måndag 19 september 2011

Jodorowsky & Boucq: Bouncer. The One Armed Gunslinger

Alexandro Jodorowsky is probably best known for his work scripting L'Incal for Moebius, but he's also written quite a number of other comics. Of those, I've read Juan Solo (English title: Son of the Gun) which I thought was pretty a much a mess, and too violent. In it, Jodorowsky seemed, if I recall correctly, to be charting a person's voyage from violent gangster hell to some sort of personal redemption, but the road there took too many weird and unnecessary turns and wasn't worth it for me, even though I'm a fan of Georges Bess, the artist for that story. François Boucq, the artist, has done his own writing for some decidedly surrealistic, very funny, and extremely well-drawn comics. The art for  Bouncer is also top-notch; a comparison with Jean Giraud's Blueberry art is probably inevitable, and even though nobody beats Giraud in my opinion, Boucq still doesn't come badly off in the comparison.

I've seen a lot of people praising the earlier Bouncer books; I haven't read those, but based on this one, I can't concur. It's basically a mess.

Here's the setup: The one-armed gunslinger Bouncer works in a saloon owned by a disfigured man, Lord Diablo, who obviously cares a lot for him. He's in love with what seems to be the saloon manager, or possibly a prostitute; Naomi. By the luck of the straw, Bouncer becomes the town's new hangman when the previous one dies, and is reviled for it by the townspeople (even though they, thirty seconds before throwing all sorts of insults at him, were shouting at him to pull the lever to execute the murderer). Meanwhile, the big man in the county, a Clark Cooper, is trying to buy Lord Diablo's saloon, threatening to do what he does with the small farms he's busy gobbling up – burning it down unless he gets what he wants. Bouncer throws him out. He buys guns for five hoodlums and sends them to kill Bouncer. He also bribes the town sheriff to back up their story.

Bouncer kills the five assassins, and does nothing about the betrayal by his supposed friend the sheriff; he doesn't even quit his position as the town hangman. Instead, he proposes to the Naomi, and on their wedding day, the black man she loved when she was younger but hasn't seen since then comes into town to register the goldmine he's discovered. She spots him, and leaves Bouncer to follow him. Then, Clark Cooper decides to take over their goldmine, so they're framed for a murder they didn't commit – in fact, Cooper has enticed his sons into trying to kill each other – and it's pretty darn obvious that it's a fake charge. Nevertheless, the sheriff goes along with it, and when Bouncer refuses to hang the woman he loves and her lover, he is first knocked unconscious, and is then forced to drink copious amounts of whisky. When he's so dead drunk that he's docile, the sheriff, the judge and other upstanding citizens lead him and the prisoners out to the gallows, puts his hand on the lever to hang them, and pushes it.

They hang.

Bouncer takes a revenge of sorts by helping a family stand up against Clark Cooper's hired murderers when they come to kill them, and then, wounded, takes refuge in an opium den – where the beautiful young Chinese woman running it has fallen in love with him and nurses him back to health. Etc.

There's a lot more happening in this rather fat graphic novel – 170+ pretentious pages – but it's mostly of the same variety. Old Western clichés are piled on top of each other, strung together by a not-very-believable plot, with odd sorts of relations between the characters which may be intended to be refreshingly original but instead only serves to make the story less believable. The aforementioned Blueberry also uses a lot of Western clichés, but it takes them seriously, and moreover, takes the job of stringing them together with a believable story containing human relations, interactions and reactions that the reader can believe in seriously. Jodorowsky seems to think that if he only puts his character through enough hell, it'll make for a good story; but it doesn't. Instead, Bouncer reads like the work of an inexperienced scriptwriter who hasn't learned his craft, and who ignores storytelling basics in order to throw out what he (mistakenly) thinks are some really cool situations – much like a lot of really crappy movies, like Mission Impossible II or Rambo.

Like I said, this is a mess. Towards the end, Jodorowsky even throws in some pseudo-mystic, New Age-y stuff from Bouncer's Amerindian father. While it may go some ways towards redeeming Bouncer in the story, it certainly doesn't redeem the story itself. It just seems tacked on for no good reason.

I can only say that I'm sorry that Boucq couldn't get a scriptwriter that matched his excellent art – or that Jodorowsky didn't have an editor that could take his basically unfinished story and made it work before it went to the artist to be drawn. Not recommended.

A four-page sample from the book can be found at the Humanoids homepage.

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