Last year’s Sea Serpent’s Heir Book One: Pirate’s Daughter was a delightful surprise. Written by Mairghead Scott, drawn and colored by Pablo Tunica, and published by Image’s Skybound Comet imprint, the graphic novel brought high fantasy to the high seas with the story of a Aella, a young girl who discovers that she’s the reincarnated form of a demonic serpent destined to destroy the world. I adored Scott and Tunica’s bold storytelling in the first installment, and I’m happy to report that the follow-up, Sea Serpent’s Heir Book 2: Black Wave, is a strong continuation.
For the most part, Black Wave feels quite a bit darker than Pirate’s Daughter. With her mother gone, Aella now takes advice from Xir the Black Wave (the sea serpent), who frequently appears around her like a devil on her shoulder. With Xir’s advice, Aella becomes a confident and assertive leader to her mother’s crew, but she also loses a lot of her humanity, which is something that I’m glad the story doesn’t shy away from. This sequel feels significantly more violent than its predecessor. Aella spends quite a few panels getting sprayed by the blood of her enemies as she rips them apart with monstrous claws, but it works because Tunica always makes these graphic scenes feel uncomfortable to look at. It never feels too gratuitous for Sea Serpent’s Heir’s young adult audience because there’s a real emphasis on how ugly death and war are.
Every time Aella fully surrenders herself to Xir and transforms into a gigantic beast, it’s genuinely terrifying because she’s uncontrollable rage and hurt incarnate. One panel in particular always gets to me: Aella crushes a man to death in her hand while her empty eyes stare through one of her crew members, who begs her to stop because it’s over. The imagery of a frightened child locked away inside of this colossal, uncaring monster is something that really reminds me of Neon Genesis Evangelion in the best possible way.
Once again, Tunica brings something really special to the art. The composition is equal parts scrappy and majestic: flowy imagery accented by heavy, dark lines. The colors are largely washed-out blues that give the whole thing an aquatic feel, interrupted every so often by rusty reds and acidic greens. Tunica also does an amazing job shaping this fully-fleshed out fantasy world. All the different factions have very defined aesthetics, and I particularly love how the armor and architecture of the Church of the First Light has this organic feel to it. I also really dig that Xir’s appearance is really fluid, as was the case in the last volume. Sometimes she’s more of a traditional serpent, other times she’s like a dragon, and for a lot of this installment, she and Aella share a sort of feral hybrid form. Sea Serpent’s Heir has been a remarkably imaginative visual feast so far, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
My one complaint is that the last chapter of Sea Serpent’s Heir Book 2: Black Wave feels a bit rushed. One character’s betrayal is carefully foreshadowed throughout the book, but a lot of the other shifting alliances that happen here feel really abrupt. Another character’s demise happens so suddenly that it’s easy to miss it, and a lot of the ambiguity and dread that the previous book ended on is missing here. That said, the next volume, Sea Serpent’s Heir Book Three: Queen of Mercy, is set to be the final installment, so I understand that there might be a bit of a hurry to get things into place for the conclusion of the trilogy. Regardless of certain things being resolved way faster than I would’ve liked, I eagerly await the arrival of Queen of Mercy next year.
With Black Wave, the Sea Serpent’s Heir graphic novels continue to be a boldly creative delight. I regret being a bit late with this review, because I really think that this series deserves more buzz around it. Scott and Tunica are crafting a really unique tale here, and I can’t praise it enough. Anyway, go check these books out, landlubbers.