Writer: Dwight L. MacPherson
Artists: Mike Fiorentino, Fernando Acosta (p), Tony Devito (i)
Publisher: Arcana Studios
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dead Men Tell No Tales #1 will be published in August and can be pre-ordered now through Diamond.
We need more pirate comics. I’m surprised there wasn’t a rush of them after Pirates of the Caribbean. What’s not to like about ruthless, bloodthirsty men sailing the seas, killing innocent people, and living outside the laws of man and God?
Dead Men Tell No Tales features Tobias Kibble, first mate under the infamous Captain Kidd. Kibble finds an old iron box hidden in a plundered ship. The box holds a map that Kibble believes leads to great wealth. News of Kidd’s piracy reaches England, and he leaves his crew to deny the charges. Kibble takes this opportunity to take command of the ship and search for his treasure. It leads to disaster. But the mystery of the map continues as it attracts another famous pirate.
This looks like a horror story rooted in history. The horror element doesn’t appear until the very end, (which I won’t give away), resulting in a fairly straightforward retelling of the last years of Captain Kidd and Kibble. I found the story to be a little dry; it wasn’t violent as much as ominous. It’s a surprisingly quick read. Very little actually happens, but much is described in narration.
I’d call the art detailed for a cartoon’s storyboard, but light for a comic book. There are lots of flat, uniformly colored spaces. White eyes and sketchy backgrounds recall the darker days of Image comics. Some figures look awkward and lifeless. And there’s a general feeling of “flatness” to everything.
I have to keep in mind I read this for free. So when I ask myself, “Would I pay $3 for this,” I have to say no. It is the start of an interesting story. I’m curious to see what happens next. And while the art is flawed, it’s not so terrible that I can’t look at it. But the overall quality doesn’t warrant the price tag. Fortunately, the bulk of this comic was not drawn by the series’ regular artist. The pages by regular artist Mike Fiorentino are significantly better. I expect the next issue to be an improvement on the first. A new colorist wouldn’t hurt either.
I enjoyed this comic much more than I thought I would. There seems to have been a glut of pirate comics in the wake (pun not at all intended) of that Johnny Depp movie with Legolas in it, and I wasn’t particularly looking forward to reading another one, but in all honesty Dead Men… isn’t too shabby at all. However, it’s far from an unqualified success.
I thoroughly enjoyed it right up to the final twist; the mundane stuff, while certainly not realistic (look at Kidd’s lovely shiny pearly whites on page four; that’s good dentistry on the high seas!) was really quite compelling. I liked the use of actual personages of the era, and I was particularly pleased to see pretty much everyone portrayed as an utter bastard, even our protagonist. MacPherson’s also quite adept at keeping things mysterious, as the fate of Kidd and the exact circumstances behind the destruction of his ship are left vague. There’s certainly a lot to keep the reader’s interest here, and then it all gets thrown away on the last page, as the supernatural invades.
2000AD’s recent “Red Seas” featured cursed demonic sailors, the similarly titled Sea of Red features cursed vampiric privateers, and the aforementioned Depp/Legolas film featured cursed skeletal swashbucklers. Even the pirate comic-within-a-comic in Watchmen had supernatural stuff going on. Sadly, I couldn’t confirm the existence of a curse and/or undead seamen in Crossgen’s El Cazador, as I couldn’t get in contact with the one person who read it, but I think the point is clearly made nonetheless. The irony, of course, is that the whole reason why all these pirate stories are popping up is because pirates are intrinsically interesting, without necessitating the bolting-on of an AD&D monster manual; the bigger irony is that the creative team exemplify this wonderfully with the first twenty pages of this comic. Pirates are compelling anyway, or we wouldn’t be fascinated with them, and the last-minute shoehorning in of the undead here really put me off.
Also rather off-putting is the atrocious pirate dialogue, with the characters sounding like the Sea Captain from The Simpsons. Up to a certain point, this is expected and tolerated, but it reaches laughable levels in this comic, and I was left wondering whether I was missing some sort of ironic joke. The use of the word “pyrate” was the last straw; I couldn’t help but think back to the Cassidy one-shot put out by the Preacher fellows whenever I encountered that teeth-grindingly annoying spelling.
The art is generally good throughout, although the book does seem to suffer from overly heavy inking, something which may be some sort of style, as I’ve been seeing it a lot of late in a number of independent comics. If it is a style, I don’t like it. The use of CGI for some of the backgrounds and scenery is a little dicey too, as it really doesn’t blend very well with the rest of the art. The two pencillers were well chosen, however, as there wasn’t any particularly jarring stylistic shift between the two. Seeing as even Marvel and DC can’t seem to pick complimentary artists when they use multiple pencillers or inkers, it’s good to see attention paid to that aspect here.
I don’t wish to appear to hard on this comic, as I did actually enjoy it. While the overall supernatural direction is a bit of a bore, there is a compelling plot beneath that and the comic’s other problems are easily fixable. There’s a lot of potential here.
Our story opens with Tobias Kibble, the treacherous Captain Kidd’s first mate, drunk out of his mind and dreaming of damnation. As he recalls his adventures terrorizing the high seas, he thinks on the treasure that brought about his doom— a map commissioned by the Crusaders.
Though many a fine story has been crafted around a cursed object (and the object being a map adds countless possibilities), writer Dwight Macpherson dwells a bit too long establishing the typical day of a pirate. Granted, that day includes murder and bounty, certainly more lively than how most of us spend our nine-to-fives, but one can’t help imagining how much more exciting the action sequences could be if folded into the larger story. Also, the script is very heavy on narration, and there are several sorely mixed metaphors and more than a few awkward phrases. The phrase “treacherous status” is notable both for repetition and because it doesn’t quite mean what the writer would like—a status cannot be treacherous, because a status cannot perform actions of treachery. Only people (and anthropomorphized forces of nature) are capable of treachery.
Stunning art propels Dead Men Tell No Tales, with Mike Fiorentino handling the “present tense” story (taking place in 1719) and Fernando Acosta sailing through Kibble’s flashbacks of life with Captain Kidd. Though there are a few hiccups in dimension and perspective (for example, when sailors toss hooks onto a victim vessel), the illustration is particularly strong for a smaller-press title. Owing much to the coloring of Michael Devito and Jon Conkling, DMTNT is very striking in its visual presentation.
Back when John Ostrander regularly spoke through Captain Boomerang in the pages of Suicide Squad, some kind soul eventually took the care to tell the writer that, yes, Australians do say things like “corr,” “barbie,” and “strewth”—but not all in the same sentence. There is a danger with any dialect scripting to lay things on a bit thick, but the temptation to write pirates using a five-phrase vocabulary is particularly pervasive, and Arcana’s Dead Men Tell No Tales falls deeply into the trap. Still, bolstered by eye-catching art and a few story gems, DMTNT will prove amusing to those jonesing for some pirate hack-and-slash action.
What did you think of this book?
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