The Webcomic Overlook #191: Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether
Greg Rucka is the sort of comic book creator who’s developed quite a reputation for writing strong female characters. I mean, real strong female characters. Not the unrepentant cheesecake masquerading as feminism that Kate Beaton famously mocked that studios like Top Cow have exploited to the extent that you’re actually more embarrassed reading their comics in public than if you were reading, say, Maxim.
Rucka, though, is the real deal. He was at the helm for the controversial launch of the new Batwoman, Kate Kane, perhaps the first prominent lesbian superheroine with her own title. He turned Batman supporting character, Rene Montoya, into the mysterious, faceless Question, which is about as far from the girls-in-swimsuits look that most superheroines sport. He’s been given writing duties on other notably headstrong female characters like Elektra and Wonder Woman.
His most famous independent work is Whiteout, which starred a female Deputy US Marshall. In 2009, was turned into a movie starring Kate Beckingsale. Another independent series, Queen & Country, centers around a female secret operative who goes no dangerous missions. For his efforts, he’s won 4 Eisner Awards, 1 Harvey Award, and 1 GLAAD Media Award.
Last year, alongside artist Rick Burchett (a fellow Eisner Award winner for his collaboration with Paul Dini and Ty Templeton on The Batman and Robin Adventures), Mr. Rucka also launched his won webcomic: Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether.
The world of Lady Sabre is called The Sphere, a place where, I am told, the aether is absolutely ineffable. The setting is very steampunk. I imagine that if you placed a sample of aether under a microscope, all you’d see are tiny springs and gears.
In the Sphere, you’ll see steam-powered paddleboats flying to the air like some crazy retro Leiji Matsumoto concept and people shoot each other with crazy steam-powered guns. Do you remember that Nissan Leaf commercial where everything runs on gas, even the dental drills? It’s like that, only everything runs on hot water vapor. It makes you sorta wonder of living in the Sphere feels like being in a sauna 24/7.
Masses of land are suspended in aether, each developing a society that roughly resemble those in the late 19th Century. Some are islands. Some are large continents. This information isn’t divulged to us in the comic itself. Rather, it’s included in the fairly prosaic “About” feature, which gives a Lonely Planet-like lowdown on the geography, the major powers, and the local weather. Normally, I’d be annoyed that such key pieces of world building was being relegated to the appendix. However, I think that shoehorning exposition may have been detrimental to the story’s flow. Mr. Burchett likes to use a lot of open spaces. Stretches of Lady Sabre appear balletic and cinematic.
Our heroine is Lady Seneca Sabre, a pirate with a quirky crew and a ship that navigates the vast expanses of space. No, you are not reading Sluggy Freelance‘s “Oceans Unmoving” storyline. (One of these days, were going to find out that The Starjammers was the most influential superhero group to come out of the 1980’s.) We first see her evading a bunch of armed gentlemen who are dressed in what looks like Prussian military dress. She has stolen … something that looks like a really fancy can of Pringles. As the men give chase, she ditches her dress to get into swarthy pirate gear, something that has sorta become standard protocol in stories featuring lady pirates.
And then it’s fight time! Now, I can’t say that Burchett draws the most action-packed fight sequences I’ve seen in webcomics, Shi Long Pang, for example, does a better job of conveying the speed and impact of each strike and each block. However, the fights in Lady Sabre thus far seem to take on a more symbolic nature. As Lady Sabre fights off five armed men, she seems to take on the appearance of a many-armed Hindu diety. A one-on-one fight looks something like a dance sequence. Given the already zen-like nature of the comic, it’s not out of place.
Burchett also does a lot of close-ups of characters’ faces. She possesses a steely gaze, a mischievous smile, and is that a slight twinkle in her eye? I’m impressed by how much personality Burchett is able to convey through subtle expressions.
So Lady Sabre gets away, and suddenly, the action shift to … the (wicki-wicki) Wild Wild West! And a new cast of characters! It’s Drake and Drum. They’re the slickest they is. They’re the quickest they is. Did I say they’re the slickest they is? It’s a world full of card games, saloons, six-shooter duels… but, sadly, no giant mechanical spiders.
And I have to say … the transition is a little jarring. I mean, at this point, we hadn’t learned much about Lady Sabre, and now we’re in another genre altogether? It’s like you’re in the mood for some swashbucklin’ Captain Blood action, and instead someone slips in a DVD of John Wayne’s Rio Lobo. I mean, cowboys? Really? I thought I was reading Lady Sabre And the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether, not Mustachioed Marshall, His Bowler Hatted Friend, And The Wild West Bonanza.
The Drake and Drum story, though, gets us some nice gunfight action. It also eventually dovetails with the A-story when the Marshall comes up with a key that likely belongs to the case that Lady Sabre is futilely trying to open. I suppose that, in the long run, this whole comic is going to be a huge genre mash-up. There’s hints, in a visit to the fortune teller, that there’s going to be a trip to a medieval-themed continent, too. This gonna turn out to be The Dark Tower, isn’t it, Greg Rucka?
Now, I have one complaint that is going to be incredibly nitpicky. Hell, it’s so nitpicky that I generally avoid it because when other people point it out, it’s one of those annoying complaints that make me want to say, “OK, get over it.” But I’m going to do it. I’m gonna get mad at fonts.
I mean, look at this sign. I mean, Papyrus font? Really? Comic Sans gets all the hate, but for me, Papyrus (a.k.a. “The Massage Therapist Font”) is the worst. And it only got worse when James Cameron latched onto it and used it prominently in Avatar. And that’s not the hell of it. The words underneath it are rendered in a head-ache inducing grab-bag of standard fonts and mismatching colors. Everything else in this world has a hand-crafted, old timey look to them. This sign for the fortune teller looks like it was pounded out of Microsoft Office in five minutes.
And it’s not just that sign where I have troubles look at the font. Any time Burchett uses onomatopoeia, the results look really slapdash. It really stands out, too, because the art that it’s covering up is so nice.
Lady Sabre And The Pirates Of the Ineffable Aether is still pretty much just starting out, so it’s very easy to catch up to the story. It’s just wrapped up Chapter 3, and we’ve yet to be introduced to the characters beyond Lady Sabre and Drake and Drum. It is a very solid introduction, presented with the confidence of two seasoned comic book veterans.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)