Ahoy. Sorry, I had to.
I adore narratives about pirates. I find the folklore surrounding pirates and how it intersects with the histories of commerce, colonialism, and abolition incredibly enrapturing. Some of my favorite pieces of media are about pirates; Treasure Planet is one of my favorite movies and Black Sails is one of my favorite television shows of the last five years. I was pleased as punch when the first volume of A Man Among Ye fell into my lap, for it is just as stellar as some of my favorites.
Written by Stephanie Phillips (The Butcher of Paris, Artemis and the Assassin), A Man Among Ye depicts a chipping golden age of piracy in the Caribbean where a pirate meant very real, very present danger at the hands of the British Empire. Our story focuses on Anne Bonny, one of the most feared pirates of the age and first mate to the other most feared pirates of the age, Captain “Calico” Jack Rackham. One night, after another successful plunder of a ship, a young Mary Read stows away on the ship and is taken under the wing of Bonny who shows her some of the ropes of being on a pirate crew.
Not everything is rainbows and unicorns on the ship, for even though Anne is second in command, she is disrespected by the male members of the crew, and her fighting style, leadership, and even her ability to knock back rum are belittled because she is a woman. In fact, it is to be believed that having a woman on a pirate ship at all spells rotten luck for the entire crew. Along with the rampant workplace misogyny there are whisperings of a possible mutiny among Captain Rackham’s crew, and the ever looming threat of their lives coming to an end at the hands of Nassau, Bahamas’s ruthless Governor, Woodes Rogers. In addition to the main players, this first volume also introduces escaped slave Iris and plantation heiress Jane Castor, who are also looking to start a new life as free from colonial and patriarchal rule as possible.
The art style makes this world really come alive. Craig Cermak (Elvira, Bettie Page, Red Team) gives each character clean lines and fluid designs, making each one distinct from each other through an expert use of shape and color. With her flaming red hair, steely eyes, and fetching red and black outfit, Anne Bonny is drawn like a slick superhero, all confident poses and determined expressions, telling you everything you need to know about her. From one look at the cover you can tell the protagonist is thinking, “this is my world, you’re just living in it.” The other characters are smartly designed too; the one that sticks out the most is Woodes Rogers, who is a big, hulking square. When one thinks of a colonial governor, the first image that pops up might be a frail, buttoned up statesman who is out of his depth, someone who was sheltered all his life and is terrified of pirates. Not here! Cermak has Rogers tower over everyone, clearly demonstrating his power and pull over Nassau. I also want to give a shout out to Jack Rackham’s design; I love his ornate clothes and strong jaw, showing that he can talk his way out of most situations, and that he considers his captaincy a grand and important job that he wants to dress up for.
I really appreciated how bright and vibrant the colors were. Sometimes, in period pieces like this, the colors might skew towards the muted and desaturated to represent the dour conditions in which the protagonists may find themselves. Not here! The coloring by Brittany Pezzillo (Marvel: Crisis Protocol, Humblewood 5e) and John Kalisz (Our Army at War, JSA: Fair Play, Millennium) are incredibly varied and rich, injecting a lot of life in an already lively story.
While this is only the first volume, I feel like I know a substantial amount about these characters, and I can’t wait to learn more. In some first volumes, they spend a great deal of time (understandably) introducing the world and the characters and supplying some of their motivations; A Man Among Ye drops us in medias res, but gives the reader a great deal of context about the characters and how they interact with each other through snappy dialogue and friendly banter, especially when it comes to the relationship between Bonny and Rackham. Though I had some knowledge of their existence thanks to Black Sails, I think anyone who is totally ignorant to pirate lore can enjoy this first volume without getting lost. I will say, though, it would have been nice to hear a bit more from Jane and Iris (especially Iris being a freed slave and the only Black woman in the cast so far), as well as more from Mary Read; but it is just the first volume, I hope we get to hear more from them as the series goes on.
I want to give a quick nod to Phillips and the team for writing a story about women rebelling against a violent system without using any needless sexual violence. I must admit, I did a quick flip through all of the pages in the event that there was triggering material in this first volume, and I am deeply grateful that there wasn’t any. It was nice to be reminded that you can write a narrative in a historical setting and discuss brutality and other themes of violence without putting it front and center in graphic detail.
In a very thoughtful author’s note by Phillips at the end of the book, she talks about the world of piracy being a world of choice, and that choosing the life you wish to make for yourself is the ultimate act of resistance in a world that valued the very opposite. Phillips writes, “Piracy offered Anne, and all others that chose that life, a form of resistance against the crown…Despite race, religion, nationality, and language, these pirates all found a community aboard their ships and influence that life in the empire denied them.” Reading this, I am even more interested to see how Anne and her companions interact with a subculture that claims to be affirming but still has deep rooted bigotry, and how they carve out a place for themselves in a society that wishes to tear them down. But, knowing Anne Bonny, she’d like to see them try.
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