The Webcomic Overlook #189: Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant

There are two ends of the reviewing spectrum that make me a bit nervous. The first, as I mentioned in the previous review, is when a webcomic looks so amateur that you’re a bit hesitant to talk about it.

Then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum. Sometimes a webcomic is so polished that you’re sort of taken aback by how good it looks. “Wait,” I say, “is this even a webcomic, technically? I’m pretty sure this was always meant to go straight to print.” I’m not slamming the art in webcomics, by the way, which can be quite stunning. However, most have a distinctly non-commercial flavor, where the art is geared close to the heart of the creator. I’m talking about comics that seem so ready for prime time that you’re surprised that there isn’t already an animated adaptation airing on Cartoon Network with a live-action movie deal in the works.

That’s how I feel when I read Tony Cliff’s Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (not to be confused with Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch), a webcomic about swashbuckling adventure in the 1800’s.

Our action begins in Constantinople (Istanbul). Our point-of-view guy, Selim, serves as a Lieutenant in the Turkish Jannisary Corps. It is a highly thankless job. When it comes time for bonuses to be handed out, Selim has to strip to his skivvies and fight for the wealth in a humiliating exercise that provides amusement to the higher-ranked officers. He’s also a pretty mellow guy, preferring the simple pleasures of a good tea to war and swordplay.

Enter Delilah Dirk. Accomplished assassin. Saboteur. She trained worldwide so she can punch higher than her weight class. As a child, she learned archery in France, survival in India, acrobatics in Indonesia, swordplay in Japan, and a few unspecified skills among the American Indians. She has fought against Sikhs, conquistadores, aborigines, lions, and one large Mongolian man.

She’s also totally unassuming, especially in the culture of Constantinople where the male-dominated society view women as weak and timid. In fact, chauvinism is so prevalent that Selim is sentenced to death for merely repeating the story that Delilah tells him about her background.

Fortunately for Selim, this is all going according to Delilah’s plan. In a True Lies moment, Delilah tells the prison guard how she’s going to escape, does it, and drops the mayhem. She rescues Selim from being executed. Selim, having nowhere else to go, reluctantly follows Delilah on her quest to tick off as many nobles as possible by stealing their stuff.

At the star of the story, I admit I was a little nervous Delilah might turn out to be a Mary Sue. She outfights all the jannisaries with very little effort. She is nigh indestructible. Plus, she has a flying boat that makes travel a breeze. She is, to coin a phrase from Mary Poppins, “Practically perfect in every way.”

A hero without flaws, though, runs the risk of being a tad boring and a little hard to relate to. Indiana Jones, for example, is a cocky superstar archaeologist you can trust to find the ancient artifact. However, he’s an easy guy to relate to. Sometimes he gets savagely beaten down by more powerful opponents. Sometimes he’s paralyzed by his crippling fear of snakes. Flaws may seem a sign of weakness, but weaknesses are what humanizes characters.

We learn later, though, that despite her physical acumen, her confident attitude of derring-do, and her flying boat, she does have a flaw: it’s her confidence. Does that sound like the sort of flaw that you’re supposed to point out when interviewing for a job? Yeah, sorta. But it’s just as paralyzing as Indy’s fear of snakes. Things go badly for Delilah when pirates track her down and shoot down her flying boat. Faced with a scenario where everything goes wrong, Delilah loses it and freaks out, waiting instead for a Great Space Goose to scoop her up and take her away.

It’s not clear, initially, why Delilah keeps Selim around despite the fact that he’s quite inept at a lot of things. She claims it’s because he makes great tea, though there’s probably something deeper than that. Twice Delilah not so subtly hints that Selim is free to go with own way, but Selim cannot, mainly because he’s a marked man and he’s safer under Delilah’s protection.

However, I think the most interesting aspect of the relationship is that Delilah can’t dismiss or kill Selim because he’s too gosh-darned nice. She rescues him from execution because he, quite meekly, got into that position because he tried to speak highly of her abilities. Later, Selim suffers a crisis of conscience when he debates whether or not he should let Delilah continue with her criminal activities. Ultimately, he decides to side with Delilah and turns down an offer of hospitality — which raises suspicions and puts him into trouble even further. Delilah even suspects that Selim may have considered betraying her — perhaps even planned on it as an excuse to ditch Selim once and for all — but Selim’s good heart comes through in the end and botches everyone’s plans.

Plus, unlike Delilah, Selim actually stays cool under pressure. There’s a scene where they’re stuck in an aqueduct with rubble falling around them as they’re bombarded by artillery. It’s Selim who formulates a plan to fake their deaths and pick off the scouts sent to look for their bodies. The adventure is the first indicator to Delilah that the Turkish Lieutenant may actually prove to be a useful companion. Selim may not be much of a fighting man, but he is a strategist.

The artwork is absolutely outstanding. Let’s start with the character designs. Delilah Dirk, while attractive at some angles, is not drawn like a conventional heroine. The first thing I noticed, in fact, was her prominent Grecian nose. This is surprisingly rare; most cartoonists seem to be ashamed of large schnozes on women, opting instead to render them as minuscule dots. The other thing you’ll notice is that Delilah is almost always sleepy-eyed. It doesn’t matter if she’s just chilling on her boat or mowing down soldiers through expert swordplay. The heavy-lidded eyes convey that everything is routine, the challenges are beneath her, and she’s totally cool and in control. However, when her eyes are wide open, Delilah takes on a wild quality that shows how badly she reacts when things get out of her control.

Selim, on the other hand, has soft, almost delicate features. Just by looking at his placid face, you get the sense that he’s out of place in the military.

And the backgrounds… oh, the backgrounds. Everything in Delilah Dirk is illustrated, inked, and colored with masterful confidence and a draftsman’s keen eye and expertise. The sweeping panorama of Constantinople is so lovingly drawn that you can almost feel the ocean breeze on your skin and hear the hustle and bustle of the crowded 19th century marketplace. It makes me want to take a vacation in Istanbul, something I had not ever before considered.

Everything here is so wonderfully detailed, from the steep columns of the aqueduct to the intricate pieces of armor. Delilah Dirk is a pure visual feast. Tony Cliff is especially adept at rendering scenes from multiple angles, lending a sense of drama and movement to the breathtaking action sequences.

So strap yourself in for adventure and treat yourself to Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant. It’s a Turkish delight on a moonlit night.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

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About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on December 15, 2011, in 5 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, all ages webcomic, historical webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Thanks for the nice find. I don’t know how I hadn’t heard of this before. I just added it to my RSS Reader and plan on getting caught up this weekend.

  2. The thing that bugs me about this comic is the attention to detail. I might be a bit anal about this stuff, but rooibos was only recently introduced to the world outside South Africa. I mean, I remember when people suddenly started drinking the stuff. And Indonesia, likewise, didn’t exist until 1946. Before that, it was colonial territory, and every island was usually referred to as its own entity (and, indeed, all island have their own culture, kitchen and language). OK, those are small things. But when I saw my country’s flag as the centerpiece of a dramatic scene painted upside-goddamn-down, my taste soured. One trip to wikipedia was too much effort, apparently.

    My apologies, though, if it was the author’s intention to have the ship fly the pan-Slavic flag.

    • I just now realized this must sound very negative. It’s still a good comic. I love Selim, and the art is gorgeous. I’m in somewhat of an unique position that my nationality predisposes me to notice this thing that wouldn’t even bother someone else.

      My kingdom for an edit button.

  3. I am a really big fan of this comic. Tony Cliff has also done some excellent short story comics for Flight. His comic “The Black Fountain” he did for volume #8 is one of the best written and illustrated things I have ever seen.

  4. Just read the whole damn thing so far and I’m sorely missing the experience already. That was a blast. If nothing else Selim is pretty much pitch perfect with a 1001 nights protagonist. What I mean is he’s an accepting fatalist. Did they ever say when this takes place?

  5. Whenever I come across something like this I wonder where it came from. It’s almost like every now and then an awesome webcomic just drops out of the sky and I wonder why I haven’t heard of it before.

  6. My god… even the website is a fantastic work of art.

  7. Love that leading lady’s design. Looks a bit like Leila Arab :D

  8. An excellent find, I’ll be reading that!

  9. There goes my week.

  10. Oh my god why hadn’t I heard of this!??!!

  11. I am cheerful to watch this you tube video at this site, so right now I am also going to upload all my video tutorials at YouTube web site.

  12. You’ve done a really fine job explaining teh excellence of “Delilah Dirk.” I’m very sad that it seems the first adventure is the only one that will be up in webcomic form; the second adventure sounds like it will only be in print. And black-and-white. Which I’ll still likely buy, because the story and characters are so fun, but the beautiful colorings are really what make the art come alive.

    My only real complaint, I suppose, is that the plot to steal treasure from Zakul the pirate lord wasn’t very developed. We know virtually nothing about him, beyond that he captured some ships of Delilah’s uncle (it was her uncle, right?). He has no personality. But that still ended up being okay because the focus in the adventure was the growing friendship between the two leads, and just introducing us to Delilah’s world. And who knows? Perhaps Zakul will make future appearances.

  13. *the

    (Why doesn’t WordPress let commenters edit their own comments? Argh!)

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