Robot 6

Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs: SLG’s Captain Blood #1

Captain Blood #1

Captain Blood #1

Rafael Sabatini’s novel Captain Blood opens with rebellion, battle, and a country doctor dragged kicking and screaming into a civil war he wants nothing to do with. It’s an exciting opening that not only lets you know who Dr. Peter Blood is, but also explains his motivations for the rest of the novel.

SLG’s is the second comics adaptation of Captain Blood I’ve ever read – the other being part of Graphic Classics‘ Sabatini volume – and I think it’s interesting that both adaptations choose to begin their stories later in Blood’s life when he’s been sold into slavery by his own government. They both then flash back to England almost immediately, picking up Sabatini’s beginning.

I’m not sure why that is. I understand the advantage of starting a story with later, more exciting events and then skipping back to explain what’s going on. But Blood’s slave career is hardly more exciting than the action and drama around his fateful midnight house call to the bedside of a rebel leader. Or to his subsequent, wrongful imprisonment and monkey trial. That’s cool, thrilling stuff.

Not that his time as a slave in the West Indes is boring. Not at all. But that part of the story is cool because Dr. Blood – what an awesome name – figures out how to make himself indespensible to the local governor, much to the annoyance of his abusive owner. There’s also intrigue as Blood and his fellows try to plan escapes. And there’s frustrated romance when Blood becomes attracted to the daughter of his owner, but can’t court her as an equal. All of this is great, interesting stuff, but it’s made more interesting when we know what kind of man Blood is from his time in England. I don’t get starting in the West Indes.

I don’t recall this bothering me in the Graphic Classics version, but maybe that’s because it just seemed like an interesting choice at the time. Seeing it done that way again by a different writer and a different publisher makes me wonder what I’m missing.

Enough about that though. It bugs me, but let’s move on. In all other respects writer Matt Shepherd does a great job adapting the story. He doesn’t hit everything the novel does, but he makes good choices about what to leave out. Sabatini spends a lot more time on Blood’s escape plots for instance, which further highlight his wits and resourcefulness, but don’t ultimately play into how he and his friends actually get away. Shepherd skips all that and keeps things moving, getting to the real escape much more quickly.

Peter Blood

Peter Blood

I also like where Shepherd ends the issue, though I won’t spoil the details about it. (SLG’s trailer does though, if you’ve seen that.) He gets a lot further into the story than I expected him to and ends at a much more compelling moment than the cliffhanger from the novel that I thought he’d pick.

Mike Shoyket’s uninked art is fantastic and looks great in the sepia tone that they’re using to print it. He’s an excellent choice for a pirate comic. Lots of drama in his use of black and white; a realistic and diverse-looking cast. He doesn’t always draw backgrounds, but when he does they’re detailed and well-researched. The story looks like it’s happening in a real place to real people.

Part of me would like to see it colored so that it looked even more real, but it’s a tiny little part. You’d ruin it if you did a big, flashy, PhotoShop color job on it. You’d lose the mood of those unfinished pencils and I’d hate that. I’m reminded of how much I loved Sea of Red. It’s that kind of feeling.

I’m looking forward to seeing the story continue. Though I’d prefer reading it in one collected volume, I think I understand the economics behind SLG’s releasing it as a mini-series and I hope it does really well for them. Having read the first issue now, I’m anxious for the second and that’s a great indicator of a successful series.

Four out of five island huts.

Island "paradise"

An island "paradise"

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Comments

2 Comments

Thanks for the review, Michael!

I hadn’t read the Graphic Classics version (I didn’t want to copy them, consciously or unconsciously, so I avoided both their version and the old Errol Flynn movie), so I’m a bit surprised that we started in the same place. On my end, though, there were a few dramatic/story reasons for doing it. The chief one was that while there’s lots of expository text in the first hundred pages of the novel, not much happens — Blood tends garden, rides to help a sick man, gets arrested, has a trial and is sent to the West Indes as a slave. And it’s all excellently written, and works well in novel format, but starting the comic off with a heady bang — Blood at the lowest rung, and then an explanation of how he got there — gives you a bit more of a hook to start the story on. There’s a kind of compression I find works well in flashback scenes, SINCE they’re already framed as a flashback, that gives me latitude to kind of hop through the long bits of exposition at the start of the novel (which includes a fascinating but not-really-comics-adaptable Coles Notes version of the Monmouth rebellion). Were I to start the comic there and roll forward naturally, I think it would have seemed choppy and awkward, but in the flashback format I can squeeze in all that backstory while still having loads of space for the big escape and battles scenes.

Mileage obviously varies, and it may have been a ham-handed way of handling the pacing, but I just wanted to explain the reason behind the choice. Thanks again for reading!

Thanks for that explanation, Matt. I still think there ought to be a way of beginning at the beginning and making it exciting, but I’m very aware that I’m saying that as someone who hasn’t gone through the exercise of actually trying to do it. That both you and Rod Lott (the Graphic Classics adapter) made the same choice makes me question my instinct, which is most likely what bothers me the most. :)

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