Posted by Don MacPherson on August 7th, 2011
The Vault #1
Writer: Sam Sarkar
Artist: Garrie Gastonny
Colors: Sakti Yuwono
Cover artist: Bagus Hutomo
Publisher: Image Comics
The creators of The Vault aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel here with their story about treasure hunters who happen upon something paranormal and, I’m assuming, deadly. But as I made my way through the opening pages, I was thrilled to find some real-world history and culture from my corner of the world — Atlantic Canada — playing a significant role in the plot. The Oak Island treasure and Sable Island references really pleased me and drew me further into the story. Of course, writer Sam Sarkar and artist Garrie Gastonny can’t count on Oak Island buffs (or, you know, people like me who’ve just heard of it) to make up their entire audience. The real-world history that serves as the foundation of the story is a strong one, strong enough to keep a relatively formulaic plot interesting enough to hold the reader’s attention through some generic plot developments and the customary cast introductions. This is essentially a cheesy popcorn movie put to paper, and if you enjoy flicks from The Mummy to Virus, you’ll probably enjoy The Vault.
Mysterious runes and legends of an undiscovered treasure lead an archaeologist and her team to Sable Island, a tiny, sandbar-like strip of land off the coast of the province of Prince Edward Island in Canada, where they feel they’re getting closer by the second to a major find, one that will make them all rich beyond their wildest dreams. Unfortunately, they need some help, in the form of financing, forcing them to take on a new partner. The discovery of an ancient chamber in a deep shaft beneath the island may just be the breakthrough they’ve been waiting for, but the contents of a particular treasure chest prove to be far more unusual than they ever could’ve imagined.
Gastonny’s heavily photoreferenced artwork certainly brings a realistic look to the storytelling, but his efforts to use real likenesses for his characters is distracting and often falls flat. I recognize Patrick Stewart as one of the treasure-hunting crew members and Sean Connery turns up in a minor role (one panel), for example, but such moments of recognition are jarring. At times, Gastonny’s work strikes me as being that of a low-rent Greg Land, back in his lightboxing period. The visuals here are always at their strongest when there’s no way for the artist to reference the real thing. The underwater exploration scenes are more focused and inventive, and therefore, they’re more interesting to the eye. Sakti Yuwono’s colors bring a lot of texture and energy to the artwork, certainly reinforcing the realism and adding a more cinematic flair at times.
Sarkar’s plot and pacing are by the numbers… too much, really. The story follows a tried-and-true formula from pop culture, but that means it’s painfully predictable at times. Sarkar even employs the old plot device of a powerful storm to knock out communications to make it more plausible that a high-tech, 21st-century venture such as the one in this story could possibly be cut off from the rest of the world. The story requires the characters to be isolated, and the all-too-convenient storm is a bit of a tired cliche. There’s also a robotic dog that’s used in the treasure hunt, and the reader knows that it’ll either (a) be turned against the heroes/victims before the end of the story, or (b) somehow sacrifice itself to save a life at a pivotal moment. Otherwise, there’s little point in that little piece of science-fiction to be included in the story at all.
I really do appreciate the history that serves as the catalyst for the plot. Some readers from other parts of the world might be surprised to learn just how much real treasure-hunting history is at the heart of this story, and I hope they seek out further information about Oak Island online. Other than a couple of bit of fictional tech in the story, there’s also a genuine quality to the technical side of the operation here. In other words, Sarkar’s script sells me on the reality of the venture, and that makes the more fantastic elements easier to accept.
While I am surprised at how quickly the deal was made (after only one issue of a three-chapter limited series was published), I’m not surprised to hear that The Vault has been optioned for the big-screen treatment. Of course, it’s not due to the strength or originality of the premise; the plot is actually fairly familiar. No, the reason I’m not surprised is that the comic book reads like a movie pitch. It’s a common development in comics publishing these days. There have been a number of limited series I’ve read in recent years that read specifically like a launching pad for an other-media adaptations (a number of titles from Radical Comics and Boom! Studios come to mind). The Vault joins them. I find the trend to be a little off-putting. I have no problem with someone wanting to get into the movie business, but when I sit down to read a comic, my interest is in that medium. When I’m cognizant of elements that seem aimed for a different medium, it’s distracting. It also takes me out of the story, and when it comes to a story such as The Vault, the point is fun and escapism, not predictions about Hollywood Reporter or Variety headlines. 5/10
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