Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Long John Silver, Volume 1: Lady Vivian Hastings

A note at the end of Long John Silver, Volume 1 says that it doesn’t claim to be a sequel to Treasure Island, but merely an homage to it: an attempt to “find again a bit of stardust from the great dream that Robert Louis Stevenson sparked.” I don’t doubt the sincerity of that comment, but whatever Xavier Dorison and Matheiu Lauffray’s intent, they’ve created as good a Treasure Island sequel as any and a better one than most.

The connection to Stevenson’s novel isn’t immediately apparent. Dorison and Lauffray’s story opens with a beleaguered expedition up the Amazon River and then switches quickly to England where it introduces Lady Vivian Hastings. She’s the unfaithful wife to an absent nobleman and is quite pregnant with the child of another man. She’s let off the moral hook a little though when it’s revealed that her husband is not only just as disloyal to her as she is to him, but that he’s also selling off her inheritance to fund his search for a lost, Amazonian city rumored to be filled with treasure.

Lady Hastings is a deeply flawed woman, but her wits and survival instincts are strong enough to make her a compelling character. With no other ally than her less-than-loyal maid Elsie, Lady Hastings is forced to come up with a plan to endure the destitution that her husband is forcing on her. She decides that she’s due a cut of whatever her husband finds in the Amazon, but she’ll need help to claim it. Fortunately, Elsie’s heard that the local doctor Livesey is rumored to know a man: “a sailor with a peg leg … the kind of man who would follow you into Hell for the promise of gold.”

Unlike Treasure Island, Dorison and Lauffray’s graphic novel is extremely short on noble characters (Dr. Livesey is pretty much the only one), but that’s part of what makes it so interesting. It’s Pirate Noir, a genre that I’m surprised isn’t more popular since the age of piracy is a perfect setting for morally ambiguous crime stories. Making the Macguffin a hidden, jungle city is even cooler and so far Long John Silver is so far in my wheelhouse that it’s keeping a toothbrush there and has taken over my remote.

Lauffray’s lush, detailed art is spectacular and makes the story even more immersive. He was a concept artist on Brotherhood of the Wolf and gives Long John Silver a feel that’s similar to that awesome movie. Whether he’s depicting a snowy landscape, a magnificent ship, or a passionate woman, Lauffray creates a world and characters that feel utterly real. That means that when the peg-legged sailor does show up, he feels real too; as real and morally hazy as he did in Stevenson’s original story. Long John Silver isn’t just a worthy homage to Treasure Island, it’s also an ideal continuation of that story and I can’t wait to read the other three volumes.

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