Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tales of the Black Freighter

If you’ve seen the Watchmen film, you probably already know that it was based on what many consider to be the greatest superhero comic book ever written. At almost four-hundred pages, it was inevitable that some elements of the original story would be cut from the film. One of those elements was Tales from the Black Freighter, a comic book read by one of the supporting characters (a comic within a comic). The basic idea was that, in a world where superheroes are real, nobody would want to read make-believe stories about them, instead turning to other genres like horror, western and pirate stories.

The story follows the sole survivor of a ship sunk by the Black Freighter, a seemingly supernatural pirate vessel. The survivor finds himself washed onto a desert island, along with the wreckage of his ship and the rotting corpses of his crew. He initiates a gruesome plan of escape that leads to further acts of dehumanization as he makes the journey back to his hometown before the pirate ship reaches it.

The horror of this story is physical, psychological and supernatural, leaving the viewer to wonder how much is hallucination. The narrator’s need to protect both himself and his town drives him to increasingly monstrous actions. By the story’s end, we see how these actions have damned him even as we realize that, in the same situation, many of us would have done the same thing.

There’s a lot of material on this disc related to the Watchmen film and motion comic; but Tales from the Black Freighter stands very much on its own as a dark allegory for the corruption that lies buried within the best of intentions. Even the closing credits manage to disturb with Nina Simone’s famous cover of “Pirate Jenny” from Threepenny Opera. Short but darkly sweet.

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