The release schedules for this year’s comics have been delayed, haphazard, and difficult to navigate. There are obvious negatives related to this but there are also unexpected positives. Sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder and, if a comic delivers when it is released, it can have a bigger impact on the reader. Two months ago the first issue of A Man Among Ye from Image comics was released and the second issue is hitting the shelves this week.
When you have a magnificent first issue, the follow up can be tricky. The creators have to make sure that the momentum continues while expanding character and narrative. They have to give the reader more of the same but also something extra. A first issue has to make its mark, hook a reader in, but the second issue has to reward the reader for returning and prove that the series, however long, has legs.
Narratives on the High Seas
The second issue of A Man Among Ye opens with an image of the Trojan Horse followed by a scene from Mary Read’s history. Across these pages Stephanie Phillips fleshes out the young woman’s character and provides relevant backstory. It ties in directly to the previous issue but also into what is to come. Mary’s decisions and ultimate dilemma, which is at the heart of this issue, make sense because of this first flashback scene.
The link to Greek mythology is important in a number of respects. It ties in thematically and narratively with Mary and Anne’s character journey. The sense of adventure, exploration, and fighting the odds is as prevalent in A Man Among Ye as it was in the myths of old. It also incorporates the literal struggle between reality and Legend that Phillips has a taste for. The little known facts about Anne Bonny are embellished in most accounts that you read. Newspaper articles from the time served their own bias to create an image of Bonny, Calico Jack, and the pirate crews that made them monsters in society. In contrast fiction writers romanticise the lives of pirates, painting them as heroes or figures of fun.
Phillips walks a fine line between the two. She plays around with the elements of the narrative to make them exciting and creates admiration for the women of the story, people who suffered but strove to survive. However, she doesn’t shy away from the harsher realities of the time: entrenched sexism, state sanctioned murder, and corruption. The few good characters shine in this comic because this world lacks a sense of ‘goodness’.
The look of A Man Among Ye is very classic and smooth. Craig Cermak’s style lends itself beautifully to a romantic ideal and may, to some readers, be too pedestrian. However, the emphasis of the narrative is on character. It is about de-mystifying legends and giving the historic names human faces with engaging personalities. Cermak’s art focuses on the nuances of emotion and character interaction. From the disgust on Mary’s face when she first tastes alcohol to the fear from the pirates on the gallows, Cermak captures reaction and emotion.
Everything else is set dressing. It’s as if the narrative is unfolding before the reader on a stage where each set and prop has some significance. The design of the pirate’s ship for example has a lot to say. Although not historically accurate, the features on the ship, as explained by Phillips herself in a short piece at the end of the comic, have greater significance and foreshadow elements of the plot. This subtle design work and page layouts are evident throughout, constantly feeding the reader information.
Cermak enjoys playing with his composition and switches the point of view throughout a sequence to alter the reader’s reaction to it. A series of straight on view points will be disrupted by a low angled panel or a dutch tilt to throw the reader off balance. This emphasises an element of the plot or character and makes it obvious for the reader to pick up on.
Colors across the pages bring out the mood of each scene. John Kalisz favours a color wash that dominates each page, running through the panels. He then darkens it or adds more light to express setting and emotion. Flashes of color are left to identify particular characters, especially Anne Bonny who is constantly depicted with her fiery red hair and jacket trimmings.
Troy Peteri concentrates on bringing the best out of the script. Nuances to the characters speech and various exclamations are brought out by subtle alterations to the text in the speech balloons. Making a word bold within a sentence adds gravitas to the meaning and speaks volumes about the speaker. Fears and paranoia come out with certain pirates as they panic about spies, while shock and wariness is forefront in Mary’s conversations with Anne.
On the surface A Man Among Ye is a straightforward adventure at sea in the style of classic pirate tales of old. A romantic swashbuckling story befitting of Buccaneers from the 1950’s. Underneath, however, there are some very modern mechanics turning the narrative. It is a strong feminist take on a pulpy genre. It acknowledges the history surrounding the narrative with clear evidence of research and uses this to enhance the lives of the characters, making them real and believable.
Above all else A Man Among Ye is an enjoyable read. It has a lyrical flow to it and engaging art work that leads the emotional aspects of the story. Phillips’ focus on character makes the comic worth reading because she draws you into their lives and makes you want to learn more. The comic is a gateway into the world of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, one that will have you lost down an internet research hole.