"Salem's Secret: Part One"
For the second time in as many months a guest penciler takes over the art duties for Tania Del Rio. And while Lindsay Cibos's style blended seamlessly with what had come before, Chad Thomas' art has a more pointed and cartoon-y look. It's very obvious from the first panel that a new artist is on board. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
"Salemís Story" offers readers a peek into a popular supporting character's past, as well as filling in some of the back story of the Duality Wands that have caused so much trouble for Sabrina the last few issues. A thousand years ago when Salem was still a warlock and not just Sabrina's talking pet cat, he went on a quest for a unicorn's horn. The point was to add the inherent magic of the horn to his own so he could take over the Magic Realm. While searching, he encounters the pirate captain Nocturna who offers her help. In return Salem will join her crew and use his abilities to protect her people and ship from the many dangers of the Magic Realm's seas.
Tania Del Rio has turned Sabrina the Teenage Witch into a true ensemble piece. She can easily shift the focus to any one of the many mortal and magical cast and keep readers riveted, and this tale featuring fan-favorite Salem is no exception. While exploring Salem's character, she also explores previously unseen venues in the Magic Realm.
Salem's arrogance and determination are on full display, as well as his courage, loyalty, and integrity. This is a character who can plot to conquer the Magic Realm in one panel and in the next worry about rules and laws. And in the greedy, impulsive pirate captain Nocturna, Del Rio has created his perfect foil. His bombast plays off well against her theatricality. Two bigger hams have never crossed the ocean. There's real chemistry between these two characters, and it will be interesting to see how their relationship develops in the next issue.
After the high drama of the "Evil Sabrina" storyline, this issue's mix of humor and high seas adventure is a nice change of pace. While it's not exactly Pirates of the Caribbean, the story has a bit of that movie series' feel to it.
Part of that feel is due to the unusual look of Nocturna's crew and the odd looking denizens of the waterfront that Chad Thomas spots the background with. Viewing these character designs, readers will have no doubt they're in a different world.
Getting back to my earlier statement about it being very obvious that a new artist is on board, the art is a mixed bag, uneven even. While Thomas does a superb job on Salem, capturing both his menace and his charm, he's less successful with Nocturna. At times she looks more like a he than a she; and in some panels where she's in the background, she resembles a featureless Gumby figure. Thomas' expressions are marvelous--conveying a multitude of unspoken emotions--but his character proportions are off at times, giving an odd look to the panel. Unicorn fans will be disappointed that he chose to go with a cartoon Bone-like look for the mythical beast, but sea monster fans will be stunned and delighted with his sea creature. Of course, anyone who draws a book called Seamonsters and Samurai had better be good with ocean life.
But it's in the final third of the book that Thomas really shines and makes the reader forget his previous missteps. In what is basically an eight page action sequence, he conveys a sense of motion and danger, with jagged, overlapping panels showing sudden actions, while more regular-shaped overlapping panels convey a fluid, tense, almost endless moment. These pages have some absolutely stunning panels of Salem in action. In a couple of them he could actually pass for Doctor Strange as drawn by Kevin Nowlan.
As always Jim Amash and Jason Jensen's work is superb. Amash makes sure none of the background detail is lost, but doesn't allow it to overpower what's going on in the foreground. Jensen meanwhile provides a distinctive color scheme and set of shadings for each scene.
"Salem's Secret," despite some artistic flaws, is an entertaining package that offers new readers a great jumping on point, and current readers new insight into a beloved character.
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