06 July 2010

Crogan’s Moral Uncertainty

Crogan’s Vengeance, by Chris Schweizer, is a nicely told pirate comic. I especially liked the panels’ timing. There’s a moment on page 56 when I lost the narrative logic, but the other 184 pages sailed by.

Schweizer draws in a “cartoony” style and offers lots of visual humor. His lettering is thick, usually leaving space for only one character to speak per panel. That overall look makes for a curious mix with characters who take themselves very seriously and a story with a high body count.

The main story includes no female characters with dialogue, but it is set on a pirate ship, after all. There’s an important female character in the framing story, but she’s the antagonist, an elderly lady who wants kids to stay off her lawn.

That narrative frame for Crogan’s Vengeance raises the biggest questions in my mind. In the first six comics pages and the last three, young Eric Crogan’s father sets up the story of their pirate ancestor as a lesson in dealing with “a situation of moral uncertainty.”

So what do we learn from the pirate yarn in between? Like most pirate tales, it’s full of attacks, counterattacks, subterfuges, mutinies, storms, shipwrecks, strandings, brawls, whippings, and duels. There’s also a treasure, though we hear about it more than we see it.

Also like most pirate tales, the story is close to amoral. Readers root for one greedy, sneaky group instead of another because:

  • The first group is slightly less ruthless than the second, and/or
  • The narrative point of view forces our hand.
Both factors apply in Crogan’s Vengeance.

In the end Catfoot halts a particularly bullying pirate from sacking a port on a English-speaking Caribbean island. To me that would come across as more heroic if the story hadn’t established that Catfoot has several selfish reasons for doing what he does: personal revenge, winning back treasure, keeping the region safe for pirates, simple survival.

As a reward Catfoot receives a British letter of marque—a license to commit piracy on other empires for the duration of whatever war has just broken out. Of course, the British officials we’ve seen are craven incompetents, not worthy of such protection. This simply extends how Crogan’s Vengeance depicts all life at sea as an unjust struggle to survive. The reward thus comes across not as Crogan’s redemption in a “situation of moral uncertainty” but as another excuse for amoral behavior.

Or, as Eric’s dad explains, “Catfoot was given free rein to plunder…provided he kept to a set of rules.” How’s that for a valuable lesson about life?

(Here's a glimpse of Catfoot Crogan later in life, imparting a valuable lesson to his own son.)

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