COMIC REVIEW: Long John Silver Vol. 1: Lady Vivian Hastings (Cinebook Reviews #14)

There is a backlog of Cinebooks glaring at me from on top of my bookstack and I can’t take the pressure, so you’ll be getting these a lot more often over the next few months.  The downside is I’ll be spending a little less time on Star Wars: The Old Republic, the upside is I’ll get to read more of the fantastic Franco-Belgian volumes (translated and published here in the UK by our old pals at Cinebook) and share that experience with you.  And as I’m a caring individual I’ll even restrain myself from talking like a pirate throughout this Entire review.  That’s dedication, that is.  That’s love – though it’s not a patch on the love poured into this book by creators Lauffray and Dorison.  Long John Silver is incredble.  The whole thing is steeped in their passion for subject and setting.

Silver is a literary icon, one of those rare characters who have leapt from the page into the public imagination, far beyond mere readers.  When we imagine the archetypal pirate it is basically His voice we hear.  (Robert Newton created it in his portayal of Long John in Disney’s Treasure Island, and it seems that everybody since has decided that yup, that’s how pirates talk.)  He may not have the hook and the eyepatch but Long John Silver is the definitive Pirate; a shark’s grin of a man, full of gusto and guts; amoral, yet clinging to his own code of honour; driven by greed and a sense of adventure to risk it all in dangerous waters with nothing on his side but violence, deceit, cunning and charm.  That’s the character, that’s the icon and whilst we do not meet him for half the book, his shadow looms large before him.

First though, we are introduced to Lady Vivian Hastings, a real firecracker of a character who provides us with a way into this world of inglorious treasure hunters and crumbling dreams.  She is a phenomenal protagonist who is as strong-willed, wildly attractive and morally complex a personality as you would wish to come across in any medium.  All but abandoned by her husband, the coldly driven Lord Byron Hastings, she has to make her own way in this world of Men and Property.  Caught in a trap of her own making she finds herself in an untenable position.  The arrival of Lord Hasting’s brother compounds her problems as he is intent on selling everything to help in her husband’s mad quest to find one of the legendary cities of gold.  With the threat of losing everything she grasps her own destiny, determined to salvage something from it.  To do so she’ll require the help of a certain man.  The kind of man who will do anything for the smell of gold.  She needs Long John Silver.

I loved this book.  I can’t hide it.  It’s a proper good bit of historical adventure and the grounding smells authentic.  Everything from the manor house to the scabby pub feel real without the need to overencumber us with detail.  The characterisation is well rounded, from the language used to the physicality of the people and the depiction of their inner life.  Rarely have I seen a woman as full-on angry in a comic as within these pages.  The interaction between characters is also a joy to behold, particularly between Lady Hastings and her maid, and between Long John and Samir, his old smuggling compatriot.  Xavier Dorison’s script is pin-sharp and once again the Cinebook translator has done his job well, invisibly crossing the language barrier for us.  Given that the characters and story are quintessentially English, getting that right was an absolute necessity.  Full marks.

In many ways it reminded me of the awesome French action flick Brotherhood Of The Wolf in its blend of pristine halls and sodden heroes, with myth and glamour masking the brutal truths in the hearts of men.  Matthieu Lauffray was, in fact, a concept artist on the movie and the atmosphere evoked by his art has a similar feeling here, paricularly in his moody use of rain and the colour palette he chooses.  Sequential art can sometimes be dragged down a little by too many muddy tones, losing detail in the overwhelming murk, but Lauffray makes good use of reds and yellows (often as fire) to stave off the worst of that effect, whilst maintaining the proper sense that this is a dark and dirty world that Lady Hastings is getting herself into.  Gorgeous cover-work aside, the stand out panels for me include the Mignola-like explorers in the rain (p5), the mixed medium family portrait (p6), our first look at Silver (p26), the Amazon (p30), the terrifying pirates emerging from the shadows (p44), the pitch-perfect expressions on Vivian’s face at ‘the angel-maker’s’ (p51) and the stunning final page sending the ship on its way.  Stirring stuff.

If I had one criticism of this book it is that we don’t spend long enough with Silver himself, but with two more volumes to come (at least) I could not be more comfortable that we are in expert hands.  I can’t wait to see how this story unfolds.

4.5/5

GS Reviewer: Dion Winton-Polak
You can hear me blather about books on Scrolls, the podcast for literary geekdom here on the Geek Syndicate Network.
Follow me on Twitter @Dion_Scrolls too if you like.

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