Writer: Rick Remender / Kieron Dwyer
Artist: Salgood Sam
Publisher: Image Comics
Gone—-or greatly reduced in frequency and saltiness—-are the pirate-isms that fueled Sea of Red’s unique first issue. The mishmash of genres, however, continues to grow. Issue two reads like a low-budget horror movie, and issue three seasons its already unique mix of vampires and pirates with the sea monsters of the Sunnydale High School swim team. The mysteriousness of the island in the current issue may owe a bit to smash TV hit Lost. But while the fun of these fusions remains, leaden dialogue has greatly reduced their buoyancy, and Salgood Sam’s rich red hues, which married the bloody pirate yarn so well, seem a poor match for the film crew that makes up Sea of Red’s contemporary cast.
Equally celebrated and lamented by different segments of the comic-book audience, the “Age of the Writer” is a phrase that can provide hours of message board fodder at any of the usual stops on a tour of the comics blogosphere. Those who value the wit of a well-turned phrase, the crackle of rapid-fire dialogue, or the slow burn of a scene stretched to the breaking point celebrate the great care many writers put into their scripts. Others criticize the elevation of mere “talk” above plot, or see the trend of decompression, which they feel dilutes the medium’s energy, as a result of too much attention on dialogue. But whatever a reader’s stance on the phenomenon, it is safe to say that books like Powers, Planetary, Runaways, and The Punisher owe their success as much to how their characters speak as to what the say and do.
In the distinguished company of such wordsmiths, Sea of Red writer Rick Remender finds himself unfortunately outclassed. While his plotting is smooth, there just isn’t much punch to his characters’ speech. The dialogue of issue four does its job-—furthering the plot and illuminating motivations—-but provides no pleasure independent of its function. This chapter in the tale of Marco (a sixteenth century vampire) and Janine (Marco’s first victim and erstwhile production assistant to an egomaniacal director) finds the two, along with cinematographer Matt, fighting for their unlives against several creatures from the black lagoon. Things go poorly for the three, and soon Marco and Janine are in need of rescue by the also injured Matt. The following dialogue accompanies the panel in which he painfully hauls the suffering Janine out of the sunlight:
Matt: Come on—-Keep it together, Janine.
Janine: Sob. . . it’s so much pain, Matt. It’s so much pain. Are you feeling okay?
Matt: Cough! I wish I was the heroic type and I would just tell you I’m fine no matter if that were the case or not. Cough! I’m no hero, Janine. I’m fucked up pretty bad here.
Janine, in the space of a balloon, goes from sobbing in agony to inquiring after Matt in the most conversational of tones. In response, Matt, through pained coughs, provides an awkwardly detailed description of his feelings about her question. Trying to hear this scene in one’s head only heightens the unintentional absurdity. Certain ham-filled Sci-Fi Channel original movies featuring animals that are bigger than they ought to be or are fused with people (ah, Mansquito!) come to mind. One almost expects an inappropriately placed sex scene to complete the illusion.
Further compromising Sea of Red is a dissonance between the tone of the story and the coloring. While in the first issue of the book, the deep, ruddy pages were perfectly paired with the narrative, the modern cast of characters introduced in issue two demand a sharper rendering and crisper colors to compliment their twenty-first-century place in the timeline. In some scenes-—particularly those between Joel, the aforementioned director, and Ian, the mini-sub pilot—-the reds that permeate the book take on a sepia air more fitting to a tale of the fin-de-siècle-before-last than to our epoch.
There is certainly talent involved in Sea of Red. The recombinant DNA spliced together from disparate pop-cultural species shows a postmodern ingenuity for which the comics medium is perfectly suited. And Salgood Sam is a distinctive voice whose compositions—-particularly the gorgeous moonlit night scene on page ten—-virtually ooze soul. However, issue four suffers from a poor deployment of resources and heaviness of dialogue that mar its virtues. Perhaps the arrival in the next issue of artist Paul Harmon (creator of the exquisitely drawn Mora) will provide Sea of Red with an injection of new blood.
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