THIS REVIEW OF ‘THESE SAVAGE SHORES’ #1 CONTAINS SPOILERS.
by Brendan Hodgdon. For about a century or so now, vampire tales have oscillated viciously between “all the rage” and “played out”, per the whims of cultural commentators and the creativity of the storytellers responsible. Like any genre, these stories can only go as far as the artists’ imaginations are able to take them, but even then there is a capacity for repetition and blandness, especially with the same old demographics at play. But when a genre can be infused with new voices and new cultural perspectives, it can make even the most over-done forms seem fresh and unique. So it goes with These Savage Shores, a tremendous new series from creators Ram V., Sumit Kumar, Vittorio Astone and Aditya Bidikar that brings new style and craft to the vampire genre.
Through much of this first issue, Ram V. provides us with a stereotypical European vampire in Alain. He’s a “cultured” aristocrat with animal appetites and a supernatural ugliness lurking within him. He’s not much different than characters like Lestat de Lioncourt that we’ve seen ad nauseam in vampire stories. But when he’s caught feeding on a young woman, Alain is forced to flee aboard a trading vessel to India, the first of many twists and subversions that Ram V. provides in this story. Taking this monster masquerading as a gentleman and placing him in a supposedly “savage” setting could be a sufficient departure for the genre unto itself, albeit a culturally-insensitive one. But Ram V. knows better than to leave it at that, and goes even further.
He counters the polite horror of Alain with the character of Bishan, and therein reveals what seems to be the true plan and focus for the series. In just a few short sequences, we get a glimpse of an ambiguous being who might be categorized by Western eyes as “native” to Alain’s “civilized”, but while Alain’s high-society veneer masks a monster, Bishan reveals himself through dialogue with the woman Kori to be a man of sensitivity and thoughtfulness. Whatever supernatural background one might presume of Bishan does not reduce his capacity for compassion… just as Alain’s, Ram V. seems to be saying, does not increase his own.
Through these mechanisms, Ram V. is dismantling the imperialist white-man’s-burden angle that could easily have permeated such a story, that indeed has permeated much fiction about European exploration of the rest of the world. This blends rather nicely with the traditional subtext of classic vampire lore, borne of a fear of nobility and their exploitation of the lower classes; expanding this theme to include racial and international permeation of this fear is genius. This also makes the conclusion of the issue all the more cathartic, as Alain is faced with true comeuppance for his presumptions of supremacy.
As rich as the issue’s script is, both as an extension and subversion of vampire myth, it is easily matched by the sumptuous artwork by Sumit Kumar and Vittorio Astone. There is so much rich detail on every level, from pencils to inks to colors, and the staging and layouts are also fantastic. One sequence in particular, in which a flame-engulfed Alain jumps through a window, falls down onto a nighttime street below and flees into a crowd, captures all of this. It is staged in an atypical fashion while still expertly directing the eye of the reader through the action, with the sickly yellow of the fire standing out starkly against the black shadows of the twilight setting. It’s simply marvelous work.
Furthermore, Kumar’s design choices are very appealing, feeling distinct while also clearly working within real-world period details. He makes the flashy Victorian clothes look sleek and intimidating instead of frumpy and gaudy, which amplifies Alain’s predatory vibe as he arrives in India. There is also a sequence where a collection of women (including the aforementioned Kori) dance topless against a fire, and Kumar is very careful to not veer the scene towards gratuitous cheesecake. He captures this scene very matter-of-factly, without making the women in it seem objectified (making Alain’s ensuing actions all the more viscerally upsetting).
These Savage Shores #1 is, simply put, a top-notch debut issue. If Ram V. wasn’t already on your radar due to the inventive Paradiso, this series will definitely make him a permanent fixture, and will have Sumit Kumar and Vittorio Astone right there beside him. Beyond that, this book is exactly the sort of fresh blood that the vampire genre needs, providing new perspectives and interpretations that make the old forms work in all kinds of new ways.
Written by Ram V.
Art by Sumit Kumar.
Colors by Vittorio Astone.
Letters by Aditya Bidikar.
Design by Tim Daniel.
9 out of 10