Writer: Ram V Art: Sumit Kumar Publisher: Vault Comics
This review only covers the first 2 issues. Because of that, we don't have insight into the full story arc, so it's difficult to say exactly what the comic is about yet and where it's going so early on in the story.
WHAT IS IT?
A brilliantly written vampire story that takes place in India in the mid-1700s (and may also be a metaphor for white imperialism or colonialism).
A good deal of the story is told through letters, so it also feels influenced by Dracula, by Bram Stoker (the book, not the film).
In the 1st issue, it seems like a kind of in-depth character study from Interview with the Vampire rather than B-movie gore-fest. But the story's location mixed with the concept of vampires made me think of The Last Vampire series, which was heavily influenced by Hindu (and other) beliefs and mythology.
By the end of issue #2, we get more insight into the greater plot, political intrigue and larger cast of characters, and it becomes clear that These Savage Shores is more than just your average multinational vampire comic. It's Game of Thrones with teeth.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
After being attacked by a hunter, a vampire is forced to leave the civilization he knows. He's banished to a city in India, where he knows few people and he's warned of the dangers lurking in the night. But this symbol of old evil hopes for a new life -- a chance to start again in a place where there are no hunters, only prey. Or, so he thinks...
The comic opens and closes with scenes featuring the couple in the above cover, but most of the rest of the issue focuses on Alain, a white noble who is a vampire from London. As he travels to his strange, new home, he laments leaving civilization, "Where men die with dignity and learn to live with shame" for, well, these savage shores. When they arrive, the captain of the ship warns him of fearsome things who roam in the night, and how this city has no need of English nobility.
As a seemingly old, powerful vampire, he shrugs this off, unable to fathom a situation that would worry him. It reminded me of a rich, white kid getting off a cruise ship in a new country and exploring the less tourist-friendly parts of town in search of drugs or other debauchery. All concern for safety is replaced with entitlement and a false sense of security typically afforded to those who are not used to fearing anything.
Out of fear of spoiling the plot or turning into one of those reviews sites that simply reiterates the story, I want to pivot for a moment. We see Alain seal a letter to his "family" (of vampires) using a signet ring, which we also see another member of his vampire family wearing. This family member's face is shrouded in shadow, leading me to believe we'll see him later, revealed in an important plot point. But it also feels like we might get a story where two families or factions of vampires may war against each other, which begins to feel like a metaphor for colonialism, or at least a metaphor for privileged and powerful white people being terrible to people they don't know in places they don't belong.
The second issue makes it clear that the cast for this story is more of an ensemble cast through multiple points of view, rather than a tale told through a single protagonist. In this issue, we see more from the vantage point of the vampire hunter from the first issue. He's followed Alain all the way to India, hunting him and any other vampires in a game of cat and mouse. But in this strange, savage land, no one can be certain who is the cat and who is the mouse.
We're also introduced to new players from other cities, as well as seeing more from Kori and Bishan, two vampires we met briefly in the previous issue. Bishan is an old vampire, powerful but weary of existence. But something ties him here, whether it's love for Kori or...something else. And what's the story with the strange mask he wears?
Finally, we're introduced to a trade element, with major players from multiple cities wanting to gain power (or wanting to hold onto the power they currently have), and we watch as they discuss the overt and covert plans they have for achieving success in relation to these elements of trade, political power, and protecting their cities.
I loved the slow reveal in issue #1 that this is a vampire story, through discussion of the mythos and showing a silver crucifix, for example
Issue #1 sets up many of the key players, the location, and the fact that this isn't your average vampire story
Issue #2 builds on that, expanding the world, giving us motivations for our characters, and showing us some truly awesome reveals
Sumit Kumar's art is cinematic, pushing in or creating pace through framing different parts of the same greater image -- it's very well done
I say it again below, but Astone's colors are incredible and remind me of Jordie Bellaire's great color work
There's a scene that alternates between warm and cool color palettes that also has panels showing musical instruments where you can almost hear the music in your mind, and it's such an incredibly effective scene
A recurring theme of the dichotomy of beauty and loneliness or death is very powerful and appropriate for the story
It especially works in relation to vampires, who are often represented through scenes of loneliness and death, but also as the ideal of beauty
There's an exchange between the two characters on the comic's cover about a very old tree dying, and it not only furthers this metaphor, but also foreshadows future events, and it's when I realized that that I fell in love with this title and realized Ram V is a truly gifted storyteller
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
Hard to say where the story is going after only an issue, especially with the events that occur
Because there are so many moving parts to this story, you may want to read it more than once (but is that a bad thing?)
A warning to folks who read on their phones, the words, especially the script style ones, can be difficult to read without zooming or using SmartPanel technology
If you're looking for a gore-fest, this isn't it (so far, anyway)
Nudity and violence make this comic potentially not the best one for kids
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
These Savage Shores is a fresh take on the vampire tale. Like the vampires within, the story and the art feel dangerous and powerful under the elegant beauty of the art and prose. I highly recommend this title to fans of vampires and fans of stories they can study and sink their teeth into.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Ruin of Thieves by Ram V & Sumit Kumar
No Mercy, Vol. 1 by Alex de Campi, Carla Speed McNeil & Jenn Manley Lee
Manifest Destiny, Vol. 1 by Matthew Roberts & Chris Dingess
If you like the art:
These Savage Shores #2 by Ram V & Sumit Kumar
Moon Knight, Vol. 1 by Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey
Nowhere Men by Eric Stephenson & Nate Bellegarde
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Ram V – Writer
Moniker: His real name is Ram Venkatesan
Outlander: Originally from Mumbai, India, he now lives in London
Is part of a group of London comic book writers and artists called the White Noise Collective
Sumit Kumar– Artist
Multitalented: Also writes and colors comics
In his writing and art, he tries not to adhere to a singular style
Outlander: Hails from New Delhi, India
Vittorio Astone – Colorist
Outlander: Freelance comic artist & colorist from Rome
Opinion: His colors in this remind me a lot of Jordie Bellaire's in Moon Knight and Injection
Aditya Bidikar – Letterer
Multitalented: Co-hosts a comics podcast with fellow letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, called Letters & Lines
Dream Team: Also worked with Ram V on Black Mumba & Paradiso
Sometimes hosts a #LettererJam event on Twitter where letters all show their different approaches to a single page of comic book art
HOW DO I BUY IT?
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