Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Crogan's Vengeance

Crogan's Vengeance
by Chris Schweitzer
Oni Press, 2008

Hillary Brown: I'm not familiar at all with Chris Schweizer's work, except for his series on "Smokers of the Marvel Universe," but when I went to Heroescon his new book, Crogan's Vengeance, was getting some serious hype. Like the rest of Oni Press's stuff, it's fairly small format and black and white, but rather than the trials and travails of skinny indie rockers (<-- unfair stereotype), it's a swashbuckling tale of derring-do and piratical adventure, with more planned in the series. Yes, Schweizer has ambition, with plans to tell other stories from the Crogan line and build some sort of a multi-generational epic, full of man's man stories and epic sweep. The question is: Does it work? Big goals can fail big. I'd say, on the whole, that Schweizer doesn't fail big, but he might fail a little. It's hard to combine a story as straightforward and narrative-based as this with artwork that is often goofy. It's not that I don't like either aspect on its own, but they're a little strange combined, or perhaps it's that they're rather Disney's Peter Pan, which is the formative experience most of us have with pirates (unless our family is, like, really into Veggie Tales). The goonieness of the drawings detracts from the menace, and it's really hard to tell if that's the goal or not. Mostly, what it does is seemingly drop the target age range down, which may be exactly what Schweizer is going for. Perhaps he's inspired just as much by Landmark Books, a series of adventure/historical tales aimed at the pre- and adolescent boy market in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. My dad grew up on these, which meant there was a big stash of them at my grandparents' house, and when I stayed there in the summers for two weeks, I'd attempt to get through all of them. The best ones, of course, were the ones about pirates: The Pirate Lafitte and the Battle of New Orleans, The Barbary Pirates, Famous Pirates of the New World, and more, I believe. Crogan's Vengeance reminds me of these more than anything else, meaning it's a little bit educational and not entirely satisfying, but, you know, pirates! Is it just that I'm a girl and it's pushing boy buttons?

Garrett Martin: I don't know; if so, then perhaps my buttons aren't quite gender-appropriate. Now, there's a lot that's good about Crogan's Vengeance, but I too had a problem with the weird disconnect between art and subject matter. I like Schweizer's classic cartoonish art, but like you point out it doesn't quite gel with the serious, straight-forward story he's telling. It's not dour or self-important, but there's not a lot of humor in Crogan's Vengeance, which you would expect from a book whose lead looks kinda like a human Goofy. That odd combination of art and subject matter does make me think that preadolescent boys might be the target audience. It also reminds me of Osamu Tezuka's Buddha, but far tamer, without the sexuality and graphic violence perpetrated on adorable Disney-looking animals. Schweizer also could've been a bit clearer with the pacing; doesn't it feel like everything takes place over two, maybe three days? Pivotal events transition directly into one another, with no attention paid to passage of time. Does Crogan really go from unknown sailor to captain of his own licensed privateer ship in one weekend? It's just slightly confusing.

Those are my only problems, really. I really like his art, divorced from this story, which is a story that I also really like. It's pretty bare-bones, sure, but Schweizer seems to have done his homework with the history and speech patterns and everything, and doesn't offer up any glaring anachronisms. Those often kinda piss me off, y'know. I had no idea about Schweizer's grand plans until you mentioned them; that actually sounds really intriguing, and I can't wait to read more, provided he treats future subject matter with the relative degree of respect on display in Crogan's Vengeance.

HB: Yeah, a whole series of awesome graphic adventure novels for boys sounds like a brilliant idea, not least because it might stop them from reading terrible superhero comics at an impressionable age. You're right, too, about the pacing. That's usually something that's nice and clear in comics, due to the possibility of sticking it in a box at the top of a panel (e.g., "some days later") rather than working into exposition in limited text, but I honestly have no idea how long the voyage, takeover, and revenge take. Or, heck, why Crogan's on the ship. I suppose it's one of those formative experiences, rather like Prince Harry's joining the UK military, that toffs are required to go through to prove their noblesse oblige-ness. Perhaps we should talk a bit about the title and the relatively sophisticated philosophy of justice and mercy that Schweizer sets up?

GM: Whoa, hold on, what this world needs is more boys reading terrible superhero comics at an impressionable age! Well, not "terrible" (I'm not talking like X-Force, or anything), but the only people who should be reading mediocre and/or bog-standard superhero comics are boys. Yes, that should be supplemented with higher quality fare like Crogan's Vengeance or Rocketo, but you shouldn't discount the importance 22 pages of hackneyed Batman crap can have upon a young man's mind. Of course the uninspired superhero junk of today is mostly inappropriate for kids, so maybe it's all a moot point, anyway.

The book's pretty idealistic, isn't it? Crogan tries hard to remain honorable throughout, and at the end is awarded in a way that lets him keep the fundamentally dishonorable profession forced upon him but in a fully legal and respectable way. His vengeance is doing the right thing and living well as a result, unlike the more hardened and villainous pirates he reluctantly consorted with. I appreciate the optimism, and feel bad that I assume it's just another sign of the book targetting a younger audience.

HB: Yeah, it's idealistic, and I think that's nice, but it doesn't read as falsely so. That is, it's not quite the same situation when Superman steps in to protect the rights of someone who's a jerk but being harmed as when this little bitty guy from the elite does so. So it's sort of inspiring. But I think the title is more in reference to the ship by that name, which becomes his, than to the actions of Crogan. His "vengeance" isn't really vengeance. It's just the right thing to do in the situation. So I don't think we can say the book is in favor of vengeance. That, in itself, is kind of nice.

GM: It's definitely a pun, though, right? The obvious reference is to the ship, but also the character's indirect / unintentional revenge upon the bad people and situations that had plagued him, by, y'know, living well.

HB: I do think it has a dual meaning, or, rather, it seems like it'll have a dual meaning, but in the end, not so much.

GM: Yeah, maybe I'm too hung up on platitudes and George Herbert quotes.

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