Originally published as an album in 1957, Rails on the Prairie marks a historic departure for Lucky Luke. Until this point Morris had been both writing and drawing Lucky Luke. He was becoming ever more accomplished with his cartooning, and over eight previous books Lucky Luke had evolved into pretty much the look that’s defined him ever since, but writing wasn’t Morris’ strength. He could knock the gags together well enough for the serialised publication of Luke’s adventures, but the weakness of his narratives became apparent when the books were published and there was no weekly gap between sequences.

Oddly, given that they were both French speaking, Belgian cartoonist Maurice De Bevere first got to know French writer René Goscinny when they were both living in the USA. They were back in Europe when they decided to collaborate, and this was before Goscinny began writing Asterix.

Although far from the best of the work they’d go on to create together, this is already manifestly better than most of the Lucky Luke Morris produced alone. There’s a structure to the plot rather than just a series of gags strung together, and the gags are of a higher quality.

The crux of the matter is the efforts to have the railroad from the East of the USA connect with the tracks working their way in that direction from the West. There are powerful vested interests not wanting this to occur, and ensuring efforts are sabotaged. Luke’s involvement diminishes the problem, but eliminating it entirely is another matter. He encounters a hostile native population, hostile local communities, to say nothing of the problems thrown up by nature.

Morris would have one further try at creating a Lucky Luke album on his own (The Bluefeet are Coming), before deciding his future lay in collaboration. He’d produce another 45 Lucky Luke books with Goscinny, beginning with Lucky Luke vs Joss Jamon, and there’s some irony in one of their final collaborations recycling elements of this plot. In The Singing Wire, it’s the coast to coast telegraph being sabotaged, but twenty years later Goscinny and Morris were such a class act that it’s a much better book.