“Book 2: Darkness Rising”
Commentary and Analysis: This is no less than a complex, entertaining and intelligent work, a first rate pirate story coming to life under the superb supervision of men who clearly love their craft and have put as much blood, sweat and research into the story of a prize the world’s best pirates alive at the time (and even some dead ones!) all want to possess. This isn’t a humorous romp like Ryan Yount’s “Scurvy Dogs” but a serious attempt to render these characters as realistic as possible within the bounds of sequential art and historical fiction, but there are some supernatural aspects thrown in for fun. It’s a great formula.
Blackbeard is presented early on as the ruthless bad-ass pirate captain his legend dictates he should be. He professes early on in this issue the requisite fearlessness to command his vessel as he boldly states: “I fear not me destruction.ca ye say likewise?” And he settles a discord over a crew member’s alleged stealing of gold by brutally murdering every participant over his first mate’s (Ichabod Klump) protests. What Blackbeard doesn’t know is that Klump secretly plots to kill him as his loyalties lie with Black Bart. So the stage is set for the quest to find the coveted artifacts. Next, a merchant French ship falls prey to Blackbeard’s attack. This action sequence is one of the highlights of the issue, presented with colorful, intricately drawn full page spreads. A sequence follows in flashback presenting the Knights Templars’ attempts to hide the relics of Christ and the strange effects the cup of Christ has on the dead. In due time, I am sure more on that will be elaborated upon. As Klump and Blackbeard’s ship approach land (identified as Barbados), Black Bart is dramatically introduced into the tale and the comic ends with a supernatural element in a first rate cliffhanger beautifully rendered by Forientino’s pencils and masterfully inked by Tony DeVito. Michael DeVito’s and John Conkling continue the moody atmosphere from the first issue with murky but vibrant coloring throughout the book.
Final Word: Who wouldn’t love a comic book tale about pirates and zombies with cut throat characters and cryptic treasures, especially one so well crafted and so well researched? Dwight McPherson has gone on record to say he is a student of these legendary pirate characters and it shows. Arcana has another winner with this one.
In 1719, the pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, steals a map showing the hidden location of the treasures of Jesus Christ. One such treasure is the fabled Holy Grail. They were hidden by the Knights Templar. Specifically, by Lord Sinclair in 1398. The treasures compel men to possess them at all cost. Sinclair’s son fell prey to this desire from the briefest touch of the Grail. Now Blackbeard seeks these treasures himself, little knowing his first mate has betrayed him to a rival pirate Black Bart.
And no one knows Tobias Kibble, the man Tech killed to steal the map, has returned from the dead, and pursues Teach across the ocean.
Points to Dwight Macpherson for his historical research. Teach was indeed an alias used by Blackbeard. And the “Noble” Black Bart often dressed in fine purple clothes. But I can’t help feeling this story is too decompressed. I think several oages could have been redrawn to include more dialogue in each panel. After 22 pages, all the story really does is set-up the next issue.
One thing bugs me is why the holy relics of Christ would inspire men with greed and lust? How could something supposedly pure and holy turn men towards evil? Is it the power they radiate? And why would such power inspire sin? If men believed these treasures imparted some of Christ’s divine power, then I’d understand.
The art is need of more definition and detail. There are several instances, mostly on people, where an extra ink line or two would have been a significant improvement. As it is, the art often appears blurred and muddy. The colors are fine; it’s the spaces they fill that need work.
Overall, it’s a slight improvement over the previous issue. I think the artists should spend more time on the art just adding more details to it. And the story needs to pick up the pace. For a pirate comic, there’s surprisingly little fighting.
Strangely enough, I much preferred this issue to the first; the dialogue quirks, while still present, annoy me much less this time around, and the art is greatly improved, as the over-zealous inking has calmed down a bit. The backgrounds are still too pristine and shiny however, creating an odd visual discord as the rougher-edged characters and foreground elements clash with the CGI-effect backdrops.
The most enjoyable aspect of the issue for me is also ironically the most risky one from a creative perspective; the ongoing plot slows down a touch here as we’re shown how the curse of the holy treasure affects Edward Teach and his crew and, via an atmospheric extended flashback, treasure hunters from a bygone age. This is all well-observed stuff that effectively conveys the strange changes the forbidden treasure wreaks on a variety of personalities, from the amoral pirates of the comic’s setting, to the devout Templars of the past. All that said, it could also be seen as gratuitous padding, as the plot set up last issue only makes the briefest of appearances here.
I’m rather torn on this aspect, as I found the character studies of this episode more interesting than the zombie pirate antics, but at the same time I do recognise it as something of a clumsy diversion in plotting terms. So yeah, this is an enjoyable comic that fully deserves the score I’ve given it, but am I a fan of the series as a whole? Not yet, no. But if there’s more of this good character work coming up, and the whole thing could be paced a bit better, then perhaps.
I’m a sucker for a good pirate tale. And this is a damn good pirate tale. There’s nothing like the sheer evil of a pirate captain sending his ship into battle, damn the quality of the people in the ship he’s trying to plunder. I loved El Cazador, I ate up Bloodthirsty Pirate Tales, I even like the pirate scenes in Watchmen.
Dead Men Tell No Tales looks like a great addition to the pirate genre. Dwight McPherson’s script is lusty and passionate. Captain Kidd has returned from the dead to seek the Holy Grail, an
item so powerful that even knights of the holy cross are seduced by its power. Captain Kidd is insane and evil, seeking the Grail at all costs, even killing the members of his crew who are distractions from the goal. He’s one bad-ass pirate, the worst of the worst, and he’s everything that makes pirate stories great.
The art by Mike Fiorentino and Tony DeVito is also wonderful. The life of a pirate is a desperate, exciting, dangerous life, and the art team does a bang-up job of conveying that intense chaotic life. Captain Kidd fairly radiates evil with his empty eye sockets and scars worn like trophies on his face. The color team also does a great job, racheting up the intensity of the entire book until it becomes an operetta of violence and evil.
I really like pirate comics, and I like pirate comics that are really well done even more. I really loved Dead Men Tell No Tales.