Publisher: IDW Publishing
Writer: Rich Douek
Artist: Alex Cormack
Lettering: Justin Birch
Release Date: 20th May 2020 (subject to change)
1926. The Flemish Cap, a salvage boat sits 350 miles from shore. Its crew are searching for a lost U-Boat that reportedly sank during the Great War with a king’s ransom of gold aboard. As tensions mount onboard the SS Vagabond, revelations about the fate of the crew of the sunken vessel and her sole survivor tell of the horrors of the endless cold, black, crushing depths and something infinitely more terrifying.
Around about this time last year I was screaming from the rooftops about Rich Douek and Alex Cormack’s masterpiece Road of Bones. Well dear reader, now you get to listen to me screaming from the rooftops all over again about their latest endeavour SEA OF SORROWS!
For me, Rich Douek has set himself firmly at the top of the heap as the historical horror writer of our generation. He has many other talents as a writer, but for me, this is where he really shines. I have no real concept of how Douek produces his stories, but I personally like to imagine it’s something akin to Jim Carey’s stripping scene in Bruce Almighty – just woosh and perfectly scripted pages hit the floor. Joking aside, I’m sure that’s a disservice to him as I know that, for example, a huge amount of research went into Road of Bones, but what turns up on the page is just so effortlessly good, every time, that you sometimes have to wonder.
If you want to tick every box on my list of what to put in a horror comic you need to bring me isolation, inescapable, suffocating paranoia, insidious creeping dread, and for bonus points something from Lovecraftian Mythos. It’s without much surprise then that you get all of these things in spades in this first issue.
Douek brings his latest story to the remote, frigid and deadly waters off the Newfoundland coast, setting the stage for a truly tense story. I have been following Joe Hill’s ‘Plunge’ which has similar themes, and as with that title, one of the appealing things about horror writers setting their story at sea is the fact that it’s a naturally hostile and deadly environment that you really don’t want things to go bad in. At least in Road of Bones there was the prospect (however remote) of eventually walking out of the mountains and reaching civilisation, but what do you do on a boat, 350 miles from shore with only the prospect of a frigid death in the crushing black depths of the ocean? There’s literally nowhere safe to hide.
In John Carpenter’s The Thing, MacReady utters the famous line “nobody trusts anybody now, and we’re all very tired”. Well, the crew of the SS Vagabond start this journey without a single ounce of trust, and every crew member seems to have an axe to grind, so you can safely assume that when things do go sideways, it’s going to be a nerve-rending journey and one where there’s going to be as much to fear from the man stood behind you than any creature from the abyss.
The artwork is, unsurprisingly, perfect. Alex Cormack continues to be my favourite horror artist with an incredible ability to create the most incredibly dark and grotesque characters, while at the same time managing to produce some incredibly beautiful and haunting images. Starting with the front cover, this alone should have you picking up this title. Ignoring just how good the writing Douek produces is for a moment, that front cover is beautiful and haunting and terrifying all on one page. This continues throughout all the underwater scenes, with the feeling of isolation and paranoia which comes from operating in a pitch-black environment whose sole purpose seems to be to try and kill you. Cormack does so much with these pages, creating atmosphere and tension with what at first seems to be the simplest of flourishes on an abyssal black backdrop, but which on closer inspection divulges a wealth of detail hidden in the shadows.
The surface-side drama is every bit good, with a cast of cutthroats, malcontents and good old-fashioned treasure hunters who will happily throw the man (or woman) next to them over the side to increase their share of the profits. Cormack breathes life into Douek’s characters effortlessly, making them each feel fully formed with their own personalities, and much like the work Alex has done with John Lees on SINK, he just seems to form a symbiotic relationship with the writer that pulls their ideas straight out onto the page in all their horrific glory.
Also returning in this series is Justin Birch on lettering. I really liked his approach on Road of Bones, and I can say without any sense of irony that Birch gives good Sound Effects. In the somewhat extensive number of years I’ve been reading comics, I’ve grown to appreciate a really well delivered sound effect on a page. Birch is one of those who does it well, alongside two of my other favourite comic book sound effects artists, both of whom have previously worked with Cormack; Colin Bell’s work on the first issue of SINK was fantastic and, with apologies to Birch, I know I’m supposed to be talking about him at the moment, the greatest sound effect in a comic book of all time has to go to Shawn Lee for issue 6 of SINK (If you’ve read it you know the one I’m talking about)! Anyway, sorry Justin. It’s little things in this issue like when people are shouting or cheering that it’s so loud it breaks out of the confines of the speech bubble, or musical notes weaving across the page, or a flare going off and the way the sound effect is written really helps you to hear in your head.
As a creative team, Douek, Cormack and Birch produced a flawless title last year, and there is no doubt in my mind that this is going to be another massive success for them. As first issues go, it doesn’t get much better than this!
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek