Pirates of Coney Island #1
Writer: Rick Spears
Artist/Colors: Vasilis Lolos
Cover artists: Vasilis Lolos/Becky Cloonan
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.35 CAN
Everybody comes into every reading or entertainment experience some kind of preconceptions; I know I certainly had some when it came to Pirates of Coney Island. With Rick (Teenagers from Mars) Spears and cover artist Becky (Demo, American Virgin) Cloonan involved in the project, I expected it would feature young, hip characters, and I expected an urban backdrop. Both of those preconceptions turned out to be accurate ones. But the title itself led me to believe this would be more upbeat and irreverent, and I was surprised to find a much darker, edgy and intense script about street crime and runaways instead. Spears really grabs the reader’s attention with the punishment he inflicts on the central character in this debut issue, but the script does go awry. It’s not that it doesn’t match expectations. It’s that we’re offered little in terms of plot and nary a glimpse of the title characters.
Fifteen-year-old Patrick Johnson has followed in the footsteps of so many runaways before him and fled to New York — more specifically, to Coney Island. Once an icon of cheap and cheesy amusement for young and old alike, it’s been transformed into a dangerous landscape… something Patrick learns firsthand shortly after he’s tossed off the train at the end of the line. He discovers he’s in over his head, marked as prey by a gang of girls known as the Cherries. Coney Island is a world in which people are battered, bloodied and brutalized. Murder is commonplace, and Patrick hasn’t even crossed paths yet with the most dangerous denizens of the island: the Pirates.
It’s appropriate that Becky Cloonan is providing variant covers for this series, as interior artist Vasilis Lolos’s art is highly reminiscent of hers. His stuff strikes me as a cross between Cloonan’s style and that of Paul (100%) Pope at times. Later in the book, Lolos’s minimalist, scratchy tendencies demonstrate that Teddy (House of Secrets) Kristiansen might have had a significant influence on his work as well. His angular style suits the harsh tone of the characters and circumstances as well. The color palette reminds me of that we saw on Brian Wood’s Supermarket (art and colors by Kristian). Lolos immerses the scenes in specific colors — pink, orange, purple — colors that are unnatural and unsettling, which again works with the over-the-top nastiness of the story.
The opening scene, featuring Patrick’s confrontation with the girl gang, is explosive and shocking, and it really grabs the reader’s attention. It also serves as Patrick’s first lesson and the reader’s as well: that Coney Island is a dangerous place and one should never take anything for granted, should never turns one’s back. The scene serves as the book’s greatest strength, the hook that will bring readers back. The question is whether or not the hook is sufficient to overcome the book’s liabilities.
The main liability is that we never get to see the title characters. I realize Spears is trying to foster and air of mystery and a real presence by keeping them hidden from view. Having the other characters talk about them in hushed tones grants them a mythic, larger-than-life quality, yes, but the reader is left scratching his or her head. A blurb on the final page promises we’ll meet the Pirates in the next issue, but I found I was really craving more information. I can appreciate the effort to establish mood, but a better balance between atmosphere and exposition would have been strengthened the book for me. I’m still on board and anticipate the next issue, though, and fans of such titles as DMZ, American Virgin and Local will find this book of great interest. 6/10