By Chris Schweizer
192 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press
I always loved one of the finer details of Alan Moore’s and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, and that had to do with the state of the comic book industry. With no comic books about superheroes (what with the real things existing), that gap was instead filled with comics about pirates. That made perfect sense to me; larger than life, full of adventures of daring and surprise. In other words, a real-world equivalent to a superhero. With all that in mind, I’m really happy that Chris Schweizer is able to channel that with his new graphic novel Crogan’s Vengeance; there may have been a lot of pirate comics in our own world, but I think is the one that really best captures that sense of excitement and adventure.
In the West Indies of 1701, "Catfoot" Crogan’s had better days. The captain of his ship hates him, with Crogan’s mouth always getting him in trouble—even when sometimes he really wasn’t meaning to be insubordinate. Then the pirate ship The Hind’s Foot attacks, and Crogan is about to learn what it’s really like to have a tough time. Even if he can survive the initial attack, though, can he keep living with having to keep one eye on his back at all times, with half of the crew out for his blood?
First and foremost, Crogan’s Vengeance is a lot of fun. Framed as a story being told from a father to a son about their ancestors, Crogan’s Vengeance has almost every element you’d expect; an underdog rising to power, a traitorous shipmate, ship-to-ship battles, and clever ambushes. Schweizer is able to think through each of the events in the book carefully, meaning that when characters in the book are surprised, it makes sense. A twist is meaningless if it doesn’t follow some sort of logic, but here when Crogan would come up with a plan to turn the odds in his favor, I was always pleased with what was pulled out of the proverbial sleeves. There’s enough high-stakes adventure and fun going on here to satisfy anyone looking for high-seas fiction; just about the only things we don’t get are a massive hidden treasure and a love interest, but considering this is just the start of Crogan’s career, I’m sure any future books starring Catfoot Crogan will almost certainly have to use those plot points.
From a storytelling perspective, Schweizer has plotted out Crogan’s Vengeance perfectly, following Crogan’s evolution from the low man on the totem pole of a ship to eventually becoming a pirate captain in his own right. Emotionally, we watch him grow and adapt, with each new twist and turn of events forcing him to learn how to deal with the new challenges thrown at him. He may start off as a smart-ass whose mouth and agility are all that keep him alive, but by the end he’s an genuine leader, and it never felt forced or out of the ordinary.
The art in Crogan’s Vengeance is a cartoonish, squiggly line explosion across the page. Schweizer uses a minimum of inks here, but it’s a good final look; it’s that lightness that lets Schweizer draw Crogan sailing through the air on the ship’s lines in a way that feels light and smooth. And, just because Schweizer’s art comes across in a fun, energetic way doesn’t mean that he can’t handle the heavier moments of the book. There’s a scene early on in the book where Crogan is in the middle of a battle that he masterminded, and you can see the distress on his face very plainly, even as the reader’s viewpoint pans back to let you fully drink in the carnage going on all around him. Schweizer tells more in those silent panels about what Crogan is thinking, than a dozen narration boxes could have done even half as effectively.
Crogan’s Vengeance is the first in a projected whopping sixteen books, each one moving down the Crogan family tree. With the family tree printed on the insides of the covers, we’re talking about a group of people that spans two and a half centuries and includes professions like minuteman, lion-tamer, ninja, diamond miner, private eye, and secret agent. If the other members of this family are as entertaining as Catfoot, well, we’re in for a good time in The Crogan Adventures. Add in the high quality production values of the book, with its slick hardcover binding, handsome cover design, and crisp white paper, and I am really loving the idea of having a whole series of these books sitting on my shelves over the years. I was a little wary about the idea of reading such a long series when I first heard about it, but now that I’ve read Crogan’s Vengeance, I’m in. Crogan’s Vengeance is exactly the kind of high-adventure book I was looking for as a kid. Fortunately, it’s just as much fun to read now that I’m an adult. Check it out.
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