the cusp of the middle age. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Denayer's depiction of her, with the artist depicting Wayne's old flame as hardly a day over 30. This is consistent with Luis Chuelpas' character designed that sported similar problems regarding individuality. The character resurfaces for a brief role that goes a long way to elevating bluntness of his previous portrayal, but once again serves to confuse the readers.
The character's now highly muscular body completely breaks away from his previous relaxed disposition, which serves to once again pull the reader out of the story. Yet, most of the story's problems seem to do fall on Cailleteau's part, as his complicated plot requires the characters to twist and contort their morality as fitting the scene and the point the writer wants to make. With Honesty's help, Shelton tracks down one of Hooker's accomplices, but the brutality he displays in the confrontation far exceeds his objective. The elderly weapons maker is at best a third party contact, making the protagonist's behavior thuggish and dissonant. The question of morality that rears its head in the final act likewise appears superficial, considering that Wayne himself dispatches Hooker's bodyguards without a single thought.
In Cailleteau's script, its completely normal that the protagonist slices through the hired help simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, yet he opposes Chuelpas taking Miss Yoon's life when she could be of assistance for tracking her boss. More immediately, the long monologue Shelton engages in while he himself confronts Hooker's right hand almost manages to stop the story cold. Having the hero and villain discuss the number of shots fired in regards to the ammunition remaining in the chamber is a common enough trope, but to have the protagonist launch in a diatribe regarding the specific make of his weapon is so surreal that it almost borders on parody.
Unexpectedly, half through the second volume, the writer raises the stakes and re-contextualizes some of the previously seen events regarding Hooker's pirate operation. The complicated scheme involves two different Jakartan computer firms, and revolvers around the data Volker was hiding from the insurance company. Shelton picks up on the opportunity and uses the situation to not only locate Hooker's whereabouts, but to formulate the concrete plan which will help him deal with the war criminal by turning his associates against him.
Unfortunately, for the complicated plot to work, Cailleteau has to continually keep slowing down the story, introducing complex corporate manoeuvring at the last possible moment. The results may be more realistic than the typical "Die Hard" action scenario, but the road the creators took to get there leaves much to be desired. Effecting a false double cross using a crooked secretary might seem innovative, but it betrays the set up of the previous volume, relegating it as merely the back story behind Hooker and Shelton's army days. Likewise, Wayne's motivations automatically assumes that he was profoundly shaken by the conclusion of "the Survivor", which serves to justify his every action in the follow-up.
Despite the creators' insistence, it's hard to accept "Vengeance" as a separate story detailing Hooker's current operation. The broad characterization and the heavy focus on the plot ultimately still end up with the final act feeling rushed and he too easy, with epilogue that further seems tacked on and unnecessary. Shelton's complete confidence no matter the complications make it hard to really empathize with the character's emotional state. It's never in doubt that he'll have his revenge on Hooker, who remains a one-dimensional villain, making for a story that seems all too familiar and redundant.
When Cailleteau started, he set out to write what seemed to be a definite "Wayne Shelton" story, pitting the character's Vietnam war past with his status as a present day independent operative, but somewhere in "Vengeance" the characterization made way for plot mechanics, and the story never recovered. It's strange to find out that the conclusion actually works against the merits of the first part of the story, but Cailleteau and Denayere have definitely managed to present Dargaud with an effort that on the whole seems subpar compared to Van Hamme's introductory albums.