Volume 2 of the Manara Library continues the high quality offering of master Italian artist Milo Manara translated into English. The volume contains El Gaucho, an historical epic crafted by Hugo Pratt and drawn by Manara together with a series of short stories drawn by the master, featuring historical characters undergoing mock trials.
While the quality of this volume is as good as the previous one, fans might leave vol. 2 feeling a little empty. El Gaucho is a dense historical epic with intrigue and tragedy aplenty, but oddly lacking the lyricism of Pratt's previous "Indian Summer" and Manara's delicacy as well. In "Gaucho," Manara's art inexplicably loses some of its fine fluidity and energy, although it remains as detailed as ever and also shines for its incredible clarity. An even darker story than "Summer," "Gaucho" runs the gamut of emotions and has a fairly large cast, but perhaps because of the remoteness of the lead, the complexity of the plot or the fact that the majority of scenes are of talking heads, the story never quite pulls you in completely, and the reader experiences the events unfolding with a level of critical detachment that never quite goes away. Manara's art here too is something of a wonder - it's almost as if a different artist is drawing here than the one who drew for Pratt in Indian Summer. Surely, Manara's art style is more fluid than some would have you believe, and between the stories collected in this volume alone, Manara displays some subtle but nonetheless significant differences in overall style.
My major disappointment with the volume however, is that the majority of stories of the second half of the book featuring the mini-trials of historical figures are in black and white, and this was a disappointment to me. Not a purist myself, I would have preferred to have seen these stories colored for this volume rather than left as they were originally published, although I recognize that some might take strong objection to that. I simply would prefer when paying for a volume like this to have it all be in color. The stories containing the mock trials are fairly pedestrian, although they occasionally raise an interesting question or two regarding the historical subjects they cover, but overall they lack the charm and punch of something like "Paper Man" or other Manara works.
Overally, this volume was a marked let down from the previuos volume, which was so exquisitely good that I determined immediately on reading it that I had to purchase all nine volumes of this series as Dark Horse publishes it. This volume has forced me to reconsider that intention, since the lack of color for half of the book and the stories themselves are solid but never quite reach the sublime heights of the previous volume. I'll await reviews of volume 3 before purchasing, but that aside, I would strongly recommend every fan of comics own some example of Manara's work, as the artist truly is a master at his craft.