Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Wayne Shelton 6 - The Hostage

"The Hostage" is the second Thierry Cailleteau Wayne Shelton story, designed as a self-contained album drawn by the regular series artist Christian Denayer. Gradually, Dargaud has allowed for slimmer volumes in the series, and at 48 pages, the creators are allowed roughly one fifth of the space alloted to the series' debut. Still, both Denayer and Cailleteau use the available pages to make most of the story, which is decidedly lighter than the preceding two-parter.

"Hostage" opens with Shelton and another of his veteran soldier friends flying an airplane over a fictional approximation of Uganda. Just like in "Vengeance", the story starts with a conversation framing the flashback, this time depicting the two men's reintroduction. We are shown how Wayne helped get the bad tempered Jef out of a bar brawl started over petty name calling. The pilot is presented as likable slob motivated by greed, which contrasts nicely with Wayne's stoic demeanor and makes for a dynamic not unlike that of Blueberry and Jimmy McClure.

The reason Wayne has gone to Africa has to deal with Honesty, who is depicted as living together with him. A TV broadcast from a country in the middle of the military coup brings a familiar face as the titular hostage - that of miss Goodness' first love, whom she hasn't seen in years. The news reporter has been captured by the departing ruler, who has since gone into hiding. Naturally, Honesty asks Wayne to travel to the political hot spot and rescue Legret, a proposition he fights on the grounds of irrationality. Unfortunately, the argument is rendered moot considering that the reader already knows that Shelton winds up accepting the mission.

Shelton is to travel alone, with the creators once again deciding to keep Honesty out of danger. The plot device used to achieve this is particularly leaden, as Wayne's girlfriend is confined to the chair due to her leg being broken. Yet, in order to finally finish with the flashback setting up the plot, Denayer and Cailleteau present perhaps the most tone deaf-scene in the whole album.

Seeing Wayne confront a particularly loathsome mercenary for a piece of information would have been a standard genre sequence, if not for the fact that his acquaintance has been turned into a permanent invalid due to his wartime experiences. Where Cailleteau chooses to go with the former torturer is both surprising and over the top, as the former war criminal asks Wayne to help him with a contraption designed to end his misery.

With the flashback ended, the creators use Jef's contempt for the man to justify Shelton's acceptance of euthanasia, but the preceding four pages still feel forced and out of touch with the rest of the album.Thankfully, once the local militia starts shooting at the plane Wayne's friend is piloting, the plot picks up and never lets up until the ending.

Due to their forced landing, the characters are reminded of the complicated situation following the coup. The French aviation has agreed to prevent unauthorized flight and, Wayne and Jef find a way to get on their side in order to gain access to close in on general Kalomba. In order to get the former dictator's location, Shelton has to confront the superstitious man's witch doctor, himself a former soldier of fortune.

Following an amusing episode with the charlatan, Wayne and Jef leave for Kalomba's sanctuary, where the final act begins. Most interestingly, the creators keep the pair's African adventure a decidedly restrained affair, with most of the problems overcome using their guile and cunning. With the hostage finally spotted, the album picks up and continues with the consistently lighter tone, despite the situation. For instance, when the creators first put the focus on Legret, he is presented writing a prison diary with an intentional disconnect between Denayer's detailed drawings and Cailleteau's captions.

The irony is followed upon when Honesty's friend finally meets Wayne, as Shelton's trademark antipathy for once proves justified at the outset. "The Hostage" posits a shades of grey world of mercenaries, with the audience being invited to side with Wayne solely because he has the most altruistic motive. General Kalomba's plan is particularly cynical, and it's hard to argue with the poetic justice that the creators ultimately mete out in the closing pages. Wayne's partnership with Jef is likewise not bound to last beyond Wayne's friend trying to get his monetary compensation, and his eventual fate suits the character.

Thus, both the pilot's dignity and the series are spared his continued role of a comic relief, which would quickly wear out its welcome. Thus, Wayne is reunited with Honesty, a much more rounded character, to whom he relates the most appropriate version of events.  Thus the bitter sweet epilogue ends the album on the high note, while the creators went on to finish their collaboration in the following two-parter.

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