Review by Karl Verhoven
Anyone coming to No Fly Zone unfamiliar with the Buck Danny series receives a crash course in Francis Bergèse’s priorities over the opening three pages, of which the featured page is the third. These concern airborne agents directing sea craft and others toward packages dropped from a drug runner’s light aircraft, and feature four different planes, a helicopter, a patrol boat, an aircraft carrier and a speedboat, all lovingly reproduced down to minute details. Alternatively count the rivets on the cover illustration. Bergèse obviously derives great pleasure from such technical work, and this is conveyed all the way through.
That opening sequence ties in with the title, for which Buck and crew are tasked with identifying the provenance of a rapidly expanded airstrip in the fictional Central American state of Managuay, while maintaining cover as instructors for the Managuayan air force. The airstrip is believed to have been constructed by drug runners.
Buck Danny is adventure for boys, so Bergèse pitches it at that level. There’s no great difficulty in identifying the crooked elements, and his characters lack depth – Buck himself has all the personality of a brick wall – but the plot twists are disguised just enough that boys will be sucked in. In terms of art, Bergèse applies the same diligence seen on the technology to other aspects of the strip, although landscape scenes such as Buck and crew visiting the countryside and historical ruins are over in a couple of panels. An artistic oddity is the album’s title being in a dark green that fades into the cover picture behind it.
An unresolved problem throughout Bergèse’s Buck Danny material is his conflict between presenting an adventure and a desire to ensure that no-one can criticise the minutest of technical details or lapse in procedure. Time and again this grinds the early pages of No Fly Zone to a halt. Instead of a word balloon reading “I stay on base while Lieutenant Lawson flies Manguayan personnel and equipment to Coroza” we have “I spend my days here. The plane goes on without me. It carries technical instructors and demonstration equipment to Coroza, a base where they’re training Managuayan ground specialists. A Managuayan officer, who’s also a trained pilot, replaces me on these flights…”, and on for a further 61 words. Yes, it ties into furtive activities with later relevance, but it’s unsubtle and dull.
There are some well-intentioned homilies about the drug trade, and who benefits, but when the hidden villains of the piece are revealed Bergèse is back to cumbersome monologuing mode. This awkwardness is a pity, as the plot set in motion is multi-faceted, with some characters being deceived into acting against their own best interests, which fully blossoms in the conclusion found in Thunder over the Cordillera. Before that, however, there’s an ending so clumsy and rapid that were it not for a caption guiding us to that next album it would lead to a search for a missing page.