Review by Frank Plowright
This is only the fourth album of the long and fruitful collaboration between Lucky Luke’s creator, Maurice De Bevere, better known by his pseudonym Morris, and René Goscinny, and there are few signs of teething problems. As the current Cinebook editions have a random release schedule and number their books accordingly, it’s volume 24 according to them, but chronologically it’s volume 13. It was serialised in France in 1957, and first published as a book in 1959.
The central caricature is Judge Roy Bean, a maverick sure shot who set himself up as “The law west of the Pecos”. Goscinny and Morris exaggerate Bean’s personality, but exaggeration was barely required by any great degree. According to his entry in the Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography Bean actually did hold forth in his own saloon bar, and once fined a corpse $40, but such are the unverifiable legends about him that even minimal research yielded yarns featured in the story: the judge keeping a bear, expecting jurors to buy a drink at every recess, and fining people at whim. The latter was based on his town lacking a jail. When Lucky Luke complains after his arrest that he didn’t do anything, Bean replies “In this court it ain’t necessary for the accused to do anything. We take care of it all.”
An indication that this was early days for the collaboration between Goscinny and Morris was an uncharacteristically slow start, with several pages of unnecessary exposition about Bean that in later days wouldn’t have been contemplated. Once the story really gets going, though, with the introduction of Bean, it’s hilarious.
For all his dictatorial eccentricities Bean is portrayed as relatively likeable so that when a slimy competitor sets up as a judge in his own saloon, Bean appears the preferable option even if his first reaction is to shoot up the competition. This was also among the legends about the man. Morris continues to provide distinctive undertakers, supplying several before settling on his regular model. This small, balding, weasely man, deliberately coloured with a sickly pallor as if a step away from the grave himself, constantly attempts to drum up business in the courts with his cry of “Give him rope”.
This the final Lucky Luke volume in which Morris numbers his pages sequentially from the first he drew in 1946, reaching 566. From The Oklahoma Land Rush each volume’s pages are more traditionally numbered from 1 to 44.