- Aerial Anti-Mafia Mission
This story arc was originally a trilogy of novels published in the seventies in the weekly Franco-Belgian magazine Spirou. The three novels were named The Valley of Green Death (La Vallée de la Mort Verte), published in 1972; Sharks in the China Sea (Requins en Mer de Chine), published in 1975; and Ghost Queen published in 1978. When the entire series was streamlined into albums integrating the different story arcs into a single book, the three novels were combined into "Aerial Anti-Mafia Mission."
The Valley of Green Death
Out of fuel during a brutal storm, Sonny Tuckson is forced to eject in extremely adverse conditions over the island of Borneo. As soon as the weather clears, Danny and Tumbler take off to lead the search and rescue party; but just as they locate Sonny, they are shot down by unidentified aircraft and barely survive the crash. They then follow the direction the bandits came from, both to identify their attackers and to find supplies and a means of escape.
Eventually, they discover the bandits' home base; a large opium plantation, complete with an airstrip for crop dusters and the fighters that attacked them. After nightfall, they try to sneak into the base and steal one of the crop dusters, but Buck and Tumb are spotted and captured. They are brought in and meet their adversaries; General Shim, the dictator of North Sarawak, and Rocky Voltero, the middleman for a powerful Mafia family that is covertly financing Shim's regime in exchange for the opium.
Buck and Tumb are imprisoned, but before their fate can be determined, Sonny breaks them out. The three of them steal a crop duster and escape, neutralizing three of Shim's jets before getting away. Enraged, he orders the rest of his fighters after the Americans, but the arrival of Navy F-4s on the scene deters them from engaging. The three pilots make it back to their carrier (U.S.S. Ranger), and relate the situation to the admiral, but he warns them that the U.S. may be unable to take action.
Sharks in the China Sea
The novel begins with a briefing in the op-center. As the admiral feared, the United States cannot intervene without proof of Shim's activities. Buck, Tumb and Sonny volunteer to fly back over the plantation to obtain it, and succeed, but Tumbler is shot down; worse, the pictures reveal that the opium poppies will be harvested before the Pentagon can make a decision. Taking the law completely into his own hands, the Admiral orders the plantation destroyed, but the poppies are gone by the time the Ranger's fighters are on the scene.
Outraged by the unauthorized raid, the Pentagon orders the Ranger to cease all operations against North Sarawak and return to Pearl Harbor. The carrier battle group pretends to comply, but changes course in the middle of the night, returns to Borneo and anchors itself in a deserted fjord, unknown to both Shim and the U.S. Their plan is to wait for the Mafia's cargo ship to come retrieve the harvest, then intercept it on the high seas and bring its owners to justice.
Back at the Mafia base, Tumb is tortured until he agrees to declare before the world media that there was never any opium in North Sarawak. Before the press release can be made, however, he escapes in Shim's personal helicopter, bringing Voltero with him as a hostage. Contacing the Ranger by code, he is directed back to the carrier and returns safe and sound; but unknown to him, Shim's men had placed a transmitter on the helicopter, which allows them to follow him and discover the Ranger's position.
The discovery of the Ranger has placed Shim and his Mafia allies in an awkward position. They are not willing to call attention to Sarawak again until the cargo ship Ghost Queen, carrying the opium, is safely away. Instead, they ask for the help of Khum Lan, a local pirate lord; he agrees and sends Shim his lieutenant, who is revealed to be none other than Lady X, Buck Danny's old nemesis. She explains her plan to attack the Ranger with frogmen, neutralizing it so the Ghost Queen can execute a clean getaway; Shim will then be able to reveal the Ranger and rally public opinion in his favor.
The frogmen are discovered before they can reach the Ranger, but their torpedo still detonates, causing a landslide that traps the ship inside the fjord. The Admiral estimates that it will take thirty-six hours to clear the passageway again. When the news reaches Shim's headquarters, he immediately orders the Ghost Queen to sail, and his last two fighters to attack the Ranger. However, both of these attacks fail; Shim's Drakens are intercepted by the carrier's Crusader patrol, and the Ghost Queen crew discover their ship has been disabled by one of the Ranger's SEAL teams.
At the suggestion of Lady X, the opium is transferred onto one of her submarines, while her pirate associates hijack an oil tanker and plan to sail it to the Ranger, detonate it, and destroy everything within miles. The pirates blow up the tanker just as the carrier breaks free of the fjord, setting the oil-caked surface of the water ablaze for miles around. The ship is forced to sail through the inferno; ten minutes later, it emerges still in one piece, but with all of its aircraft non-operational, except the helicopter Danny was using to guide the ship. Danny leaves the scene to hunt Lady X's sub, locates it and destroys it.
After this, the Ranger finally reestablishes contact with the Pentagon. Shim's death and the evidence of the drug shipments will smooth over everything in international circles, but the Admiral risks being discharged and losing his pension on charges of mutiny. Danny promises that the entire crew will support him, if necessary by appealing to public opinion and invoking the thousands of lives saved by the destruction of the opium.
Behind the scenes
This novel centers on the abrupt increase in drug use among baby boomers, and the older generation's concern for their children's future. This is one of several story arcs in which Charlier and Hubinon explored domestic social issues; the previous "Blue Angels" story arc had already touched on racism and segregation, while the next one, "Nuclear Alert", followed the rise of international terrorism during the seventies and eighties. The explanation for this is the unpopularity of U.S. foreign policy at the time (this trilogy was released at the height of the Vietnam War), which forced the authors to concentrate on less military themes. Still, many elements of the story were inspired by current events; Shim and Khum Lan were partly based on Burmese warlord Khun Sa and Bolivian drug lord Roberto Suárez Goméz, while the tactics his men use in transporting the opium are similar to those used by Viet Minh supply lines during the First Indochina War.
The third novel, "Ghost Queen," is finally reveals the background and beginnings of Lady X, Buck Danny's longstanding nemesis, in the world of international crime. She was a spy in the Second World War, and developed a friendship with an Imperial Japanese admiral who alone possessed a map of his country's secret weapons caches in the Pacific. After she stole the map from him, the admiral committed hara kiri, leaving Lady X the sole possessor of a formidable weapons arsenal. She then formed an alliance with Khum Lan, pirate lord of the South China Seas, to mount the criminal and mercenary organization that Danny had already encountered in several previous novels.
This was the last story arc illustrated by Victor Hubinon, who died in 1979, four years after the end of this novel. The editor's notes on the first page of "Ghost Queen" are a semi-eulogy dedicated to him and reporting his life through the eyes of his closest friend, Charlier. The latter reminisces on their experiences together both in the comic book world and as amateur pilots. He also describes how several hundred pilots, including Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier and the members of the Patrouille de France, offered their condolences and publicly attributed their passion for piloting to the reading of Buck Danny's adventures during their childhood. Charlier says this is probably the only honor that Victor Hubinon would have been truly proud of, and eulogizes with a quote from Georges Clemenceau; "Graveyards are full of irreplaceable people."
- Buck Danny: the lead character of the series. In this story arc, he is the Commander, Air Group of the U.S.S. Ranger.
- Jerry "Tumb" Tumbler: one of Danny's second-in-commands and closest friends, along with Sonny.
- Sonny Tuckson: completes the trio, another pilot extremely close to Danny.
- Admiral (unnamed): the senior officer in charge of the Ranger carrier battle group, who risks his career and his pension to stop Voltero and Shim's drug operation. His motivations are very personal; his son was killed by an overdose of heroin when college friends persuaded him to try drugs.
- Lady X: Buck Danny's nemesis since the mid-1950s, this time working as the right hand of pirate lord Khum Lan.
- Rocky Voltero: the middleman for an American Mafia family. He has a very "business, not personal" attitude about his job; when Danny expresses his contempt for a man who would work against his own country, he simply responds, "In business, I don't know any flag."
- Costello: Voltero's second in command, who takes over from him when Voltero is captured by the Americans.
- General Shim: dictator of the Sultanate of North Sarawak. He has good ties with local pirates, and thanks to his support by the Mafia, has become the most powerful ruler in Borneo.
- Khum Lan: pirate lord of the South China Seas. He is never shown in person, but is revealed to be the most powerful force in the local underworld.
Aircraft shown in this novel
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