Review by Frank Plowright
Way back in the opening pages of Chihuahua Pearl, where Blueberry’s story began for English language readers, he met a ruthless Mexican general named Vigo. Their paths crossed subsequently on several occasions, and when Blueberry needed confirmation that he hadn’t stolen some lost money, Vigo lied, setting Blueberry on the desperate path followed since. A number of years later Blueberry turns up back in Chihuahua, only to discover Vigo’s now the governor, and certainly not a man who’ll be willing to clear Blueberry’s name. As the End of the Trail brings to a close a story that occupied ten separate albums in France, and Blueberry has a long memory, there are a few further scores to be settled along the way. Jean-Michel Charlier’s memory is also long, and he ensures almost all loose ends are neatly tied up in a thrilling manner.
Blueberry’s friend Jimmy McClure is an oddity in Charlier’s writing. He’s a hangover from the earliest adventures, a drunken sot with loose lips, and Charlier treats him as largely one-note, which makes him the most clichéd and predictable character in the series. The early stages of this plot reinforce that, and it’s unusually clumsy. That’s about the only element the phrase applies to as Charlier’s masterful plotting surely provides all the twists, tension and redemption that anyone who’s followed the series from the start might expect. For English language readers there’s the slight damp squib of a major player being a character that would be known to French Blueberry readers, but who hadn’t appeared in the Epic/Titan editions to date, so reducing his impact. The subsequent Lieutenant Blueberry series would delve into the character’s earlier history.
It’s hardly a secret that Jean Giraud is a great artist, and by the time these two stories were originally published in the mid-1980s, he’d reconciled his Moebius style, using a halfway point between that and the Western look for the covers to this series. Internally he’s back to the look that characterised earlier volumes, although the Moebius influence infuses the pages with a greater sense of space. The panels can still be very busy and detailed when necessary, but there’s enough room for all the characters and whatever they’re doing, which hadn’t always been the case. We should also highlight how superbly Giraud illustrates horses. They’re a lot of work to capture full figure in motion, and are used less than in some earlier stories, but they’re always utterly credible. The colouring bears mentioning as well. Three different artists are credited, with the page breakdown of the first story not specified. Janet Gale’s work on the title strip is a more sophisticated and nuanced version of Giraud’s own earlier colouring, but the opening book is credited to Giraud and Fraysic. One of them works in the old style, while the other applies far more flat, bright colour, more common to Giraud’s Moebius work. It’s an odd contrast.
Taken in its entirety, the five Epic/Titan books provide superbly evocative Western entertainment. They’re true to the genre, but only rarely predictable, the twists are beautifully plotted, and the art excellent throughout, with some caveats regarding the colouring. They’re sadly long out of print, and while this remains the case, anyone interested is directed to the easily located digital copies online.
Charlier completed one further Blueberry story before his death. ‘Arizona Love’ ties up the loose end concluding ‘The End of the Trail’, and has never appeared in English language book form (although was serialised in Cheval Noir 46-50).