After several costly victories, the Union forces are facing a manpower shortage, and Sgt Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch are tasked with recruiting new soldiers.

For the first half of The Dirty Five, this story zips along as the finest Bluecoats translated to date. Although produced in 1984, the American Civil War setting has a timeless quality, and creators Raoul Cauvin and Willy Lambil have hit a peak. The jokes are beautifully paced, and still prompt laughter as Blutch and Chesterfield travel from town to town over two page sequences. An extremely reluctant soldier himself, the way Blutch subverts Chesterfield’s efforts is subtle, clever and funny. It’s eventually suggested they source their recruits from prison, and arrive just as five criminals are due to be executed. They’re a troublesome and talented set, and getting them back to camp provides a trial.

Lambil is an astonishingly under-rated cartoonist. In English considerations of the European greats he barely rates a mention, yet he’s the equal of Albert Underzo or Morris when it comes to thoughtful storytelling, comedic expressions, busy movement, consistently attractive background detail, and providing visuals conveying truths not spoken. All of that is apparent on the sample page, with Blutch’s indifference a masterful study. Moreso than some other Bluecoats albums, Lambil provides a variety of locations and personalities, and they’re all perfectly drawn.

Once the Dirty Five are actually delivered to camp the comedy drops down a notch. There’s a solution to their lack of suitability, but getting there to end the book is somewhat laboured, Cauvin’s timing heading off the boil a little, although younger readers probably won’t pick up on this. This isn’t enough to negate the excellence of the first two-thirds, just a slight fumbling. Overall The Bluecoats continues to delight, and younger readers will thrill and laugh along.