“There is a sickness in the cool empty.”
The summer of 1916 on the shores of New Jersey was brutal one.
The intense summer heat drove thousands of people to seaside New Jersey for a bit of relief. What they found was horror and death.
If you are at all familiar with sharks – and you should be given their presence in popular culture (Sharknado, Shark Week, Jaws, etc.) you should know that Sharks are feared not only for their ferocity but also for their mysterious, elusive nature.
That mysterious nature, and the looming threat of sharks giving in to their predatory instinct forms the basis for this new tale from Simon Spurrier and artist Conor Boyle.
Spurrier’s story, courtesy of Titan Comics, branches off of those familiar tales by taking the tale to the Arabian sea, setting in waters not only infested with sharks but with piracy. Toss in a United States Navy S.E.A.L. team, influence from the Central Intelligence Agency and you have a modern, fresh take on a tale as aged as the sea itself.
The first issue opens on a dark, stormy sea and we immediately realize one additional unique aspect of this story. We will get both perspectives. We read through the panels in the opening scenes rough lettering indicating the Shark thoughts. And they’re not pleasant ones. “There is a sickness in the cool empty.”
We then get to meet the scientists who are out in the waters of the coast of Somali tracking a group of sharks, setting trackers on their fins and monitoring them, attempting to learn their behavior and – ultimately – find evidence of pack mentality.
One thing this book does rather well is layer on the players and introduce us to other elements in a way that doesn’t feel crowded or rushed and, in fact, it only helps to ratchet up the tension. First we meet the sharks, then the scientist, then the pirates and then, well, you’ll have to read the story. It helps to make the plot pacing balanced and even throughout.
The characterization is done rather well too. Each of the people we meet in this first issue is distinctive and unique and they’re impossible to confuse with the other characters. Spurrier does a great job of making each individual stand out in their own way. One of the scientists speaks with such a vulgarity (although edited with “$*?!”) and foul mouth that you can’t help but be amused. Her vocalizations are the comedic relief a story like this desperately needs. And it’s done in a way that feels natural to the character and it does not get in the way of the story or the art.
Conor Boyle’s artwork, with his muted blues and intelligent usage of red hues throughout, only adds to the overall feel and tone of the story. The deep blues and grays that dominate the color palate make the reserved use of the blood-read all the more horrific and impactful. That said, a couple of the panels felt almost too dark.
I liked this premier issue. If it were a simply “Shark kills human, humans hunt sharks” type of trope, I would probably not anticipate picking up the second issue. But, the way Spurrier added in these other elements of mystery and intrigue, it left the issue with so many questions that I am eager to have answered next month.
Overall, I give this issue a 4 out of 5 stars. There were a couple of muddy, dark panels. While I understand the fear of the unknown and not knowing quite what is beneath you in a deep, dark sea, I would like to have seen more of the sharks but those are minor and, truly, I quite enjoyed this story.
Forgive the pun, but this story had me hooked and I am sure you will like it too.