By Matt O’Keefe
After backing the campaign last June, I was extremely pleased to receive a shipment in December containing my reward from the Kickstarter for Lady Sabre, a webcomic created by Greg Rucka, Rick Burchett and Eric Newsom. It took twelve months longer than anticipated to get my copy, but the creative team delivered a very special edition that perfectly suits its source material. Not only that, Kickstarter stretch goals also unlocked a Pocket Guide written by Rucka about the world where Lady Sabre takes place, a process book that illuminates how Greg and Rick work together and other extras. Below is my review of that package.
Lady Sabre & the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether Book 1: The Map begins with a prose story called “The Affair of the Mickten Clockwork” that sets up the relationship between Lady Seneca Sabre and Captain Hans von Kater. Rucka is a well-seasoned writer of novels, with a library that includes the Attius Kodiak and Jad Bell series as well as two Queen & Country books. More people should be reading Greg Rucka’s prose, and this short story and the worldbuilding material in the back of the volume will likely convince them to do exactly that. At the same time, Rucka should be writing more prose like this. It’s easily among my favorite I’ve read.
Book 1 of the Lady Sabre series is very much the start of a longer story, but it’s an impressive introduction to what I presume is the main cast. Chapter 1 dives straight into one of Sabre’s escapades, which includes a grand theft and duel with Hans. There isn’t a ton of story in the first chapter, necessarily, but you get a lot of atmosphere out of those pages, especially if you read “The Affair of the Mickten Clockwork” beforehand.
Chapters 2 and 4 introduce us to Marshall Miles Drake and Tracket Keyton Drum, also through elaborate action sequences. While giving Burchett more chances to shine, Rucka also shows his writing chops with clever back-and-forths and a demonstration of the pair’s bold heroism. Chapter 3 sets up the larger storyline with the very convenient but appropriate appearance of a prophet, who predicts some of the danger lying ahead.
Chapter 5 is the first time Drake and Sabre get to interact. The tension between a man of law and a woman of lawlessness is a fun dynamic, and the rapport we get between them is one of the highlights of the volume. Their acquisitions from previous chapters reveal the instrument for the larger story. I’m also intrigued to see that move forward, but it’s a testament to Rucka’s writing and Burchett’s illustrations that I’m most excited for the palpably tense relationship between Sabre and Drake to continue.
Part of me wants to complain that Lady Sabre is decompressed, especially given all of its action sequences, but I think the only reason I feel that way is that I want more of it sooner. The story is not text-heavy and each page has a relatively low panel count, but, in spite of that, though, every page feels significant. I may believe that in part because I’m aware of the original 2-pages-a-week format, but it’s clear that Rucka and Burchett went out of their way to make sure every one of their updates mattered. I’m hoping that future volumes of Lady Sabre also contain prose stories so readers can get more background and plot a little faster, but it’s hard to complain about the pacing of the comic itself. I don’t know how long Rucka and Burchett intend Lady Sabre to go so this volume could either be the first step of the hero’s journey or the entire first act. Either way, I know I’m on board until the ship lands.
Rick Burchett’s art isn’t flashy, which might be why he and Rucka couldn’t initially find a publisher for a project. Flashiness, though, is overrated. Burchett’s art is high quality in every panel; he never fails to deliver the goods. His solid storytelling skills are something the flashier artists should take note of.
I read that Burchett said that he was nervous about working with Rucka on Lady Sabre because he “can’t draw beautiful women,” but beauty is relative. He isn’t drawing pinup models, no, but for my money the personality he imbues in Sabre and other characters makes them more “attractive” than any two-dimensional characters gorgeously drawn by a Frank Cho or Terry Dodson or Adam Hughes. Greg Rucka is known for writing powerful women, and Rich Burchett compliments Rucka’s development of Sabre with a powerful, non-exploitative depiction.
As a veteran of superhero comics, Rick could probably have delivered satisfactory action sequences with relative ease. But he doesn’t rest on his laurels, offering up innovating action in several of the first five chapters. The swordplay early on in Chapter One is particularly excellent, from the motion lines when the blades swing to pages that feature Sabre’s epic duel with Hans.
I believe Lady Sabre is the first comic Rick colored, which is pretty impressive. The color choices don’t astound, but it’s never a distraction. That’s more than I can say for some of the comics being released by major publishers, and I only expect Burchett’s coloring to improve over time.
The next thing I want to address is the pocket guide included with the Kickstarter package. The amount of worldbuilding done in the mouthful-of-a-title Edwin Windsheer’s Pocket Guide to the Sphere: The Odom (Part 1): Allyria & Fueille is absolutely staggering. To the best of my knowledge, Rucka didn’t really get compensated for these 64 pages that help you further understand the world of Sabre. If anything, it probably cost money due to printing While tiny, the hardcover book is definitely readable, though I admit I prefer viewing it as a PDF on my tablet to reading the hardcover itself. Even with that in mind, if I ever lost the pocket guide my collection would feel woefully incomplete. It’s beautifully designed, and is a wonderful companion to the main book.
There’s not a whole lot to say about the process book other than that it demonstrates the effort Rucka and Burchett put into Sabre. The paperback includes annotations by Greg and early design sketches by Rick, immersing you into their (obviously effective) creative process. Watching the project come together and move forward is something special to behold. I hope they offer a copy of the book on their website eventually, so more would-be webcomic creators and creators of comics in general can learn a thing or two.
The design of all three books is one of the best parts of the package. I pledged for the least expensive edition, and it still largely failed to feel cheap. As beautiful as the cover is, I particular love the the look of the graphic novel without the dust jacket. The only real flaw I can point to is the back insert. The pouch and the map felt sort of jutted out. I actually ended up peeling off the pouch, which thankfully caused minimal damage to the book. To be fair, though, the map and pouch were part of a stretch goal that the team didn’t even reach, and the map itself is great, so it’s hard to complain too much.
Lady Sabre is, to date, the 23rd most successful comic book Kickstarter campaign ever, but I highly doubt it was anywhere near the 23rd most profitable. Rucka and company were extremely generous to offer so many upgrades to already-impressive rewards, especially for a price as low as $30 for print copies of the first volume, the Pocket Guide and the Process Book. At some point the creative team plans to offer remaining copies of the book on the Lady Sabre website. I would highly encourage you to buy them while you can.
Rating: Worth The Wait