Review by Jamie McNeil
The introductory pages are superb, humorously drawn as Benny discovers his friends aren’t there, and a little old lady asks Benny why he looks so disappointed. She introduces herself as Madame Adolphine and offers to play with him, to Benny’s delight and some disapproving stares from adults. Then Madame Adolphine takes ill so a concerned Benny finds her some assistance. When he meets her on the street the next day, she can’t remember who he is, only to remember him a little while later. What is going on? Is Madame Adolphine alright? Someone is up to no good and Benny is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery as quickly as possible. There’s more to the tale that meets the eye, so he’ll need his prodigious strength. As long as he doesn’t lose it by getting a cold in the process.
Smurfologist Matt Murray argues that Benny Breakiron is the first superhero with problems, predating both Fantastic Four and Spider-Man by a year or two. It’s an interesting point made in Murray’s notes for The Smurfs & Friends Vol. 1. Whether Peyo is the progenitor of supes with problems doesn’t diminish the fact that Benny Breakiron books are very engaging. As in The Red Taxis, Peyo again provides the lively character illustrations and Will supplies some excellent scenery and backgrounds, from the rustic charm of Vivejoie to the seedy Paris alleys. Peyo gives each character – and there are plenty – their own distinct appearance.
This is further evidence that the 1960s were the Golden Age of Euro Comics. The plot itself is fun, the ideology and influences of the time visible, and the gags are witty, the expressions splendid and the action very entertaining. There is some support for Murray’s claims in how Peyo presents his hero. Peyo has created this little boy who is a good lad who wants to do the right thing, but he’s also an orphan, so there is a distinct air of loneliness, and Benny’s attempts to reveal his strength are often dismissed as tall tales. Because he’s out late investigating or helping people, he’s seen as ill behaved. Peyo plays these contrasts against each other to create a very human yet likeable character who’s a charming lad, but you can’t help feel sorry for the little tyke. His problems are ones we can relate to quite deeply – loneliness and being accepted for who we are.
Madame Adolphine‘s tropes are familiar now but it’s still a winning story, largely because Peyo infuses his cast with realism, and Benny’s childlike innocence wins you over. Madame Adolphine can also be found in The Smurfs & Friends Vol. 2, but with the pages presented nearer the original European album size. His next adventure is The Twelve Trials of Benny Breakiron.