Review:The Red Seas Volume 1

Published on August 11th, 2009

Stuff your pockets with dubloons and head with me out to The Red Seas. A swashbuckling Trade Tuesday take us a-pirating around the Spanish Main and into very dark waters indeed. Originally published in 2000 AD The Red Seas is writer Ian Edginton and artist Steve Yeowell’s take on the fantasy pirate story.

redseasThe story follows former Royal Navy man Captain Jack Dancer and his crew of lovable reprobates as they plunder the seas off the New World. Of course things go awry as part of their most recent booty includes a page from a mystical book that is being collected by the sorcerer Dr Orlando Doyle. The ‘Hollow Man’ wants the book, which lists the 9 million names of God, to unravel creation.

With a tale of cursed treasure, a villain with a zombie crew, an anarchic port and an island that can only be found through magic the first story arc has a lot in common with The Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, but it was actually released a year before the film and has a much edgier approach. It’s almost like what would have happened if the Disney movies in their franchise had had better stories.

The Trade includes 3 story arcs, or rather 2 and a half. The first tells of beating the Devil, and the next expands the whole background by tying in stories, myths and fables. The crew must help a mysterious Arabic collector to find the flying island of Laputa (from Gulliver’s Travels) which means finding the parts of the map. Of course these are themselves guarded by beasts and the good (well fairly good) Captain must face Harpies and The Kraken. Both arcs are rip roaring fun.

The third arc (or second and a half) doesn’t include the crew at all. One of the joys of the book is that it has such great characters and even if they only turn up briefly they fascinate and you feel you want to know more. This arc tells of what happened while the crew were away on their second adventure to the people back at the port. The dumpy mistress of the local tavern/brothel must take two of her serving girls/prostitutes to recover the talking severed head of a two headed dog, pickled in a jar of rum and vinegar, that gets stolen. If you’ve read the first arc then this does make sense.

The whole book is in glorious black and white which for the most highlights Steve Yeowell’s beautiful artwork. On rare occasions a little color might help clarify images but that’s a small quibble. On the writing side you can tell that 2000AD’s weekly format of 5 pages of story with a cliff hanger has pulled and pushed the story at times into an occasionally uneven pace, but again it’s just a minor thing.

The book includes an introduction by the writer which throws light onto the creation of the piece, the treatments that were pitched to get the comic first made and even character sketches by Yeowell. They’re really nice extras.

This book is an edgy, dark, Saturday afternoon movie romp of an adventure that tips its hat to both Errol Flynn and Ray Harryhaussen. It’s not ground breaking or world shaking, nore was it ever meant to be. It’s just plain fun and was originally sold as ‘Sword and Sorcery with pirates and not a barbarian in sight’.  That certainly worked for me.

Mat Hyde

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