The ultimate mark of a good comic, or any piece of entertainment for that matter, is if the audience is left craving more. That’s exactly how you’re likely to feel as you turn the last page on the debut issue of A Man Among Ye, the new pirate adventure from Top Cow Productions. There you go then, review done. Weigh anchor, read the first book and ready yourself for Issue 2 of this series, which explores a lesser-known, women-centred slice of history on the high seas.
Every comic wants to kick off on its best foot. That’s certainly the case with A Man Among Ye, from writer Stephanie Phillips and artist Craig Cermak, which starts strong in every department. Although brisk and action-centred, Issue 1 is very much an establishing effort, introducing the series’ main players.
So you meet fiery redhead Anne Bonny, who in 1720, is plundering her way around the Caribbean alongside infamous pirate Calico Jack Rackham and his crew. Anne has a reputation for ruthless efficiency but is frequently dismissed as Jack’s “Missus,” and faces superstition-fuelled resistance as a woman on a ship. Regardless, Anne enjoys a buccaneer’s life of ship battles and burnings, boozing, and brawling at Jack’s side. Governor Woodes Rogers however, is deadset on ending the couple’s carefree existence, and the Golden Age of Piracy at the same time. Meanwhile, lurking mostly in the background of Issue 1 is Mary Read, a young woman masquerading as a boy.
One of the greatest delights of A Man Among Ye is that by the end of Issue 1 you have no idea where the series is heading. The comic isn’t Pirates of the Caribbean. There’s no comic relief or supernatural intrusion. It’s tonally neutral, with the series “living on the edge of fact and fiction” as Phillips explains in the Afterword.
A Man Among Ye has a treasure trove of legend and lore to rifle through, because the true story of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, the most famous of Western female pirates, is so vaguely sketched. It turns out there are actually some advantages to the neglect of women, and other marginalised groups’, history. For creators, there’s a vast blurry area to play in without worrying about fidelity to real-life events.
Moving forward, A Man Among Ye could dive into an exploration of history through a feminist filter, veer into LGBT+ territory due to the reported closeness of Anne and Mary (not to mention Mary’s cross-dressing), or skim across the surface of all those issues as fast as a clipper – simply delivering a fast-paced, throwback-style action-adventure with lady pirates. Think Thelma and Louise with cutlasses and cannons.
Alternatively, A Man Among Ye could be all these things. Phillips has said in interviews that the series will explore why people chose the norm-defying life of piracy. And the plot synopsis for Issue 3 mentions how Anne and Mary assemble an all-woman crew and teach them the pirate life. If A Man Among Ye delves into socio-political topics, which seems likely, the treatment is unlikely to be heavy handed. That is, if you use Issue 1 as an indicator.
There’s nothing laboured about A Man Among Ye. That includes using straightforward, contemporary dialogue for the most part, instead of laying on period turns of phrase. Working instead to help establish a sense of the story’s historical setting is the stylised lettering by Troy Peteri. Cermak’s art, meanwhile, is rich in detail without sacrificing clarity – reminiscent of Gabriel Rodriguez’s Locke and Key work. Free of pose awkwardness in both the quieter character-centred moments and action-packed ones, A Man Among Ye is one of the best-looking comics I’ve read recently. (Then again, I do have a weakness for impossibly sexy redhead buccaneers).
A Man Among Ye is a genre departure for Top Cow, a publisher traditionally associated with sci-fi and dark urban supernatural series, with a dash of sex-positive romance thrown in for good measure. This new comic is a welcome diversification of that offering – another jewel in a hefty chest – with the only real complaint about Issue 1 being that the reading experience ends just as the story is heating up.
The first issue of A Man Among Ye releases this week on Wednesday, 17 June. It is available from comic stockists as well as digitally.
Last Updated: June 15, 2020