It’s all back-stabbing and storms at sea in the third issue of Top Cow Productions high seas drama A Man Among Ye. Released this week, Stephanie Phillips and her crew continue their adventurous semi-biographical tale of Anne Bonny, pirate extraordinaire.
While the King’s men trade with the mutinous pirates for the head of Calico Jack, Anne and Mary attempt to steal a boat. Unfortunately, they face stern resistance in the shape of Jane Castor, a wealthy runaway, and her once servant Iris who are in turn attempting to escape the lives they once led. The four women must learn to work together if they are to escape and survive the cruelties the world throws at them.
Surface and Depth
A Man Among Ye #3 opens with a dramatic and classic pirate confrontation that even Errol Flynn would be proud of. Craig Cermak captures the moment that two pirates meet, their weapons clashing, with a flourish of dynamism. As the fight progresses, over the shoulders of Jane and Mary, Stephanie Phillips unravels important plot elements through a conversation that is natural and befitting of each character. Phillips has a wonderful ability of embodying the characteristics of the cast members in the speech, thereby not becoming reliant on visual representation. This makes exposition dumps, similar to the one in the opening scene, much easier to digest and feels more like entertainment than information sharing.
As the story jumps from Anne and Mary to the fate of Calico Jack, Phillips paints a picture of pirate life and the hardships that surround them. The stakes are high because they are constantly fighting for their life, and their freedoms. The central characters are portrayed as romantic heroes and, compared to the rest of the society depicted, you will definitely be rooting for Anne, Mary and their new crew mates.
The surface story of A Man Among Ye may be a tale of swashbuckling pirates, but a mere scratch reveals a more complex narrative about the portrayal of women, especially in historical settings. This is as much about a woman’s fight for freedom from servitude or marriage than it is about sword fights and ship sailing.
The only drawback to the narrative in A Man Among Ye is the artistic style. Cermack is a wonderful illustrator who creates exciting fight sequences through a clever use of panel placement and manipulation. Unfortunately, the style of the art is very smooth and crisp which is in contrast to a lot of the narrative themes. Cermak’s line-work is precise, a series of delicate lines that shape the characters and scenery. On top of this John Kalisz’ colors also have a pristine quality to them.
The clean, precise colors beneath the matching inked lines produce a particular look that is romanticised in nature. Just like classic movies in the Golden Age of Hollywood, the characters and the locations appear very staged and presented. Despite the undertones within the narrative, the artwork does not reflect the coarse life the majority of these characters have lived.
There are elements of design and composition which leap from the page. Some of the storytelling is absolutely wonderful with the reader being led around from panel to panel as if the action is being followed by a camera. The static elements of some of the scenes have been countered by the wonderful figure work in the mid to foreground. There is a lot going on, and this keeps you in the story at all times, however in retrospect, the grittier ideas are easily lost in the romanticism.
Phillips has created an engaging script full of character, which letterer Troy Peteri brings out through rhythmic balloon placements and integrated boldface emphasis. The sound effects create atmosphere and a feeling of dread, especially through the color and shape of the gun shots. There is something specifically abrupt and final about the pistol shots that reflect the violence better than a heap of dead bodies.
The contradiction within the comic created by the art style and the underlying narrative doesn’t detract from the pure enjoyment that the creators are having, or that most readers will share in. Cermak is using a distinct aesthetic voice to visualise the story and this relates to a classic ideal of pirate fiction in early pulp magazines and cinema. It is appealing even if it does lean more towards whimsy than serious biography.
However, there is so much to love about A Man Among Ye, sometimes it’s not worth getting tied up with stylistic choices, and better just to sail on the ship, wherever it takes you. It has so far been an enjoyable series and continues in the same vain, month after month.