Written by Swifty Lang
Illustrated by Skuds McKinley
Colors by Jason Wordie
Letters by Deron Bennett
Published by Archaia
In modern U.S. culture, swashbuckling pirate geeks enjoy the pageantry and lore across the safety of a couple hundred years. Plunder brings the present-day realities of piracy crashing to the fore with the story of Bahdoon, a Somalian kid who joins a band of pirates. The book is recognizably part of the seafaring literary tradition of Melville and Stevenson, but throws in current realities and a twist of Lovecraftian horror.
This is the first of just four issues, so the story jumps right into the action. The pirates, who call themselves The Saviors of the Sea, board a large, drifting ship. Swifty Lang does a good job of introducing the characters, warming us up to young Bahdoon’s inner monologue, and moving forward the action as the pirates search the strangely quiet ship. The crew is diverse and we get the sense of misfits and disadvantaged people in a society that doesn’t take care of the weak, tolerate physical disabilities, or have a humane justice system. One by one, the quick backstories turn the pirates from being the Other into being an Us.
Skuds McKinley, who co-created the story with Lang, keeps that theme, making the pirates seem like people we might see at the supermarket (in a neighborhood especially prone to missing appendages and terrible face burns). He also hits a sweet spot with the gory discoveries the pirate makes on the ship. What we see is believable enough to be freaky, but also so fantastically gross you sort of do want to giggle a little, for lack of a better startle reaction. I think that’s pretty good for horror. McKinley also does a competent job with the sequential storytelling, especially since he’s relatively new to comics and has to help establish a mystery while introducing several new characters all at once.
Jason Wordie’s colors are toned down and stay out of the way of the story’s drama. Wordie uses a muted palette—a tan sky, a silty green sea, the tomato red of one of the pirates’ shirts. He repeats a limited array of colors, using the same tomato red for the shirt and for blood spattered against the slate grey metal of a ship. This repetition and the use of flat blocks of color help to simplify the story visually. The earthy colors makes Plunder seem more literary and real; bright blues and other primary colors might have made this pirate story too cheesy and gaudy.
Finally, shout out to the letterer, Deron Bennett, for a little feature I really enjoyed: The notes sprinkled throughout that said “2.5’ Light Chop” or “3.0’ Rising Swells.” It was a clever way to remind us, even while the action was in the belly of a big ship, that we were at sea.
I’m looking forward to checking out the next three issues of Plunder, and whatever else Lang and McKinley dream up in the future.