When a rogue candidate stands claiming to represent the Republican Party in the first US Presidential election since the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Lucky Luke is assigned to protect the official candidate, Rutherford Hayes, as he tours the states campaigning.

The Man From Washington is a disappointment, doubly so for actually opening with a good gag featuring Billy the Kid and promising much. The expectation shouldn’t be that every 21st century Lucky Luke release matches René Goscinny and Morris at their peak, but there should be some attempt made to be original and to maintain a productive joke per page ratio. It’s not just teething problems either, as this is the third collaboration between Laurent Gerra and Achdé (Hervé Darmenton). The story rolls out for pages at a time without a decent gag, and most of the good ones that do occur have been filched from earlier Lucky Luke books. Gerra presents the search for the one person among the staff who’s the traitor, the person experiencing bizarre assassination attempts every few pages, the frumpy woman who abhors alcohol… Despite having both the plot template and many of the gags written for him, Gerra’s pacing is really poor, often killing the effect.

Achdé’s not to blame. As the sample page shows, he can recreate the busy town scenes expected in Lucky Luke, he can present a distinctive looking cast, and there are cameos for people from previous stories, a nice easter egg for those who can recognise them. Far less palatable is a book drawn in 2008 featuring offensive racial caricatures of Chinese people coloured bright yellow and with rodent’s teeth. It’s the worst example, but all too often the script features easy national stereotypes, which undermines the occasion when it’s subverted with Native Americans, as that seems a case of having the cake and eating it.

An extremely episodic tale works its way around to originality in the final few pages when an increasingly chaotic presidential debate takes place, and this is fun. It’s the exception, however, and Gerra would only write one of the nine books to date since The Man From Washington. Following Cinebook’s random publication order takes us to the 1950s story Phil Wire next, while Lucky Luke Versus the Pinkertons was the next book published in France.