With a clear obsession with historical adventures, Stephanie Phillips’ new title with Image Comics, A Man Among Ye, sets sail into the murky depths of Pirate Mythology. Set towards the end of the Golden Age of Pirates, the comic revels in the Legends created around real events.
Treading a fine line between historical accuracy and romanticism, A Man Among Ye opens the door on the intriguing world of Anne Bonny, one of the most infamous and ruthless female pirates.
Sailing the Seas
The story starts in the middle with the pirate captain Calico Jack Rackham leading his men in a raid on a English Sloop. With gleeful violence Phillips introduces the Captain in a swirl of sword play and banter. However, the big entrance is saved for the star of the show, Anne Bonny.
Illustrated here as a fiery haired, stylish, take-no-prisoners woman, Bonny made history by daring to be her own person. Although a lot of her life is speculation at best, her reputation for violence and strong headedness is well documented. Phillips makes these aspects of her character clear from the outset.
Bonny’s interactions with Rackham and the other crew members single her out among the cast as the character to follow. All of the action ultimately revolves around the Pirate Queen and Phillips makes sure that she is the centre of attention not just on the page but in the speech itself.
There is an element of the romanticised pirate narrative in this comic. The style leans more towards classic interpretations such as EC Comics Piracy series from the 1950’s rather than the overly fanciful Pirates of the Caribbean movies. However, Phillips gives the impression that she has something more to say. By focusing on Bonny and making her obviously feminine from the opening, Phillips is making a statement about representation in the genre.
It is documented that Bonny often posed as a man during raids and fights but Phillips instead allows the character to flaunt her femininity. This is significant and reflects a greater movement within the comic industry. Female characters are no longer sidelined and creators are allowing their stories to be told. A Man Among Ye is embracing that by celebrating the female lead and challenging a social concept of piracy.
The artwork has a theatrical style to it, similar to the recent Titan Comics title, Adler. The design, especially the costumes, has a dramatic flair that gives the initial impression of a period drama. However Craig Cermak injects his layouts with dynamic energy pulling the reader across the page with the action. Aiding the narrative flow is the lettering, provided by Troy Peteri. Well placed word balloons flip a reader across an image, while alterations to the text or balloon stop the reader dead.
The characters strike superhero-esq poses with their jackets and hair blowing in the wind, sails whip in the wind, and everything looks slightly staged. This is the world that Cermak depicts, giving the reader a stylised view of a historical story and as such is fitting for Phillips’ approach to the tale. A Man Among Ye is not a realistic representation, a regurgitation of passages from a history book, it is an adventure story celebrating a rebellious woman who stood up for herself and others.
That’s not to say this is a pantomime and Cermak doesn’t treat it as one. There are moments of malice and disturbing violence that breaks up the swashbuckling fun. One scene in particular contains an air of threat that Cermak brings to the foreground using large areas of shadow. He turns the safety of the open air into dangerous, claustrophobic, spaces where anything could happen.
The changing atmosphere is helped along by Brittany Pezzillo’s color work. The use of bold colors is almost a necessity but it is the shifts in saturation that mark the shift in narration. Bright skies and clear water accompany the high jinx elements of the comic but these are soon flooded by cold hues and ice blues when the actions turn threatening.
Throughout it all the central character, Bonny, sets a striking image on the page. No matter what the pirate queen’s surroundings Pezzillo always colors her with the fiery red running through her figure. She stands out, as she should, like a beacon drawing the reader’s gaze. At the end of the day this is a comic about Anne Bonny and Pezzillo makes sure you don’t forget it.
On the surface A Man Among Ye is a fun pirate romp with all the classic swashbuckling action you could want. But, if you dive a bit deeper, you can find hidden depths. Comments on the representation of figures and events from history; the depiction of women in modern comics; a desire to educate as well as entertain. All of these aspects can be read into Phillips narrative.
With a number of exciting and intriguing comics under her belt Stephanie Phillips is a name worth watching. There is a sense of enjoyment and fascination in all of her work that instantly pulls a reader in. The art teams pick up on this and as a result produce work that is equally as compelling.
Falling style wise somewhere between Marvels’ Marauders and Image’s Shanghai Red, A Man Among Ye is a pleasing adventure comic that has a lot to offer the reader.
A Man Among Ye #1 is released under the Top Cow banner of Image Comics on 17 June 2020