Book Of The Month – March 2012
Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Raulo Caceres
When I first started reading comics and was learning of the different publishers, I came to the quick understanding that Avatar Press did not screw around with its content. I was also under the impression that Warren Ellis either co-founded Avatar, or owned stock in the company, because his name was on almost every title. Avatar opens its doors to comic book creators, giving them no restrictions on what they can or cannot create. It’s like a small floating utopia in the comics industry, where creators don’t have to worry about their ideas being smacked-down by editors, and there’s an endless supply of Johnnie Walker Black Label from the portal in the closet.
It was about the time Black Summer was coming out that I really started to take note of the different series Avatar was publishing. It felt like Warren Ellis in particular was in his element when writing at Avatar, producing some of his best stories in my opinion. Being the superstar writer that he is, there’s a reason he’s paired with some of the best artistic talent in the industry project after project. So ever since I fell head-over-heels in love with Black Summer, I made it a personal mission of mine to follow whatever new series or mini-series he was producing specifically at Avatar; the comic publisher that makes Ennis’ The Boys look tame on a daily basis. Let’s just say Warren hasn’t let me down with his imaginative stories yet, and I don’t foresee that happening any time soon.
Upon first hearing the title of his new series, Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island, it was already a must-buy for me right then and there. Learning that it contained bits of steampunk during the Victorian Era, and I just knew it was going to be the next big thing with steampunk cosplayers at the conventions that summer. Little did I know I would be waiting the span of a year for all four issues to eventually come out. However, that’s the nice thing about trade paperbacks and being able to read the entire thing in one sitting; you completely get lost in the brilliance of the story and art, and forget all your original woes.
Like I mentioned before, Captain Swing takes place in London around 1830. At that time, the Metropolitan Police Force was just being developed, and we follow newly-minted Peeler Charlie Gravel as he starts having regrets of the society he once knew. All in course of two nights he chases after a Spring-Heeled Jack (who may or may not have killed a fellow officer), gets in the middle of gunfights, and witnesses strange and incredulous sights. Any sane man would hit-up the pub immediately. Charlie Gravel on the other hand, wants to get to the bottom of things. The dashing Captain Swing goes by many names and aliases, and if the civilians want to believe he’s also known as the one and only Spring-Heeled Jack, by all means let them. Discovering how determined Charlie Gravel is in capturing him however, Captain Swing decides to let him join his merry electrical band for a night before sending him on his way.
Captain Swing’s of the mind that knowledge should be free, and it should be made available to everyone. Thanks to science and electricity it’s entirely possible to educate the masses, which is why every member of his crew are taught how things work, so they too can one day pass along their knowledge. Because of this, certain forces are at work to make sure Captain Swing’s vision never comes to fruition, and will do almost anything to stop it. With Charlie’s help, Captain Swing just might be able to bring their society out of the dark ages, and into the light.
Artist Raulo Caceres does a wonderful job bringing that dark and gritty tone of London in the 1830s, detailing every plank of wood to every stray strand of electricity. The action sequences were so much fun and exciting that I had to go back and re-read several sections throughout! I’ll forever have that last page from issue one burned into my mind; a pissed-off Captain Swing shouting “Fuck the law!” as he knocks out Charlie Gravel on his flying boat. Caceres was the one who did Ellis’ Crecy back in the day too, so it’s obvious why they make a good pairing.
If I had to describe this series to you, I’d say it’s like Peter Pan meets Nikola Tesla. While it’s electricity that keeps their ships afloat in the English sky and bullets consistently buzzing, I wouldn’t classify it as Steampunk in nature. That genre might immediately come to mind because of the setting and time period, but steam isn’t the substance they use. If you want Warren Ellis’ take on steampunk, do yourself a favor and checkout FreakAngels. With Captain Swing it’s an electrifying adventure that only Warren Ellis is capable of writing. Add in the magnificent woodcarving style of Raulo Caceres, and you’ve got yourself one mighty fine read on your hands.
I thought for sure there would be a second volume continuing the adventures, but alas, it seems to be only a one-time thing for now. Looking at the progress of Anna Mercury 2, maybe it’s good thing they’re only sticking to one volume. And to be perfectly honest, I’m surprised the cosplaying community hasn’t stumbled upon this goldmine yet; to create Captain Swing’s entire outfit would be a guaranteed First Place trophy at any Masquerade.
Pick it up today; you won’t regret it.