The first Corto Maltese adventure still feels very different from those that followed in that it weaves one seamless story as opposed to a variety of episodic adventures, and that story is full of depth and meaning to an extent that I did not find in the immediate sequels upon a first reading. I'm hoping I'll appreciate them more the second time around.
The magic with Pratt is his sense of understatement. The most important elements of this story, in terms of characterization, motives, and (most importantly) symbolism, are muted and rarely paraded on panel for the convenience of the reader. Even key plot points and the passage of time itself become obscured and dream-like at times. Much as with the sea for which the story is named, Ballad is reluctant to spell out its secrets for the sake of the viewer. The same burning frustration Corto feels when looking out at the ocean and wondering if he doesn't have it all wrong pervades the telling of this story and challenges us to look deep. And, of course, as this is Pratt's first outing, the story matures as it goes, the early volumes trying far too hard to introduce action sequences that aren't warranted once every twenty pages. Once those subside, the flight of those damn gulls and the heavy silences that accompany them are far more striking than the fists that swing and the guns that fire.
I love this book almost as much as I did reading it the first two times. The only difference now being that I feel I've uncovered too many of its secrets, and the sense of wonder has begun to leave as a result.
Two years after completing Ballad of the Salt Sea, Pratt moved to France and began a new serialized Corto Maltese feature for a weekly publication there. As a result, there's a definite difference between Salt Sea and the volumes that follow (or at least the ones I've read). Whereas Salt Sea evolved into a true artistic expression, full of evocative still moments heavy with drama and symbolic meaning, the stories in Capricorn are shameless adventures with no attempt to convey more. Pratt's art is strangely reserved in the first two stories, with completely empty backgrounds and mostly talking heads, but by the third story, the art is back and more breath-taking than ever, and yet its less ambitious. There's no attempt to convey meaning -- just a good story.
I like Corto's characterization as the ruthless rogue with a heart of gold a decade before anyone knew who Han Solo was, I like the attention to history and to the world outside of European society. But so much of the magic of the first volume is absent. Even Corto would likely agree, as the near-savage natives he idealized in Salt Sea have been replaced with indigenous peoples of African and South American coastal cities who have been far more Westernized, still possessing a magic and wisdom all their own, but hardly innocent or pure.
So my second reading of this volume leaves me with pretty much the same opinion I had the first time -- top notch work if you don't compare it to Salt Sea.
Minor note on the recent editions: the translator for the later volumes is far superior to Hall Powell and his work on Salt Sea. Some of those translations felt very rough in the first volume. The dialogue flows a lot more organically here and seldom leaves me scratching my head.
Last Edit: Feb 29, 2016 21:41:52 GMT -5 by shaxper
While this volume is, from a distance, similar in scope to the previous volume -- random episodes that establish an expanded cast of characters and long term plot elements and missions that Corto may or may not one day pursue (hard to tell if Pratt is just illustrating the endless amount of legends that permeated Corto's world or is actually setting up later, larger stories) -- this volume gradually matures into something stronger than its predecessor. First off, we begin to see characters and continuity from previous volumes begin to resurface significantly for the first time, making Corto's world feel a little more robust and meaningful. Secondly, the last two stories really begin to take Pratt's storytelling closer to his Salt Sea writing. "A Tale of Two Grandfathers" sends a clear and meaningful message about the tensions between the European and uncivilized worlds, and "Sweet Dream Lagoon" is brilliant in its artistry and pathos -- truly moving stuff that felt almost as powerful as Salt Sea.
This is as far as I've read previously, and the next volume (Celtic Tales) arrived in the mail just two days ago, so I now have high hopes for tomorrow night's reading...
The art continues to grow stronger, and Pratt begins to experiment more with the scope of the series (even nearly jumping the shark in one story by having Oberon and all of Britain's magical folk beings join WWI against the Germans using Corto as their agent), but there's a still a disposable serial nature to the whole thing. Characters come back, and plot points and continuity resurface often, but the depth and breadth found in Salt Sea is still absent here.
The title of the next volume suggests a more purposeful story arc, as do the ones that follow, so I continue to have hope, but IDW hasn't even solicited the next volume yet, and that has me concerned. I hope this isn't the end of Corto Maltese in English. There are a few scattered earlier English volumes, but they skip the next storyline entirely.
So Pratt continues to improve his art and storytelling to some degree, but this volume still lacked the high points of the previous volume, and all of it is a mere shadow of what Salt Sea was.