New To You Comics #91: Plunge Into The Icy Waters Of Dread With ‘Sea Of Sorrows’
by Brendan M. Allen
Tony and Brendan have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his capes, super powers, and sci-fi. Brendan tends to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, their paths cross, but like most readers, they tend to stay in their own lanes.
New To You Comics is here to break up the pattern a little. Tony will throw some of his favorites at Brendan, and Brendan will hit Tony with some of his. Every NTYC title is brand new to one of them. Once in a while a title will land with both of them. More often, they’ll find some common ground. When they don’t, it’s still fun to watch them go at it. Brendan fights dirty. Tony kicks like a mule.
This week, Brendan introduces Tony to IDW Publishing’s Sea of Sorrows, by Rich Douek and Alex Cormack, with color assistance by Mark Mullaney, and letters by Justin Birch.
Here’s what IDW tells us about the book:
‘Plunge headfirst into the icy waters of dread in this graphic novel of deep sea adventure with a horrific twist! In the aftermath of the Great War, the North Atlantic is ripe for plunder by independent salvage crews. When a former naval officer hires the SS Vagabond, he leads the ship to a sunken U-boat, and a fortune in gold.
Tensions mount as the crew prepares to double cross each other, but the darkness of the ocean floor holds deeper terrors than any of them have bargained for! From the creative team behind the Bram Stoker Award-nominated horror graphic novel Road of Bones comes an all-new tale of bone-chilling terror!’
Brendan Allen: Publisher’s blurb sums this one up pretty nicely. The SS Vagabond is anchored with a diver on the seafloor, searching for a WWI U-boat that may be loaded with a bunch of Imperial German gold. Tension is high on the deck.
There’s the stress of waiting to see if they’re actually onto something, but also, the crew is making alliances and sorting out exactly who on board they’ll need to kill in order to make it home. No honor among thieves and all that. Bullets and fists and gaff hooks start flying before the monster even shows up.
I absolutely love this setup. There are only a few horror settings that really get to me, but deep space and deep water are almost always effective. Absolute darkness. Claustrophobia. Nowhere to run. Complete dependence on equipment. That’s every nightmare I’ve ever had, right there.
Space travel is an abstract concept for me, but the ocean is tangible. Deep sea is probably my favorite setting. Scares the shit out of me. Deep ass water? Say no more. I’m in.
Tony Thornley: Over the weekend, same timeframe that I was reading this, I was watching the Disney Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and you know? They were oddly similar, in all the best ways. The surface scenes were tense and action packed. But the moment the crew dove under water? Or night fell? Holy crap, it got scary.
And the whole series had this aesthetic that was so unique. It’s gonna make this series stand out in my head for a long time to come.
Brendan: Douek absolutely murdered this thing. I love that there are two completely different stories taking place in the first half, one topside, and one in the deep. Both are equally fascinating, and terrifying in their own ways. The dangers of deep water, coupled with the probably haunted treasure, is only half the narrative.
The crew dynamic topside is pretty scary in its own right. From the beginning, the conversations taking place between crew members revolve around who will be crossed up and die, and who will get the shares forfeited by the soon-to-be-deceased crew members.
It’s just a given. People are gonna die, and we’re splitting up their shares of the loot. Go to sleep if you want. You might wake up dead and broke.
Tony: Yeah, I dug that. Going back to the pirate comparison, it felt like a modernization of the dynamic you get in stories like Treasure Island, sort of a high seas Upstairs, Downstairs where the haves and have-nots are scheming, and playing dangerous games. Sometimes they’re against each other, sometimes within their own group. But even if there were few memorable individual characters (which was really my only problem with the writing), the mob was fascinating to watch.
Brendan: I actually never put the pirate thing together, but these characters are absolutely modern pirates. They’re out to illegally pillage Nazi gold from the bottom of the ocean.
Brendan: The tension only builds from the opening pages, and escalates rapidly, never letting up until the last sequence ends. This mini was the perfect length for the story, and was paced out brilliantly to fill each chapter from cover to cover.
Tony: Yeah, this is one that’s a perfect done in one. Though if Douek and Cormack wanted to do another volume, I wouldn’t say no. Especially after all the carnage in the fifth issue.
Brendan: I don’t see that working. Five chapters was perfect. Going back to the well would cheapen the experience.
Tony: Oh continuing this story, absolutely not, I agree. Another story set in this world though? Maybe another time, another place? Sign me up.
Brendan: Alex Cormack pulled out some slick tricks in this one. The art is dark and gritty and slightly disturbed. It’s a perfect fit for the story. The scenes topside are already claustrophobic and tense, but this thing is absolutely terrifying when Cormack takes us below the surface.
One of my huge pet peeves in horror is showing the monster too soon, in too bright light, with too many explanations. Sea of Sorrows falls into none of these traps, and I love it for that. It’s not until three quarters through the thing before you catch a glimpse of the beast, and even then, you aren’t quite sure what’s what. The full reveal doesn’t come until near the end.
Tony: I also really loved how he set the above deck and below the surface scenes apart. The above deck scenes were relatively well lit, and showed the characters doing things that we’d expect sailors to. But the divers hit the water, and it’s predominantly black, with white lines to show the shapes of the rocks, the sub, the sea life. It creates that sense of claustrophobia you mentioned- it’s not just pushing in on you, but you can’t see past your hand to reassure yourself that it’s just a trick of the light.
And that Siren. At first you expect this to be some sort of strange take on a normal mermaid. Like her face is going to shift and suddenly she’s scary or something like that. Then she shifts into her true form- which is actually a very thoughtful piece of design considering what actual deep water ocean life does to lure prey- and you get just what she really is…
Brendan: Oh, yeah. Without treading too far into spoiler territory, what the actual…? It’s very clever. Like she’s wearing a shimmer to disguise herself. Or her predator parts are disguised by evolution to look like safe, squishy human bits. And those teeth!
Tony: Yeah she goes from creepy wraith to horrifying predator on a dime. And her first on-panel kill, just bathing the page in bright red. It was pretty horrifying.
Brendan: Horror in comics is not the easiest genre to tackle. The nature of the medium takes away many of the tried and true tools that are used in cinema and even prose. Jump scares are near impossible to translate to the page, and there’s no sound track to help build tension.
Sea of Sorrows rises to the challenge and excels at bringing solid, genuine scares to the page. Easily one of the best series of 2021, and set to hit the shelves in the beginning of December, just in time to put under the tree for that horror lover in your life.
I know horror isn’t your first choice of genre. Where’d you land?
Tony: This is actually my kind of scary story. I really got into it. I would recommend it to just about anyone.
Brendan: And knowing horror isn’t usually your bag, that’s high praise. I’ll take it. What’s up next from your queue?
Tony: We’re getting another post-October bonus horror story, AND a follow-up to a pick of mine you really enjoyed- Immortal Hulk V2: The Green Door.