Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Huzzah For Lady Sin!
Several years ago a student writing a senior thesis on piracy loaned me the extant run of Chuck Dixon and Steve Epting's El Cazador, published by CrossGen. After graduating she acquired the TPB, and was nice enough to allow me keep the individual issues as a gift. (If you're reading this, thanks again, R.M.!) The recent discussions on women in comics drew my attention back to this title. I liked it when I first read it, and upon re-reading it, I've come to appreciate it even more.
Six issues and a one shot appeared before the wonderful enterprise was cut short by the CrossGen's financial implosion. Issues #1-4 came out monthly between October 2003 and January 2004; #5 appeared in March 2004; and #6 June 2004. "The Bloody Ballad of Blackjack Tom" was published in April 2004.
The central character in El Cazador is a young Catalan woman named Cinzia Elena Maria Esperanza Diego-Luis Hidalgo. (And yes, the length of her name does become a running joke throughout the series.) Finding herself on the Misericordia, a Spanish ship under attack by Anglo-French pirates, Cinzia uses the linguistic and martial skills her father taught her to avoid victimization. Although her older brother has been slain, and she's separated from her mother and young brother, (who've been taken away as hostages by an allied pirate band), here's how she handles the unwelcome sexual advances of one of the pirate captains:
The determined young woman resolves to make it her mission to find and rescue her captive family members, and she needs to take control of the pirate vessel upon which she is being held as a "captive" to do this. And, as I'm sure you've heard: if you want to make an omelet, you're going to have to break...
In the first issue, Dona Cinzia is transformed from a young, unmarried, late-seventeenth-century Spanish woman (with all the expectations of weakness that go with that role in life) into ... Well, into a classic comic book bad-ass. This kind of momentous transformation is usually accompanied by a name change, and El Cazador delivers one:
Cinzia has earned the name, and the mostly Anglophone crew bestows it upon her as a sign of their respect for (and fear of) her. She in turn renames their ship, transforming it from La Misericordia (Mercy) to El Cazador (The Hunter).
From the first issue, Dixon provided excellent characterization and gave us a woman with a clearly defined mission requiring the completion of several intervening steps before it could come to fruition. She's learning as she goes, and we want her to succeed, but we're not entirely certain that she actually will. In addition, issue #4 could be used as the single assigned reading for the "Pacing" lecture of a course in Sequential Art. (If you have seen Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, the pursuit scenes in El Cazador are as suspenseful and exciting as those in that film.)
Through six issues, Lady Sin bonds with a crew of experienced hands who respect her, accept her authority over them, and ultimately watch her back. These relationships are cemented by her proven bad-assery and the pursuit of a common purpose. (She's no fool, and has offered to lead them to Spanish treasure once her family members are safe.) Sin fights off a mutiny, complements her meager crew with Africans liberated from the hold of a slave ship, and gathers up the evidence she needs to find the hidden cove frequented by the man who is holding her loved ones.
While the pacing, hand-to hand combat, and the sea-battles are all satisfyingly well-rendered, the book is also spot-on in depicting the "smaller" moments that highlight the developing trust between Sin and the most prominent members of her crew. Godshall, the ship's blind pilot, serves as a growing source of support, and there's a moment before her first sea battle in issue #4 where a simple gesture makes this point for the reader. The artist uses three concise panels, with Godshall's steadying hand being the key image in the central one:
From issue #2 onwards, Sin the huntress finds herself pursued by a skilled privateer named Redhand Harry. (It seems that Harry might have been planned as a possible love interest, though the two don't meet face-to-face until the final issue.) However, with the help of Godshall and her crew, Sin and her men outflank the more experienced mariner and board his ship. Here's how the confrontation between the Harry and Sin is resolved in issue #6:
At the close of the issue, Harry is in chains below decks. (And that kiss: a tactic to knock Harry off his guard? Or does Sin like the cut of his jib? I tend towards the former, though both could easily be at work.) Woe and alas, here's the final exchange of dialogue in all of El Cazador:
Sin: I have learned much and quickly since taking up this new life. First and foremost, these dogs of the sea respect victory above all else.Talk about wanting to know what comes next! Perhaps this title will be revived, or picked up by another publisher. Maybe there's a movie in the works, an improvement upon and updating of Cutthroat Island. I will certainly keep my eyes open for any of these developments. Hope, I've been told, is the essence of being human.
Harry: And now ye've had a gloat at my expense-- I suppose I'll swing from a rope?
Sin: Actually, I offer you an alliance. Do you, by chance, speak Latin?