Yes, it's Pirate Week here at Kleefeld on Comics if you hadn't figured that out already. And today I'm looking at Dwight MacPherson's Dead Men Tell No Tales, published by Arcana Studio back in 2005/2006.
The story starts with Captain Kidd capturing the Quedagh Merchant. In its hold, one of his crewmates finds a trinket that strangely calls out to him as valuable. As we learn in subsequent issues, the small trinket contained a map leading to the legendary Holy Grail. Said map then falls through the hands of Blackbeard and Bartholomew Roberts, as readers are given some flashbacks to how Henry Sinclair and the Knights Templar brought this particular treasure to the New World, and the strange affects it had on people.
It seems that any of the ancient relics related to Jesus had an almost narcotic quality about it that drove those who beheld it nearly mad. Those who actually came in contact with the earthenware cup became quite obsessed with it, much like Gollum's relationship with The One Ring. Ultimately, the search for the Grail, according to the comic, directly led to the demise of Sinclair, Kidd, Blackbeard, and Roberts. (Not that piracy lends itself to longevity in the first place!)
The story works well enough. I can see what MacPherson was doing with it, and it flows reasonably well. However, I did have some difficulty getting into it because we switch protagonists repeatedly. The story is generally told through the eyes of the first mate of the various captains. This strikes me as the biggest failing, as we're not only switching viewpoints but we're also somewhat removed from the main players. It's Blackbeard who has the map, but we only see that second-hand. It leaves something of a detached feeling from the story, and readers won't be as engaged as they could be.
The artwork is generally serviceable, but not particularly striking. Although, to be fair, I think part of the problem here is that the coloring (at least in my copy) comes across somewhat dark and muddy. Granted, it's not a story that lends itself to bright and cheerful color palette, but the artwork was not infrequently too dark to readily determine what was going on in the panel. There were also a few action scenes that seemed to be lacking a little clarity, but that might be explained by multiple artists working on the books.
The only other thing I might bring up -- not as a complaint, mind you, just a question -- is the basic plot premise. I know there have been a number of stories of people seeking the Holy Grail and how they can turn their search into an obsession, but this particular story seemed to have a darker and more sinister tone to it. There were several references to the Grail actively calling out to people in an almost sentient way. This gave me the impression that the Grail -- generally considered one of the holiest of holy relics in Christianity -- was actually an entity of evil. And, while I'm not a devout theologian of any sort, it struck me as decidedly at odds with other Grail stories I know. That may or may not have been MacPherson's intent, but I guess I wasn't sure how to interpret his message in that regard.
The book was, overall, not a bad read. Not a great one, but not bad either. Since the books is available for free on Wowio, it's definitely worth the time to download and read the four issues; I just wouldn't spend a lot of time/effort trying to track down the dead tree copies of it.