Posted by Don MacPherson on April 7th, 2009
Captain Blood: Odyssey #1
Writer: Matt Shepard
Artist: Mike Shoyket
Letters: David Hedgecock
Editor: Jennifer de Guzman
Publisher: Slave Labor Graphics
Price: $3.50 US
Despite the success of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies, the pirate-adventure genre hasn’t taken off, at not in the same way that, say, zombies have. Sure, we’ve seen a few pirate comics in recent years — El Cazador and Polly and the Pirates come to mind. Slave Labor’s foray into the genre is adapted from a 1922 novel by Rafael Sabatin, Captain Blood: His Odyssey. I’m not familiar with the source material, but I do know this comic-book adaptation makes me think it must me a helluva fun adventure novel. While the plot here is compelling and well presented and paced, the real star of Captain Blood is the artwork of Mike Shoyket. His sketchy style captures the historical flavor of this piece of fiction incredibly well. He brings an incredible dynamism to the title character, and he makes excellent use of darkness and shadow, enhancing the harsh, tense and foreboding mood perfectly.
A one-time soldier turned doctor who ran afoul of warring authorities in his native homeland finds himself sold into slavery in Jamaica has been suffering fools, corruption and torture, waiting and plotting for the day when an opportunity to escape presents itself. That day finally arrives when the Spanish attacks the Caribbean settlement. As his captors and tormentors flee for safety, Dr. Peter Blood leads a band of determined fellow slaves in their bid for freedom. And that quest leads them to the deck of an enemy ship.
Mike Shoyket’s style immediately put me in mind of the work of Olivier (Thor) Coipel, and further examination leads me to compare to favorably to Tony (Ex Machina) Harris’s art as well. The crosshatching brings a nice, rough texture to the art, and rougher quality makes this look like an illustrated chronicle. His take on Peter Blood makes him look solid, a bit on the stout side rather than the lean, heroic figure that’s so common in the world of comic art. The visuals appear to be reproduced from Shoyket’s pencils, and the sketchy look that arises as a result suits the historical nature of the fiction.
Adding to that bit of time travel by way of storytelling is the lettering by David Hedgecock. It reminds me of some work I’ve seen from Todd Klein. The narrative captions, while quite legible, also boast a certain kind of flourish, making them look a bit like calligraphy. The dialogue balloons boast a more traditional. The digital copy of this comic provided to me for review purposes displayed the art and letters in black and white, but the final product is apparently going to be printed with a sepia brown ink on paper designed to look like parchment. That approach is going to add even more to the cachet of Captain Blood.
Shepard certainly doesn’t take too long to throw the characters and the audience right into the thick of the main plot. He could have employed a slower pace and built up to the explosive uprising of Blood and his fellow slaves, but this more breakneck approach really grabs the reader’s attention. The writer hasn’t sacrificed anything for the quick pace, though. There’s still plenty of room for exposition and the introduction of characters. Shepard offers a balanced story, offering enough action, history and characterization to draw the reader in for the long run. Shepard also leaves himself plenty of room to explore new subplots and characters. We’ve a lot more to learn about Blood’s friends and crew, and there’s so much room for him to build up a mythology around Peter Blood, even beyond what the original novel might offer.
Peter Blood is a compelling hero because he’s so unusual. Heroes are often defined by their selflessness, but it’s clear that Blood regrets the decisions he’s made in the past to help others. Though he’s compelled to do so by an oath, it’s his caring side that’s landed him in a life of pain. The strength, ruthlessness and cunning he exhibits in this story make him fun to follow. Shepard offers up a protagonist whose brilliant mind is a greater weapon than any one could use against him. Blood’s genius makes him quite admirable and eminently readable as a protagonist. 8/10
Note: This comic book is slated for release in June.