I had so much fun reading this book. As you might guess from the title, it’s a biography of the infamous pirate Blackbeard and, in Richard Becker’s hands, it’s a rollicking tale full of danger, cruelty, and excitement.
Blackbeard was an amazing man in his time. Heck, he would have been amazing in any time. The man formerly known as Edward Teach was a prolific drinker of the demon rum–often launching into battle while thoroughly intoxicated. His drunkenness might also explain Teach’s legendary ruthlessness in battle.
In battle, Teach was equally adept at swords, the musket, and his bare hands–and he seldom showed mercy on those whom he was fighting. He was also a physically imposing man, a broad-shouldered giant who had his long beard tied in tails with ribbons, and who often wore three guns on his chest.
Not surprisingly, a man of Teach’s stature commanded instant fearful respect everywhere he went. These physical attributes, along with his single-minded zeal to win every moment at all costs, have made Blackbeard a legend that resonates to this day.
This book is full of stories that show the man’s incredible intensity. Becker presents the story of Blackbeard’s attempt to show himself to be tougher than any of his crewmen. In order to prove that superiority, he ordered a group below decks with him, closed every door, and lit a pot of brimstone on fire. The hearty seamen were made sick by the brimstone and began vomiting their guts out. To Blackbeard, however, the whole event was just a great joke–and yet another reason to drink lots of rum.
We also see Teach’s crazy brilliance in this book. He angrily uses the power of surprise and his powerful guns to attack the HMS Scarborough. However, he doesn’t reckon that the British had the strongest naval force of its day. The British frigate, hobbled but still floating, musters the strength to counterattack–nearly sinking Blackbeard’s ship. Teach has to be persuaded not to continue the attack. He declares victory, but it is a very hollow victory.
As Teach’s mate, Israel, reflects after the battle, “Won? Look at us, he calls this winnin’? It’ll take weeks to put Annie to right, most of the crew wounded or dead, n’uthin’ to show fer it, no prize, no swag. Who’ll ever ship with this madman again? How can he call this winnin’? ‘Cept in the tennin’, maybe in the telling. . . .”
Even on the day he was killed in battle, Blackbeard was a force of nature. Shot in the chest, and stabbed through the arm and head, Blackbeard proved himself to simply be too tough to die. There’s an amazing moment in this scene that shows Blackbeard, covered head to toe with his own blood but still looking like he can’t be stopped by anybody or anything. The intense look of determination and intensity on his face is astonishing as he faces his doom.
Finally, however, the giant falls. As the comic says, “T’was later found that it had taken five pistol shots and no less than twenty severe cuts in his body to bring the giant down.”
Richard Becker’s art pulses with energy as he tells Teach’s story. The sea is always roiling in each scene. The crew is always decrepit, and an attack always seems imminent whenever we see the ship. Becker’s art uses a lot of blacks to convey the energy and danger of the moments, and his style conveys the energy and emotions of every moment.
Even the quiet scenes have an element of unease to them. There’s always a feeling that peace can’t last too long as danger follows Edward Teach the way a pirate chases an overloaded cargo ship.