He is a child of ink and quill, the figurehead of R. L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island. He has lived on crimes and dreams, knows the galleons of Madeira, the sack of Maracaibo, and the buccaneer uprisings. He will mix gold and blood to seal his destiny, deep inside the lost kingdoms of the Amazon.
He is the last prate. He is the legend, Long John Silver.
–from the back cover of Long John Silver: Lady Vivian Hastings, by Xavier Dorison and Mathieu Lauffray
In 1785, Lord Byron Hastings drives his men to collapse in search of Guiana-Capac, a lost city of gold said to rival El Dorado. On the other side of the world, Lady Vivian Hastings, his wife, has taken to amusing herself with dalliances, rationalizing the trysts with claims of widowhood. But when actual word of Lord Hastings’ death arrives, Lady Vivian faces penury, pregnancy, and the convent instead of a happy marriage to her paramour. Faced with the unraveling of her schemes, she tries to commandeer her brother-in-law’s expedition to Guiana-Capac. For that, she needs sailors–and the help of the dreaded Long John Silver. To get her wealth and her revenge, Lady Vivian and Silver take advantage of the contract for the Neptune, the vessel bearing the expedition. For the expedition’s master shall supply half the crew, and the owner of the ship the rest. So it is time to force an old Ottoman sailor to see the light of reason–or the flames of Hell. Set many years after Treasure Island, when Long John Silver stepped out of its pages into legend, Xavier Dorison and Mathieu Lauffray draw up a new web of deceit for Silver in this bande dessinée bearing his name.
Lady Vivian is an unrepentant adulteress unwilling to face the consequences of her dalliances. Frankly, the convent would be a kindness. Instead, her spite drives her to impending ruin on the expedition. She might be a successful schemer in the perfumed halls of society, as she quickly blackmails Dr. Livesey into introducing her to Long John Silver. However, she is quickly out of her element in the rough underbelly of society. Her story is the inversion of a bride seeking her missing husband, for she bravely leaves home for an unknown land, but not out of love in search for her husband, but out of greed in search of his treasure. Dorison and Lauffray try to make her sympathetic through an abusive husband and abortion subplot, but this hellcat is beginning for her comeuppance instead. Then again, her purpose so far is to bring Long John Silver to where he can ply his old trades.
Twenty years of life on land and a bout of malaria might have slowed Silver’s bulk down, but he is an inveterate schemer who is quickly the master of Lady Vivian, Dr. Livesey, and the Ottoman slaver. The viciousness masked behind Silver’s geniality has not been diminished in that time, nor his theatrics. They serve him well in stealing the Neptune, and will do so again in the mutiny to come. But they also serve as a warning. The slaver captain was a friend of Silver–at least until the man was burned alive. Silver’s fondness here is quickly discarded by pragmatism when needed. Lady Vivian should take note, for her courage and resolve have genuinely impressed the old mutineer. It might not save her.
Like many of its contemporaries, the artwork of Long John Silver does amazing things with shadow and red. It is sinisterly evocative of rain, night, snow, and fire. The character designs are somewhat idealized, with the women clean-lined and the men with the lines and wrinkles that come from age and long hours of work. The portraits reveal the characters’ emotions at a glance, from Silver’s geniality and deviltry to the sneers and fits of Lady Vivian. Lady Vivian is occasionally en déshabillé, but her undress is treated demurely, without the preening of anime fanservice, American superhero comics, or Valerian and Laureline. Frankly, if more comics were like Long John Silver and The Scorpion, perhaps the American comics companies might not be in such a rut. For the art alone, Cinebook is quickly becoming my go-to source for comics, and not just bandes dessinées.
The end of Long John Silver: Lady Vivian Hastings is clear: mayhem is coming. And I want to read every moment of it. I look forward to exploring the connections between Treasure Island and this unofficial sequel. For those wishing to take the voyage, the full four-volume series of Long John Silver is available at your favorite bookstore and comics shop, as well as on Kindle and Comixology.