Eagerly anticipated and expertly rendered, “These Savage Shores” #5 is a satisfying conclusion to a beautiful miniseries.
Story: Ram V
Art: Sumit Kumar
Colors: Vittorio Astone
Letters: Aditya Bidikar
Publisher: Vault Comics
“These Savage Shores” #5 has quite a storytelling burden to bear. Ram V’s epistolary punches and Kumar’s art have built tension to a razor’s edge over the past four issues. As Kori and Bishan travel to London to meet with Count Grano, we’re sure to see a showdown. And what a showdown it is.
“These Savage Shores” is an interesting book because it toys with the colonial narrative on a lot of levels. It’s at once as sensational as it is brutally real. The comic deals equally in pulp and history, and Ram V chooses to acknowledge the allure of cultures clashing across oceans. The book makes no bones about the aims of the East India Company, savage villains that they were, or the grief of a history and culture tested and tempered by too-eager hands and internal wounds. Bishan isn’t perfect, so we skirt romanticism and victimhood to create a book that, above all, feels real, celebrates some complex characters, and leaves the West to deal with its own bullshit.
The irony of literal vampirism shouldn’t be lost on us.
Kumar’s art is gorgeous, measured and effective. Count Grano’s the portrait of urbanity in his slender, spectral grace, and Kumar plays with different kinds of blood-suckers in this book for visual and cultural contrast. And yet, there’s something in the leanness of Grano and Bishan that hits an appropriate, mutual echo. Cousins, perhaps, but not brothers. The central conflict of this finale issue is done well, with a series of panels broken down into individual movements and simplified backgrounds for dramatic effect. The action makes us grit our teeth because it feels silent, desperate and too little, too late. In the end, we’re all just grappling in the rain for survival.
Kumar also knows how to play a simple and restrained moment for maximum effect, and uses these often to help complete and enhance Ram V’s narrative cycle. There’s a wordless travel scene that mirrors Alain’s journey from the docks in issue #1 with beautiful simplicity. Bishan and Kori appear youthful and ancient at different points in this issue, and they all land pretty well given the pace and scale of the story. Finally, Grano’s never looked older or more human, and if that’s not intentional it’s serendipitous, at least.
Astone’s colors are all gloom and British restraint in this issue, with some lovely purples, blues and greens to elicit that good ol’ pastoral nighttime backdrop. There’s plenty of blood to liven things up, and the transition from day to night to day throughout issue #5 is bittersweet and played for maximum effect. The sunlight of Vikram, Bishan and Kori’s world is cruel in more ways than before, but it’s still breathlessly beautiful and tempts us with hope. It trails Bishan and Kori on their journey as a visual marker of their incursion into foreign lands, and is a nice mood boost and subtle indicator of exactly who’s in charge. Coloring art as intricate and detailed as Kumar’s is a challenge, and Astone brings all sorts of lovely textures, washes and subtleties to the page to make the entire book feel seamless.
Bidikar’s lettering is, as always, right on the money. I mentioned early on that Bidikar’s taste in epistolary fonts is masterful, and we’ve had several lines of correspondence throughout this book to chew on. Each is unique, suited to the letter writer and blessedly easy to parse. Bidikar’s also an expert in balloon placement, and chooses the right spots for dialogue during the issue’s climax so it blends well with the wordless pages that follow. Issue #5 is almost free of sound effects, but there’s one growl that slithers behind a branched tree trunk for maximum malice. I’m often vocal about my appreciation of lettering in comics, and Bidikar’s work on this book is among the very best.
“These Savage Shores” is epic in more ways than one. It’s got big romance, conflict and emotion balanced with all the subtleties of complex mythologies and, perhaps, the ultimate mystery: human nature. Ram V, Kumar, Astone and Bidikar put together a book that’s rich, exciting and, above all, entertaining. This team proves once more that comics can crack the bone and reveal succulence beneath.
The Verdict: 9.5/10 – “These Savage Shores” #5 wows with an epic finale to a fine miniseries, supported by excellent work from the entire creative team.