Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Captain Fear and the Rat's Nest

I got interested in DC's Captain Fear character last year when I learned that Walt Simonson is working on a Captain Fear story. I didn't know anything about him other than he's a pirate, but according to Simonson, the stories were "an historical rat’s nest” with ships, uniforms, and weapons from many different time-periods (or no recognizable time-period at all) appearing in the 1850s. Frankly, I didn't think that would bother me.

And now that I've been able to catch up on the original Captain Fear stories thanks to Diversions of the Groovy Kind, I know I was right. The mixture of historical details is awesome. What bothers me aren't anachronisms, but the rat's nest of storytelling.

The stories were originally a series of back-ups in Adventure Comics and were written first by Bob Kanigher and then by Steve Skeates. I wish I could blame the mess on switching writers, but anyone who's read Kanigher knows how nuts his stuff is anyway. Skeates continued that tradition quite nicely.

It starts off pretty cool with some Carib slaves taking control of a pirate ship and becoming pirates themselves, but immediately goes all weird. The first thing they do is hire themselves out to rescue the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner (because of course a bunch of former slaves are going to want to help that guy), but do not vet the job at all. Not only is Dad not wealthy, his daughter is certifiably insane: trying to make out with her rescuer and then accusing him of the same when he rejects her. More than once.

Fear can't keep control of a ship for more than an episode or two. He's always being taken over by someone else before jumping overboard, getting captured, and escaping again to steal another ship. He's a great escaper, but a lousy pirate. Hopefully, Simonson will fix that in his version, but there's a chance that other wirters have already done that. The character has also appeared in more recent comics like John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake’s Spectre series in the ’90s as well as Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s Doctor 13 story in Tales of the Unexpected. Most recently he’s shown up in The Outsiders #26 and Peter Tomasi and Gene Ha’s story from Superman/Batman #75. I'm curious to see how all those guys handled him as well.

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