The genius of André Franquin is obvious in the liberated nature of his cartooning, but as he became more confident at writing Spirou and Fantasio it’s also evident in his plotting. Back in 1961, there’d been a good response to his serialised adventure featuring the villainous Zorglub, but Franquin concluded Z is for Zorglub with the villain promising Spirou, Fantasio and the Count of Compignac that he’d repented, which was good enough for them. How, then, to return a popular villain? Franquin didn’t bother with complex machinations. The simple premise of Zorglub lying and our heroes being taken in worked just fine, enabling him to menace them again here.

Franquin doesn’t start with that, though, but with the village of Champignac being too distant from the curative ray employed at the end of Z is for Zorglub. There’s still a Zorglman acting on Zorglub’s last command by freezing the villagers motionless. The result is eighteen pages of wonderfully staged slapstick.

As with the previous book, Greg (Michel Régnier) helps with the writing, and Jidéhem produces the backgrounds while Franquin draws the foreground subjects. This means lively cartooning extended to the visual distractions supplied by Spip and Marsupilami contrasted with vehicles drawn to meticulous realistic standards. In previous books this has been restricted to cars, but this story expands the horizons, needing jet planes and an aircraft carrier put to very surprising use.

A slightly episodic feel characterises the plot, which can be broken down into a three act play, but there are plenty of surprises to overcome that, Franquin and Greg between them introducing wild, yet logical, plot swerves. There’s enough room to accommodate someone else known to regular readers, and the invention will still delight in a story now past its fiftieth anniversary.

Next up is The Z Rises Again, in which we see how the 1980s Spirou and Fantasio creative team of Tome and Janry handle Zorglub.