The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli Vol. 1 original graphic novel
Writer/Artist: Jay Piscopo
Cover artist: Steve Rude
Publisher: Nemo Publishing
Price: $9.99 US
It’s common to hear industry stakeholders and lovers of the comics medium calling for more all-ages titles to serve as gateways through which younger readers can enter and discover the world of comics. The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli isn’t one of those comics. It will appeal to kids, but it’s certainly not an all-ages title. And that’s OK; others have called for kids-only comics, and there’s definite value in that marketing approach. Frankly, adult readers probably won’t like Capt’n Eli that much; I know I didn’t. The book doesn’t just wear its influences on its sleeve. It skins those influences alive and wears their pelts like they were trophies. Creator Jay Piscopo doesn’t hide his inspirations; he states them outright. At the heart of the property is the notion that discovery and adventure, real or imagined, can be the sources of pure, innocent joy. Kids who know nothing of Jonny Quest, Aquaman’s origin or Golden Age super-hero comics will probably get a kick out of this adventure book, while adults will simply be reminded of the strength of older, more original material.
A lighthouse keeper and his wife take in a mysterious boy who arrived on their doorstep in a futuristic submersible pod, and if that weren’t proof enough of how special he is, as the child grows, he demonstrates incredible swimming ability and a knack for invention. On top of that, the boy, whom the couple named Eli, also demonstrates a thirst for adventure, so they don’t stand in his way when he decides to join an elite organization of deep-sea scientists and explorers. As a member of the Seasearchers, Capt’n Eli and his beloved animal companions find themselves drawn into a mystery in the Bermuda Triangle, involving time travel, a mysterious warrior from World War II and a fleet of underwater enemies.
Piscopo’s artwork for this property is clearly guided by the style that defined Jonny Quest. a Hanna-Barbera cartoon from the 1960s, and other animation from that period. That comes as no surprise, since there’s so much of JQ in the core concepts of Capt’n Eli. The costume designs for the title character are sharp, simple but striking (though the Seasearchers’ fish symbol is a bit plain). Piscopo’s designs for his thinly disguised versions of Marvel/Timely’s Invaders’ characters are good as well, both the “Golden Age” and modern incarnations of the characters. I also enjoyed the shift in styles for the “Golden Age” Big 3 story/flashback in the back of the issue. That segment stood out as the strongest one in the book, actually, but it doesn’t suffer from a specific flaw that plagues the rest of the artwork.
That visual flaw is the disconnect between the drawn characters and the computer-generated backdrops. The two approaches to the artwork don’t mesh well together here at all, and it’s jarring. Furthermore, it seems as though Piscopo often uses photostats of characters rather than taking the time to redraw them in later panels and pages. Again, that shortcut is distracting and interferes with one’s ability to remain immersed in the story.
The book’s foreword describes this book as “a delightfully improbably mix of Silver Age adventure comics, Jonny Quest, Aquaman, the Sub-Mariner, seaQuest, Star Wars, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and more. That description is right on the money, but it’s not necessarily something to celebrate. Piscopo isn’t just inspired or influenced by these fantastic ideas. It’s more like he’s plucked pieces from them all and has sewn them together. Capt’n Eli comes off as being something of a Pop-Culture Frankenstein Monster. As a result, it feels more like a product than an effort to tell a story. That being said, it should be effective when it comes to appealing to kids (at least I’d like to think so). It’s just not something parents will enjoy along with their kids. Instead, they might want to sit down with them and watch a Jonny Quest DVD or give them some of Marvel’s Invaders comics from the 1970s. 5/10