From its beginning, the debut entry of the Sea Serpent’s Heir series feels…familiar. While Pablo Tunica’s art immediately gives this comic an otherworldly flair, it narratively starts with something you’ve seen countless times before. There’s a teenage girl named Aella, who lives in an unremarkable island village, and she complains to her cute animal sidekick about how every day is the same. She yearns for adventure, or at the very least, to be taken along on one of her mother’s frequent voyages to trade goods in far-off places. If this were a Disney movie, Aella would have a Howard Ashman-style song about how she’d rather be anywhere else in the world than the soggy rock where she was born and raised.
This introduction is merely the soft bait that writer Mairghread Scott has put on a sharp hook of a story. Aella discovers that she is, indeed, special and destined to change the world. Unfortunately, that’s because she’s prophesied to end it. She learns that she’s the reincarnated form of Xir, the Black Wave, a godlike sea serpent that will one day annihilate civilization in a flood. However, this is only the first of multiple revelations that completely upended everything Aella once believed. Before she knows it, she’s trapped between pirates who want to use her power and self-righteous knights trying to kill her. Aella finds herself struggling to hold onto her belief in trust and hope. The world around her becomes more hostile and cynical, and her unique sense of humanity might be the only thing keeping the beast inside from ending it all.
The premise of Sea Serpent’s Heir gives it a pretty unique central conflict. With the power of Xir, there’s no doubt that Aella can defeat anyone who stands in her way or survive any peril she’s thrust into. However, as Aella becomes more and more powerful, the relationships she has with other people become increasingly fragile. The stakes are less about Aella’s self-preservation and more about testing the limits of trust and forgiveness. Aella starts out as someone who tries to see the best in people, attempting to save those who would deceive or kill her without hesitation. She wants to subvert her predetermined destiny by being a protector rather than a destroyer, and in many ways, her struggle against fate pushes her closer to it. There’s genuine, heart-wrenching tragedy in this story. Aella both inflicts and receives emotional wounds, and it doesn’t seem like they all can heal.
As mentioned before, Pablo Tunica’s art in this book is really something special. The unconventional combination of soft, flowy shapes with hard, dark lines creates something that feels fresh and new. The colors are often fairly muted and subdued, like they’ve (fittingly) been bleached by the sun or eroded by brine. As a result, the bright, popping colors of the magic that certain characters use really stands out. Speaking of the characters, they all have very distinct, interesting designs that say a lot about them. You can look at the Queen of Mercy and immediately tell she’s a pirate with a wild, untamable spirit or see that Captain Oren is a big cog in an ancient and oppressive system. Of course, the stand-out design is Xir herself. The titular sea serpent takes different forms throughout the book, but she always has this beautiful, iridescent carapace with spikes that aren’t unlike Aella’s fishbone ear piercings. I love that no matter how drastically different the young girl and the sea serpent are, they still have little visual similarities to remind you of their bond.
In short, this debut volume of The Sea Serpent’s Heir is a beautiful odyssey through uncharted waters. It lulls you into a false sense of security with its familiar first few pages and then takes one unexpected turn after another. This comic will charm you, mesmerize you, thrill you, break your heart, and then leave you eager for the next volume.