Web comics come in all shapes and sizes (and, admittedly, differing levels of quality). One of the most impressive I have come across so far is Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether.
I first encountered Lady Sabre before I had any real idea of the wealth of web comics that are being created every day. Admittedly Lady Sabre has a bit of a head start on many other web comics because of the people behind it – established comics creators Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett. Immediately any web comic created by Rucka and Burchett is going to have an audience of people who follow their work. Even if those people don’t all stay with the new project a certain percentage will. Then there is the marketing and self-promotion capability of these two guys. It is a lot easier for them to get word of their web comic out there than it is for a relatively unknown artist doing the same thing.
Having said all that, a guaranteed audience and huge direct marketing avenues would be worth nothing if the comic itself wasn’t any good. Fortunately Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether is good. It is very, very good.
It has elements of steampunk, westerns, sci-fi, swashbuckling pirates, feisty heroines, and dastardly villains.
I’m going to be honest here and say that I didn’t really know what steampunk was before I started reading Lady Sabre. I had a vague idea of what it was about. Or so I thought. Turns out I had no idea.
Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, featuring worlds and settings in which steam-powered technology is dominant. This could be in alternate histories, post-apocalyptic futures, or fantasy worlds. It also refers to the fashions and clothing that have been derived from the books. A whole sub-culture has arisen surrounding the aesthetics of the British Victorian era. I apologise for this very basic description. Please feel free to politely correct me in the comments section.
Lady Sabre is not totally steampunk, but it uses many elements of this fascinating genre. It can be seen in the settings that the story takes place in. It can be seen in the clothing of the characters that populate this world. And it can be seen in the weapons, transport and various technologies used by those characters.
The protagonist and heroine of the piece is Seneca Sabre. Intelligent, beautiful, skilled with a sword and a pistol, and deadly with her tongue. Lady Sabre is a heroine from the days of the Wild West and the pages of pulp magazines. She steals a scroll case from her rival, Captain Hans von Kater and that is only the start of her problems.
The main action is set in the Sphere, which appears to be an empty sky but is actually permeated by the Aether, which due to its property changing qualities means Aether Ships, which look like huge sailing ships, can travel between the floating Lands which are dotted about the Sphere.
Alongside this we are introduced to the land of Tanitan, and Rucka’s classic Western influence.
Marshal Miles Drake and Deputy Tracker Keyton Drum find a key which soon becomes a much-wanted item for many rich and ruthless characters. Drake and Drum do everything they can to prevent the key getting into anybody else’s hands. Mainly that includes a lot of shooting.
Lady Sabre is clearly the star of the show here and any scene that she is in is wonderful to read and look at. It’s great to see a strong female lead in fiction of any kind, but especially in comics. Burchett’s rendering of the Aether Ships sailing serenely between Lands is absolutely gorgeous and the comic as a whole is visually very impressive.
The scenes in Tanitan are equally wonderful to look at and Drake and Drum are also really well-drawn characters. Rucka is clearly having a lot of fun bringing together Western elements with pulp and steampunk tropes. There is a lot going on but the skill of the writing and the fantastic art means that it is perfectly balanced.
Another thing that you get with this web comic is extra detail in the form of background histories of the main characters, places and some of the more widely used weapons. With each episode Rucka also publishes the script which gives a great insight into the creation of each new episode.
Rucka and Burchett are also very active in the comments section and the associated blog. Lady Sabre is clearly a labour of love for it’s creators and it seems that for Rucka the web comic has given him a place to breath away from the big two comic publishers which he has been critical of recently. Having said that, he has qualified his views of DC’s New 52 in a recent blog entry where he stated:
“Speaking as a writer, they’ve not only opened a can of worms, but they’ve also opened a vast arena of new stories to tell. Some of those stories may well be worth telling. Some of those stories may well be worth repeating, and even cherishing. And, yes, some of those stories may end up best forgotten. And some may argue they’re stories that never needed telling in the first place.
But to condemn DC, and Geoff Johns, and Jim Lee, for doing – at least with regards to Superman, Wonder Woman, and Lois – exactly what the branding of NEW demands seems to me counterproductive. DC is, at least in this instance, walking their talk.”
So it seems that Rucka is happy to let DC do their thing while he has a great deal of fun creating comics on his own terms.
Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether is well-written, beautifully illustrated, richly detailed and a pleasure to read. Rucka and Burchett set out to create a fun web comic and they really have succeeded. I urge you to go check out the archive right away. You won’t regret it.