Review: ‘Crogan’s Vengeance’ by Chris Schweizer
By Chris Schweizer
Oni Press, October 2008, $14.95
The Crogan family – I’m reliably informed by this book’s end-papers – has a long and storied history of adventure, with private eyes, minutemen, ninjas, biplane pilots, old West gunfighters and French Foreign Legionnaires lurking around every bend of the family tree. (Though, apparently, no women have ever been spawned by the fecund Crogans, nor, possibly, deemed necessary to birth all of these generations. Perhaps that’s what drove all of these desperately lonely men to adventure.) This particular book, first in what could easily be a long series, focuses on “Catfoot” Crogan, patriarch of the clan (or at least the earliest figure on the endpapers – I wouldn’t lay odds against Schweizer turning up a Sir Lionheart Crogan, crusader, at some future point), a pirate at the turn of the seventeenth century.
But we don’t begin directly with Catfoot; instead we get a frame story of a modern doctor telling the story to his young son – which is slightly infantilizing for a book rated “Teen: Age 13+.” Even more damning to those over thirteen, it’s a story with a lesson. So there’s immediately a disconnect: Catfoot’s story is both (according to the publisher) restricted to readers over thirteen, and suitable for a boy of about eight (as depicted in the story). The frame story is short, and charming, so it doesn’t do any damage…except among teenage boys, a major audience for a story about pirates, since they will never admit to liking charm. I can see why Schweizer has the frame story – it’s his set-up for the whole series, all of which can be family histories told to this preternaturally history-savvy grade-schooler – but it flattens and domesticizes his story in a way I don’t think he wants.
Once we’re through that hiccup, and the smell of spinach is behind us, the actual story told here is a ripping yarn – Catfoot’s story begins with his being flogged by a bad captain, on board a sailing ship in the Caribbean in 1701. That captain, Dunwell, is a tyrannical and paranoid Puritan, with a particular hatred toward Catfoot, the son of a Cavalier. Dunwell has also been reducing the crew’s rations, the better to reach port more quickly without needing to stop for provisions along the way – which angers his crew, and leads to a mutiny.
Events stack up quickly after that – too quickly, possibly, since two more ships turn up, one after the other, almost immediately and without notice, and that’s very unlikely on a clear day on the open sea – and Catfoot finds himself in the aftermath of his first bloody battle, serving as a pirate on the Vengeance, under smart and tough Captain Matthew Cane. Unfortunately, he’s also under Cane’s nasty and vicious first mate, D’Or, who immediately takes a dislike to him.
Catfoot’s adventures extend to a duel, another mutiny, a frenzied swim to shore through shark-infested waters, and finally a major ship-to-shore action at Kingsport. He twice shows himself an able tactician – once on extremely short notice – and his suggestions are picked up so quickly and completely that I thought he was a recent Gene Wolfe hero. He’s a bit too good to be true, in the way of swashbuckling heroes of the past century: a deft hand at fencing, smart, principled, and possessed of an overwhelming sense of honor and justice. (Well, I may be overstating the last just a bit – Catfoot has only mild scruples about turning pirate, after all.)
Schweizer tells this story in bold black-and-white panels, cleanly and darkly outlined and with equal clarity to his blacks in-panel. His characters are loose-jointed and freely moving, occasionally straying into rubber-hose territory, and his art shows a muted Jeff Smith influence – in his lines, his panel transitions, and his all-ages adventure storytelling style. Crogan’s Vengeance is a somewhat sanitized pirate story, but what popular pirate stories aren’t? It’s full of men swooping down from the crow’s nest, cannons roaring across narrow stretches of water, desperate hand-to-hand fights with pistol and cutlass, and men wearing earrings, bandannas, and strange hats. What’s not to love? (Though I do wish that future volumes will lose, or at least tone down, the gosh-wow kids at fore and aft.)
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like to submit books for review should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.