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Les Ailes du Singe. T.1, Wakanda, by Etienne Willem – Book Review by Fred Patten


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Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

1969_couvLes Ailes du Singe. T.1, Wakanda, by Étienne Willem.
Geneva, Switzerland, Éditions Paquet, May 2016, hardbound €14,00 (48 pages).

This is another fine entry in Lex Nakashima’s & my project to bring American furry fans the best of new French-language animalière bandes dessinées. We covered Étienne Willem’s previous four-volume L’Épée d’Ardenois, set about the 13th century with knights in armor. Les Ailes du Singe, The Wings of the Monkey, is considerably different. It’s set in New York in 1933, with knights of the skies.

It’s March 1933, in the depths of the Depression. Tens of thousands of people are out of work, eating in soup kitchens and living in Hoovervilles. Harry Faulkner (monkey), a top pilot in the Lafayette Escadrille during World War I, and the owner of his own barnstorming and movie stunt-flying Jenny biplane during the ‘20s, has fallen on hard times; but he’s not so desperate that he’ll take a job as a common mechanic. He complains to his girlfriend, Betty Laverne (deer), a newspaper reporter for the Herald, and to his own mechanic, Lumpy (pig), that he wants a job that will let him fly.

Meanwhile, the mayor of New York (rabbit) is gambling on jump-starting a return to prosperity – and advancing his own political career – by sponsoring a fleet of high-profile dirigibles (which the mayor secretly owns a share of) powered by synthetic helium, that will replace the railroads in crossing America in comfort and speed. The first of them, the Navy dirigible Wakanda, is about to cast off from the Empire State Building on its posh maiden voyage to California. The flight is covered by Betty.

Except that the Wakanda is taken over by gunmen led by Lydia, a sultry leopardess who poses as an entertainer. They have replaced the champagne for the festivities with mustard gas that they threaten to explode if stopped, not only destroying the Wakanda but also killing the people in the city below them.

A guest temporarily escapes and manages to send a message before he is recaptured. The Navy sends a man to get Colonel Fischer (pelican), who is attending the premiere of King Kong. Harry, in the audience near him, overhears the emergency and runs for his old Jenny. It is in hopeless condition, but Lumpy has made friends with an immigrant German doctor-professor (goat) who has invented an experimental aircraft. Harry and Lumpy take off for the Wakanda, which Harry gets aboard and meets up with Betty.

The last 25 pages of the 46-page album is Harry’s & Betty’s adventurous recapture of the Wakanda from the gunmen, and Harry’s ditching it in the Hudson River to save New York. But they have discovered several things during their adventure. The Wakanda was not a limp-framed dirigible but a fixed-frame zeppelin. It was not filled with non-flammable “synthetic” helium but with Z-03, a new gas invented by Howard Hughes (Doberman) who won’t say what it does except that it’s highly flammable. The gunmen who seized the Wakanda are said to be terrorists, but they are more clearly pirates who planned to divert its flight to Brazil, and then …? What is Howard Hughes’ connection to them? And what had the old goat inventor been doing in Germany before he came to America? There are plenty of loose threads to lead to the next four (or however many) volumes.

Les Ailes du Singe (The Wings of the Monkey) is for readers who like 1930s-style pulp action-adventure with a funny-animal cast. Willem has evidently researched the period. The 1933 clothing looks authentic. The date of early March 1933 was when King Kong premiered. The fat mayor of New York is fictitious, tailored to Willem’s plot, and the character of eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes is closer to the legends about him than to the reality. Les Ailes du Singe is a pulp thriller that authors like L. Ron Hubbard, Frederick C. Davis, and Lester Dent used to churn out during the 1930s, and that the Indiana Jones movies have been keeping alive. It looks like Étienne Willem has another winner here – with anthro animals.

Fred Patten


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