“Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island” #1 is a case of style beating out substance. The amount of plot in this first issue is the equivalent of the first ten minutes of a movie, but Warren Ellis and Raulo Caceres deliver that small amount of plot with a strong, interesting style. Throughout this first issue are text pages that provide context and background for the series, including the history of police forces in England in the early 19th century where the story takes place.
There are two competing police forces at work here, one that would become the police that people know in the United Kingdom (known as bobbies or peelers), and the other, the Bow Street Runners, made up of former thief-takers and overseen by the magistrates. The former are something of a joke, its officers not given weapons and the standards low. The latter are armed, professional, and quite possibly far more corrupt. This issue introduces the conflict as its centers on the mysterious Captain Swing, who the Bow Street Runner called Brock has been tasked with capturing and the bobbies happen to encounter, thinking him Spring-Heeled Jack. Captain Swing has electric-based weapons and a flying boat, working far out of the league of the police at the time.
Mixed throughout this are the text pages that provide historical context and information about Captain Swing and his technology. They go unexplained throughout much of the issue, displayed on browned paper with classical drawings of machines, and lettered in a stylized print to give them a ‘classic’ look. Their placement seems almost random, but, as the issue progresses, they become clearer and their relationship to the main story more apparent. Though not much of the plot is explained here, this issue acts mostly as a set up. The eponymous Captain Swing is left a blank spot, aside from the text pages -- and those don’t provide much direct insight into his character.
Raulo Caceres has worked with Warren Ellis before, illustrating covers for “Doktor Sleepless” and drawing the first few issues of “Gravel.” His style fits the Avatar look. His pencils are meticulous in their detail, able to bring 1830 London to life, but not as skilled with people. He’s clearly grown since those initial issues of “Gravel” and his figures look better here, particularly their faces, which were often squished before and still are in some spots in this issue. Caceres does exaggerate his characters’ movements and expressions sometimes, giving this issue a light-hearted farcical feeling that matches Ellis’ writing since this isn’t meant to be a purely straight, serious book. More than anything, Caceres is skilled at combining Swing’s technology and 1830 London where they both fit together while being different enough that the technology stands out as incongruent. It looks too advanced for its time, but still, somehow, of its time.
As far as first issues go, a lack of strong plot development is expected, but this one is lighter than most. “Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island” #1 is still entertaining and bold in its fearless presentation, unafraid to throw a lot of contextual, historical facts at the reader and hope that he or she can keep up. The mixture of comics and text is effective and, hopefully, is maintained throughout the series. Overall, this issue makes me want to read the next one and that’s what matters most.