Okay, I’m gonna hit you Bastards with a little Truth. When I first cast a glance over Doctor Atlantis, I was suspicious. See, despite my swarthy beard, salty language and proclivity for hanging out down by the docks, I don’t usually go in for high seas adventure. This fact is especially true when such tales are vetted through the medium of comic books. It’s just not usually my bag. However, convinced as I am that sequential art is the best form of storytelling, I resigned myself to this weird little book just to see if, like a giant schooner on choppy waters, I could be swayed ... or whether I would just end up seasick.
Following the harrowing exploits of intrepid English explorer Doctor Julius Fowler as he charts a course across the endless oceans of an alternate, flat world to claim land for Queen and Country, the story behind Doctor Atlantis whirs, clicks, splashes and creaks in a nautical steampunk clamor. Populated by brutal tribesmen, heartless white folk and massive sea-monsters, this book isn’t what I was expecting, and in the end turned out to be one hell of a ride!
In this first outing, the charmingly erudite Dr. Fowler meets up with and saves a native castaway named Chosot from being both drowned and eaten alive by a human-sized crustacean monster, the species of which he later dubs, quite amazingly, “lobstrocities”. Solid word-making there.
Bringing this lost tribesman aboard his majestic steam-driven ship, The Atlantis, Fowler intends to heal his new stowaway’s wounds, but unfortunately, the two men, as well as Fowler’s trusty dog Edward, are soon set upon by a monstrous case of crabs. Staving off the inflammatory situation together, the two become fast friends and Chosot is informally christened the Tonto to Fowler’s Lone Ranger.
The setup in this story, which sees the two men further exploring the seas before coming into contact with Chosot’s tribe, the Tlotlin, and their slave masters, the Cogato, is, apart from Fowler’s incessantly loquacious soliloquizing, crisp, uncomplicated fun. At the same time, however, there is very real, and often brutal tension and action at play, whether in the pair’s dealings with the monstrosity of marine life, or that of humanity.
Still, armed with his trusty rifle and glorious ship, which is controlled remote-harmonically through a flute (which I’m pretty sure either plays the tune from Legend of Zelda or the Green Ranger’s call for the Dragonzord), Fowler approaches each situation thrust before him with an infectiously cavalier grin and a devil-may-care, derring-do attitude that makes his pomposity strangely very likable.
I tore through the first volume of Doctor Atlantis MUCH faster than I thought I would, quickly learning to approach it like an old newspaper serial. Its ease of reading was probably thanks in part to its relatively sparse dialogue, but I attribute more to the book’s full-speed-ahead pacing and childlike sense of wonder. I almost immediately ripped into the second volume like a sea-monster would a ship ... which interestingly enough, is how the second volume begins.
Volume 1 of Doctor Atlantis was good ... Volume 2 was better. Going back into Fowler’s past, draped as it is in the shadow of a British empire as savage as the Cogato society from book one, the second half of this story takes on something of a Pirates of the Caribbean III vibe ... but I don’t mean that in a bad way.
Getting away from the Treasure Island / “the natives are restless” feel, this one follows Fowler’s former comrades, the British Navy, as they close in around their traitorous deserter and his crew of “slaves” to enact their own vengeance and do the job they believe Fowler should be doing himself: ruthless conquering.
From there it’s a cat and mouse game, which sees Fowler both run afoul and on the run from his erstwhile commanding officer, the fantastically-named Captain Archibald Cumberland, and his ironclad ship, The Triton.
And what a merry chase it is, across and under the waves, through trickery and deceit and alongside and past the gums of island-sized sea-monsters. If you’re into maritime mayhem on an epic scale, painted measuredly within the steampunk genre ... or even if you’re not, really ... this one will tick a lot of your action/adventure boxes.
The stark black and white art from Mefferd throughout the series took some getting used to for me, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s rudimentary in places. However, once I got to the colossal creatures that threaten this world, and took a closer look at the book’s more grizzly scenes, of which there are many, I was completely converted.
There’s an unpolished, scraggly aspect about Mefferd that again harkens back to a more innocent medium, which is perfect for this anachronistic story. Simultaneously, he is able to draw out a palpable emotional response in his more tender moments (Chosot’s reunion with his peoples’ Great-Mother, for example), as well as a sudden and shocking grandeur, be it in his monolithic ships or unfathomable beasts. Again, just as Ally-Seals is able to jump between jaunty swordplay and opining the spiritual death of England to consumerism and Imperial grandstanding, Mefferd shows that within his elementary style, there is more depth than meets the eye.
It bears mentioning here how the story behind this story came to be. Doctor Atlantis is the brainchild of writer Ian Ally-Seals and artist Carl Mefferd. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the book ended up being printed by Rare Earth Comics, which was also founded by Ally-Seals. But that’s not where the story began.
According to their Kickstarter page, the two creators met way back in 1998, when Mefferd was still in Middle School. The brother of a friend of Ally-Seal’s, he quickly struck up a comics-based camaraderie with his elder, and together they began conceiving the story behind Doctor Atlantis. Ally-Seals said that if the little tyke ever got good enough at his drawings, which apparently already showed promise, they would produce it together. After brushing up them skillz, Mefferd finally proved himself, and the result is this zany little seafaring book.
So not only is this book an action-packed romp, it’s also got a feel-good behind it. Honestly, even if the publisher wasn’t offering anyone who buys Volume 2 in-store an original pencil sketch, I would still recommend this book for a light, fun read that made even a landlubber like me feel buoyant.
Writer: Ian Ally-Seals Artist: Carl Mefferd Publisher: Rare Earth Comics Price: $9.99 Website