Long John Silver volume III: The Emerald Maze


By Xavier Dorison & Mathieu Lauffray, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-105-1

British and European comics have always been far more comfortable with period-piece strips than our American cousins and much more imaginative when reinterpreting classical fiction for jaded comicbook audiences. The happy combination of familiar exoticism, past lives and world-changing events blended with drama, action and, most frequently, broad comedy has resulted in a uniquely narrative art form suited to beguiling readers of all ages and tastes.

Our Franco-Belgian associates in particular have made an astonishing success out of repackaging days-gone-by but this particularly enchanting older-readers yarn forgoes the broad belly-laughs whilst extending the adventures of literature’s greatest rogue into a particularly engaging realm of globe-girdling thriller.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island was originally serialised from 1881-1882 in Young Folks magazine as Treasure Island or, the mutiny of the Hispaniola, as pseudonymous penned by one “Captain George North”.

It was collected and published as a novel in May 1883 and has never been out of print since. A landmark of world storytelling, Treasure Island has been dramatised too many times to count and adapted into all forms of art. Most significantly, the book created a metafictional megastar – albeit at best an anti-hero – as immortal as King Arthur, Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan or Superman. Almost everything the public “knows” about pirates devolves from the book and its unforgettable, show-stealing one-legged antagonist…

Writer Xavier Dorison was born in Paris in 1970 and graduated business school before moving into storytelling. He works as an author, film writer, lecturer and movie script doctor. He began the award-winning Long John Silver in conjunction with preferred collaborator Mathieu (Prophet) Lauffray in 2006, with the last volume released in 2013.

Lauffray is also a Parisian born in 1970. He spends his days illustrating, drawing comics, crafting games and concept designing for movies. His art has graced international items as varied as Dark Horse’s Star Wars franchise, games like Alone in the Dark, the album Lyrics Verdun, February 21, 1916 – December 18, 1916, Tarzan and much more…

Their collaborative exploration of the piratical prince’s later years is a foray into far more mature arenas set decades after the affair of the Hispaniola and ranges far and wide: from foggy, oppressive England to the vast, brooding inner recesses of the Amazon.

What has Gone Before: in 1785 treasure-hunting Lord Byron Hastings found the lost bastion of Guiana-Capac but needed further funds to exploit this fabulous City of Gold.

In England, his profligate and wanton wife Lady Vivian had been enjoying herself too much and was with child by lecherous neighbour Lord Prisham. With a baby in her belly and a husband gone three years, she was considering having Byron declared dead and undertaking a hasty remarriage…

Suddenly shattering those plans her despised brother-in-law turned up with an aged, garish tribesman named Moxtechica bearing a message and map from her long-lost husband. Prudish and cruel, Royal Naval officer Edward Hastings gleefully told the scheming strumpet he abhorred that his brother had succeeded and demanded she sell everything – including all the treasured family possessions, manor house and lands she brought to the marriage – to finance his return…

Byron named Edward sole Proxy and the martinet delighted in giving high-born trollop Vivian her marching orders. He even urged her to confine herself to a convent and save them all further shame and disgrace…

Raging in front of her conniving maid Elsie, the Lady considered a number of retaliatory tactics before settling upon the most bold, dangerous and potentially rewarding. After announcing to the stunned Edward that she would accompany him to South America and reunite with her beloved husband, the fallen noblewoman sought out a doctor to take care of the biological problem she was still secretly carrying…

Dr. Livesay was a decent, god-fearing soul who led a quiet, prosperous life ever since his adventures on Flint’s Island. However, it was not just her condition which brought Vivian to the physician’s door, but also persistent tales of a former acquaintance; a formidable, peg-legged rogue with a reputation for making life’s difficulties disappear…

Against his better judgement, Livesay capitulated to Vivian’s urgings and introduced her to retired sea-cook John Silver. Amidst the (alleged) ex-pirate’s inner circle of scary-looking confederates she spun the story of the Spaniard Pizarro’s discovery of a City of Gold and how, centuries later, her husband had reclaimed it.

She wanted to travel there with a few capable men and make those riches her own and needed Silver and his colleagues to infiltrate Edward’s crew, seize the ship he chartered and complete the voyage under her command…

Unable to convince Vivian to desist or Silver to reject her offer, Livesay reluctantly joined them in vain hopes that he could keep the debased woman from mortal harm. Nobody was aware that Silver concealed a debilitating and soon-to-be-fatal affliction as the rascal orchestrated his own hiring and packed the Neptune with suitable scoundrels and compelled Lady Vivian to sign a sacrosanct Pirates Contract.

With all the various schemers believing their own plans were proceeding satisfactorily, the Neptune set sail for the Americas, but at the last moment Silver suffers a major setback when rival rogue Paris inveigled his way into the crew…

As the tension-driven voyage progressed, Silver’s men, Paris’ contingent and even Captain Hastings’ innocent hires all slowly succumbed to the Sea Cook’s glib tongue and fascinating tales of the Red Brotherhood.

Only Hastings’ lieutenants Dantzig and Van Horn had any inkling of the battle of wills occurring below decks, but even that shaky détente shattered after Elsie was murdered. Well-aware that everybody aboard was gripped by gold-fever, Hastings tried to rule with a rod of iron and full naval discipline. Settling upon boy seaman Jack O’Kief (a protégé of Paris, but beloved by Silver) as responsible for the maid’s death, Hastings had him brutally flogged.

A vicious and prolonged battle of wills followed, pushing the crew to the edge of mutiny. Hastings delayed making final landfall on the tantalisingly close South American coast and strained tensions exploded just as a colossal storm pushed Neptune inexorably towards its foregone destination. An inevitable mutiny erupted, resulting in appalling bloodshed and a red-handed settling of many scores…

Literally above it all, old shaman Moxtechica rode out both tempests, patiently waiting to see what the calm of dawn might bring…

The Emerald Maze opens in the ghastly aftermath of the maelstroms of human and natural forces with the becalmed and battered Neptune drifting idly off-shore and the survivors reeling aimlessly on her decks. In sight of terrifying cliffs, the stunned rabble are near panic and babbling of sailing on to Tortuga until Silver’s ferocious tongue-lashing brings them to heel.

Now completely in charge, the old pirate almost loses them again after making Dantzig (the only trained pilot and navigator left alive) second-in-command, despite the Navy Man swearing he’ll see them all hang one day…

Boldly sailing Neptune straight into the cliffs, Silver and Dantzig navigate a barely discernible channel in the stony walls and bring the ship through into a calm and beguiling tributary of the Amazon. With time taken to repair and recover, however, the men soon resort to their old ways. Dead are buried, a few old scores settled and Jasper, a new rival to Silver’s authority, begins to assert himself. Seeing the way things are going, Vivian steps in and employs her wiles and cunning…

She quickly beguiles the entire crew with her story of the Emperor Viracocha and his immense pagan City of Gold. She tells of how her husband claimed it and wins them all over by promising how they will take it from him…

With their goal so close, the wary mariners impatiently and so-slowly sail up the vast river in an epic journey through labyrinthine courses and jungle backwaters. Each time they stall or founder Moxtechica is there, silently divining which way they should go in the inexorable voyage to lost Guiana-Capac.

This in itself is a cause of growing suspicion to Lady Vivian. Her brutal, impatient husband was never a man to trust others or inspire loyalty – even in other Englishmen – and now she begins to have grave doubts over the shaman’s true motives…

Those same thoughts are plaguing Silver and his wily old shipmate Olaf as the river gradually becomes perilously shallow. Soon the voyagers are shocked to see the foundered, rotting wreckage of Lord Byron Hastings’ ship The Nimrod in the scant waters abutting a hugely overgrown and jungle-covered city…

As Silver readies his depleted contingent to begin searching the ruins, Vivian surprises the pirate by requesting to be left aboard Nimrod. She has too many questions and perhaps her husband’s ship holds some answers…

As Vivian find a grimy journal and begins to read, aboard the Neptune nobody really cares that Moxtechica has gone missing… but they should…

To Be Concluded…

Tense, evocative, shockingly powerful and eerily, magnificently realised, these further exploits of Long John Silver are a modern masterpiece of adventure fiction worthy of Stevenson’s immortal adventure. They might even convince a few more folks to actually read the original novel…
© Dargaud, Paris, 2010 by Dorison & Lauffray. All rights reserved. English translation © 2011 Cinebook Ltd.