The Bluecoats Volume 6 – Bronco Benny
by Raoul Cauvin and Willy Lambil
“General Alexander’s Union army is out of horses, and it is now facing none other than Robert E. Lee himself. To rebuild the Northern Cavalry before the coming battle, Blutch and Chesterfield are sent to buy new mounts, with the help of legendary horse trainer Ben “Bronco Benny” Wilcox. But, first, they’ll have to cross Rebel lines, face angry Indians, and deal with Benny’s fascination with a very special horse named “Traveller”…”
Bluecoats is a classic sitcom in its structure, where a couple of inept everyman types find themselves repeatedly entrusted with very important tasks. At its best we end up with something nearly up there with Asterix, but sadly, from the few volumes I’ve seen more often than not it struggles to hit the heights as often as it possibly should.
For Bluecoats, we’re doing MASH in the American Civil War, featuring a pair of everyman characters; Sgt. Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch, one the gung-ho professional, the other the cynical realist, whose reluctance to throw himself in harm’s way frequently and mistakenly gets confused with cowardice.
And the unlikely comedy setup this time sees the pair, along with the Union army’s premier horse wrangler Bronco Benny, entrusted with the important task of procuring more horses, as the continual sacrifice of men and beast to battle has left the dark blues terminally short of good equine stock to throw at the enemy. The army have tried to get hold of replacements in more traditional ways, but the results weren’t what they expected….. funny though…
Instead one of the bright sparks in command has a great idea, use the money earmarked for the enlisted men’s wages to go and buy the horses.
And that bigger panel scan there is as perfect a place as any to talk about Lambil’s art. ‘Tis bloody lovely, but too easy to ignore, turning page after page to follow the story. But Lambil, when I do stop and look, has such a great simple line, a great cartooning style, so confident, quite lovely, and as you can clearly see in those two panels above, capable of great facial expressions and perfect motivation – the eyes full of surprise in panel 1, the eyebrows, so full of dastardly stuff in panel 2. Great eh?
Anyhow, back at the plot… the trio are off through Confederate lines to get to the horse traders who’ve recently raised the ire of the local Indian tribe by catching the beautiful wild horse Traveller, a horse who completely entrances Bronco Benny… and in a sequence that’s practically the comic equivalent of a movie montage as Bronco Benny sets about breaking all of those wild horses one by one, including the mesmeric Traveller.
After all this there’s still that troublesome problem of just how to get the herd through those angry Indians and past the Confederate lines. We’ll leave the solution to that, ingenious, double-handed, and funny, to you the reader to discover.
Yet again, although Bluecoats starts really funny, the problem I had with last volume crops up once more, and there’s just not enough of the cleverness, the wordplay, or even the slapstick to really satisfy. Where Volume 4 especially had the lot, this volume is merely entertaining and funny in parts.
But there is one part of it where this volume does excel, and that’s in the last few pages where once more Lambil and Cauvin address the issue of setting a comedy in wartime by turning the comedy and complete farce of war quite sharply to a distinct melancholic sadness. In two pages we see the laughs stifled, as the senselessness of it all, coupled with the sheer disregard for human life shown by those in charge is lain out clearly before us ….
So no, maybe not right up there with the best its offered thus far, but as I already said – entertaining and funny – and frankly that”s still good.