If you had a pirate in your family tree, I’m betting you’d be begging to hear all the stories. Who wouldn’t? This beginning of a series of period adventure stories tracking the geneology of the Crogan family is just how this one ancestor Crogan turned pirate. With sharp artwork, a knack for suspense, and a hero who always stays on the windy side of the "right" side, Crogan’s Vengeance is an engaging, quick-witted pirate yarn.
By Chris Schweizer
Rating: Teen, 13+
Oni Press, $14.95
The titular Crogan starts out in 1701 as another nobody in the British Navy, content to do his part and try to keep out of the way of an unstable captain. The captain’s bouts of violent punishment for imagined crimes, however, grates on the crew, and mutiny is in the air. Crogan, perceptive and clever, tries to defuse the coming explosion of rebellion, but he also knows he can only delay the inevitable. All too soon, caught in a pounding storm and appalled by the captain’s indifference to his mens’ lives, the crew mutinies and prepares to take over the ship. Whatever respite a change in command might have brought the Vengeance’s crew is immediately lost when the merecenary pirate Matthew Cane arrives, known to murder any sailor who won’t agree to turn pirate. The crew, desperate to avoid slaughter, plays on the captain’s desire for their ship to stop the fight before it starts. Crogan convinces Captain Cane to try out a plan to capture another prized ship knowing everyone’s life hangs on the success of his ruse. From that battle on, Crogan inspires both respect and resentment with his clever strategies and insistence on smarts over greed and violence. While the canny men in the company admire his quick wits, the bloodthirsty bristle at his good-natured intentions, and soon Crogan is again fighting for his life.
Crogan’s Vengeance is a welcome addition to the titles appealing to older kids, tweens and teens. While the tale is reminiscent of pirate stories well known to young readers, from The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle to the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Crogan’s tale stands apart in that he is a reluctant pirate who fears what a life of piracy means, from being chased by the law to dealing with thoroughly unscrupulous fellows. He balances very carefully between the thrill of falling into a carefree, criminal life and his internal need to be an honorable man. This book, hopefully the first in a series of adventures, is a fine balance between the derring-do one expects with a pirate tale and a more realistic consideration of how being a navy man, and then a pirate, might affect a young man. Crogan’s internal struggle is shown deftly, through expressions and quiet moments, even as the larger sea battles unfold. The violence presented is matter of fact but not gory, and it’s biting enough to get across the point that being on any ship at that time was not all piles of gold and rum. Schweizer’s art, presented in crisp black and white, is in fluid brush and ink. His style hits just the right mark, tempering his exaggerated cartooning style with evocative movement and a sense of physicality that makes both characters and setting feel real in only a few strokes. His characters faces are equally spare but expressive, showing a character’s internal nature through caricature rather than realism.
The initial framing device, of Crogan’s story being told to a son by their father, sets this title up as best for older kids and tweens, and I’d say that’s right on the mark. Pair this title with Ted Naifeh’s charming Polly and the Pirates, and you’ve got a great set with crossover appeal to both genders and especially appealing to middle schoolers. Even more exciting is the planned continuing series (apparently eventually hitting sixteen volumes to include all of the fellows seen in the family tree printed on the book’s endpapers) — I, for one, am eagerly awaiting the next volume.
This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Oni Press.