Writers: Rick Remender and Kieron Dwyer
Artist: Salgood Sam
Publisher: Image Comics
Hail, hail to the stinky comic! Sea of Red joins Burleyman’s Shaolin Cowboy in the round of new titles that provide a (hopefully non-carcinogenic) redolence to the experience of comics. Whether this pungent fragrance comes from the composition of the inks used or the paper upon which they are printed is unclear, but the classic cheap-newsprint atmosphere it bestows upon Sea of Red #1 fits hand in glove with the blend of the pirate and horror genres found inside. Reminiscent of "Tales of the Black Freighter"—-the “comic-within-a-comic” homage to E.C.’s fabled pirate series of the 1950s found in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen-—Sea of Red ratchets up the trashiness by turning its corsairs into vampires. That’s right, vampire pirates.
The familiar story is of an upright man (Spaniard Marco Esperanza) who finds himself shipwrecked and then “rescued” by a cursed black galleon. As in Moore’s "Black Freighter," Marco does not manage to escape with his uprightness intact. The issue opens with our hero bound to the prow of a ship, which is lying on the floor of the sea. The fact that he is alive, and the sharpened teeth he plunges into a passing fish, hint at his supernatural state. The rest of the book is composed of Marco’s bitter recital of the facts that led him to his current resting place.
After his first delirious days in bed aboard the black galleon, Marco awakens and quickly realizes that his hosts are pirates. And what a colorful crew they are: male, female, European, Asian, and African pirates, and even a scurvy monkey pirate thrown in for good measure. Their leader is the imposing Captain Lesser Blackthroat who reads Dante because of his “morbid fascination with torture.” It is not long before the marauders encounter another ship and go about their marauding. But, as Marco discovers, it is less doubloons and booty and more blood and guts that these buccaneers are after. One noble attempt at heroism later, and Marco Esperanza is a vampire trapped at the bottom of a red sea.
Salgood Sam renders the entirety of Sea of Red #1 in a blend of red, white, and black. Unlike Matt Wagner’s Grendel: Black, White, and Red anthology series, or Frank Miller’s much-discussed Sin City work, Sam does not use red as a jolt of violence or sensuality in an otherwise colorless depiction. Instead, dark, muted, rusty red—-the red of real blood-—pervades every inch of the comic, from the faded pinkish stain on the characters’ skin to the russet of the whisky bottle Marco shares with Blackthroat. The effect is engrossing, creating a heavy atmosphere of impending doom reinforced by the thick black lines of the inking.
This heaviness is lightened by such requisite old-salt lines as “Splice the mainbrace,” “A toast, ye scallywags,” and “Bilge, says I!” Scripter Rick Remender is certainly prepared for Talk Like A Pirate Day (September 19), and he raids the privateer lexicon to great effect with appropriately absurd lines like this one, delivered to Marco by a vampire named Canker: “Be ye that interested in a Jack Tar that ye share his fate, me sweet lass?” Even if the more straightforward narration occasionally rankles (“disparity” is not a synonym for “despair”), Remender more than makes up for it with exchanges such as this:
Marco: I have no interest in piracy.
Canker: Well matey, maybe piracy has interest in ye.
Overall, Sea of Red #1 augurs a light, entertaining series. Oddly, Rick Remender writes a rather defensive letter in the back in which he promises “no genres, no heroes, no villains.” This comic contains all three; indeed, it depends on them for its entire narrative frame work. And as for declaring, “if you are bored of vampires, don’t worry, so are we. If you don’t know what to think about a book involving pirates, don’t worry, we’re not writing a pirate book,” he need not apologize for the vampire-pirate fusion his letter is printed in. The creative team should not start out what promises to be a fun exercise in genre games by striving to shed labels. Instead, Sea of Red should embrace its roots without worrying about being confined by convention. An image from next month features Marco and a young woman whose hairstyle and eyewear suggest she belongs closer to our time than issue #1’s dateline of 1533. If Remender and company plan on adding modern-day horror à la John Carpenter’s The Fog to the mix, readers who responded to this issue will certainly follow Sea of Red into whatever genre blend lies ahead.
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