I loved The Unsinkable Walker Bean — it's an old fashioned adventure story full of vibrant characters and clever twists and turns. Aaron Renier has delivered a fantastic book. The coloring by Alec Longstreth is also really fantastic. I was not really familiar with Renier's work beforehand, but this comic reflects someone in full command of their creative powers. Everything fits together well — strong characters, strong plot with great pacing throughout, and a whole world and mythology Renier has cooked up to support this tale.
Walker Bean has grown up on his grandfather's tales of adventures, in particular one about the evil Merwitch sisters Tartessa and Remora. These two are giant shrimp-human chimera that, not much of a spoiler here, drive much of the action and show up for the big showdown with Bean in the grand finale. Before we get to that though Bean's grandfather falls very ill and on his deathbed asks Bean to return a mysterious skull to an ocean trench near the Mango Islands. Bean's dad doesn't much believe in the grandfather's tales and under the influence of a mysterious Dr. Patches wants to sell the skull to the highest bidder. Bean has to outwit his dad, Dr. Patches, the navy, pirates and other characters along the way.
Renier has crafted a yarn here — an ongoing tale that gets crazier and more frenetic as it goes along. I felt like I could have heard this story sitting around the campfire. It has a kind of a chase-like feel as one party or another gets hold of the cursed skull that is the comic's MacGuffin. It's the kind of story where all of the supporting characters get wilder and wilder and the scenery more fantastic as the plot hurtles ever onwards. I saw that TCJ gave the book a somewhat lukewarm review in part because the reviewer felt the main character was a bit too generic to serve as the focal point of a busy adventure yarn. I don't agree with the point made nor really concede the description of Walker. Walker is by necessity a character who has a lot to learn and faces great odds in completing the mission set out by his grandfather. But in any event I think it's a bit of an oversimplification to compare him to a bland sitcom character. I do agree, however, like many adventure stories that the villains and supporting characters are stranger, more vividly drawn characters and Renier has thrown in a baker's dozen of them in this story.
The art is great — I liked Renier's style here. Pages are filled with detailed line work and often the panels just burst with activity. Like another book I reviewed this week – Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet series – the art here is key to convincing you of this amazing world Renier is conjuring up in his imagination. In some ways, Renier's visuals are even more interesting, although not nearly as pretty as Kibuishi's work. Renier's villains — the evil Merwitch sisters Tartessa and Remora — are actually pretty creepy to look at and their underwater wall of skulls — well it's an underwater wall of skulls! That's kind of creepy by definition. In any event I have to agree with the Geek Dad blog recommendation of this book for 9 years and up (although I did wind up letting both of my kids read after they assured me it wasn't too scary). For more, there is a pretty lengthy preview available here you can check out.
It's also not clear from the book itself until the last pages, but apparently this book is part of a planned series — I'm not sure what Renier's timeframe for delivering Book 2 to publisher First Second will be but based on this first book I would have high hopes for another book with these characters and Renier's imagination.
The publisher provided a copy of the book to Comix Talk for review purposes.