THE VAULT #1 (Image Comics) Three issue mini-series, debuts July 27, 2011. Written by Sam Sarkar. Art by Garrie Gastonny. (Pre-order available in the current June PREVIEWS)
THE VAULT would read like a straight-up adventure tale of undersea exploration were it not for the two-page prelude that hints at much more dangers to come, and on an epic scale. I am more than content with learning the details of the exploratory mission in Issue #1 and getting the background on the characters and settings. The writing is engaging and the beginning of this quest has its share of suspenseful moments, especially when the reader knows that unknown danger and threats lie ahead (thanks to the prelude). I can’t wait for this series to explode once the dark and supernatural elements come to the foreground.
To further whet the appetite, this promises to be a threat of mythological and Biblical proportions. The two-page opening prelude depicts an epic battle between bat-winged albino white angels and harpies-like webbed and clawing demons/devils. An enormous dragon as well as Shiva, the goddess of death, lurk in the background as if orchestrating the activities of their dark minions. The only text is a small caption box containing the ominous prediction: “This is the beginning of how it all ends.”
As if continuing with the Biblical theme, many of the characters have names with Old and New Testament references = Michael, Gabrielle, and Jesus. The captain of the seafaring vessel for this group is named Stone (the surface on which Ten Commandments were inscribed) and the prophetic name of his boat is The Revelation. Writer Sam Sarkar, a 23 year veteran of the entertainment industry, seems to mix in a hearty blend of references that will make some readers want to look for symbolism on every page. I also suspect he has done his homework well, and the setting for this storyline is based on actual global history/events (with artistic license to exaggerate, of course). Sarkar began his career as an actor and then became a television writer. His first work in comics that I’m aware of is CALIBER (where he first teamed with artist Gastonny) and I hope to see much more from him.
Sure enough, I found plenty of information at the Wikipedia website on both Sable Island, the setting for THE VAULT, and the Oak Island Pit where the explorers find buried treasure and more. Sable Island is a narrow, crescent-shaped sandbar of an island southeast of Nova Scotia in the North Atlantic Ocean. It’s known as (and also referred to in THE VAULT) as “the Graveyard of The North Atlantic”, being responsible for 350 shipwrecks as it is located in the middle of a transatlantic shipping route and frequently surrounded by heavy fog and treacherous ocean currents. Also, although not as geographically close to each other as Sarkar describes, there exists an Oak Island Pit widely debated as either the site of pirates’ (Captain Kidd) buried treasure or just a natural phenomenon caused by a sinkhole and/or natural underground caverns. The legend is further enhanced by actual stones found on the island with symbols and inscriptions that hint of buried treasure below. In addition to pirate treasure, the pit has also been rumored to be the resting place of Marie Antoinette’s fabulous jewels, or the hiding place of documents that give evidence that philosopher Francis Bacon was the real author of William Shakespeare’s famous plays. Others say that the exiled Knights Templar used the pit as the secret resting place of either the Holy Grail or The Ark Of The Covenant. All this provides a rich source for an imaginative author to expand upon.
As Sarkar tells it, the exploratory crew in THE VAULT find not just buried treasure - - as they explore the Oakland Pit with previous platforms and a flood channel cut into it they discover a new chamber below the eleven treasure chests. Their ground-penetrating radar leads them to believe the Pit was constructed similar to the style of the great pyramids, with a second and larger secret chamber or vault just below the main room. They uncover and bring to the surface a large coffin-like container, which imagery shows to contain a huge skeletal form inside (just as the first issue ends).
There is a rich list of characters in THE VAULT, and little bits and pieces of their background are revealed as the story moves forward. Many of them have invested their life-savings in hopes of becoming millionaires once the underwater excavation concludes. The group ally with a foreign investor, known only as Mr. Kirilov, as their money seems to be running out. The suspicious and mysterious Kirilov brings a high-tech underwater digging robot to speed the mission up, as well as numerous crates of guns and arms for “protection” as he warns that their info-sharing with outsiders will end up bringing modern day pirates to the island to steal their findings/treasures.
The two characters who seem to be the most appealing are Michael Page, the senior diver and budget director and archaeologist Gabrielle Parker. There’s a humorous moment early on when Parker, in a high-tech diving suit, comments about needing to relieve himself and worrying about shorting out the $6 Million dollar gear. Gabrielle via intercom chides him for not planning for “peeing” in the design as he explains that it would cost an additional $200,000 to add that feature. Another character of note is Argentine communications specialist Jesus Mondragon, whose bald pate and last name remind me of Marvels mystical, philosophical Moondragon. As if to drive the point home, Jesus is seen reading a curious book - - The Art And Interpretation Of Eschatology (the study of the end of the world). The Oxford English Dictionary, in its definition of Eschatology ( yeah, I just had to look it up) mentions its’ concern with the “four last things” - - - death, judgment, heaven, and hell. (Gulp.)
The asking price for admission to THE VAULT is worth every penny just for the incredible art. Garrie Gastonny came to fame with his beautiful work on CALIBER , Radical Comics’ gothic western with ties to Arthurian legend and illustrated in the simulated-painting Radical house style. Interest grew with his later work on SUPERGOD and PAINKILLER JANE. The artwork here on THE VAULT will earn Gastonny further recognition and interest. It’s simply the best thing he has produced so far in what hopes to be a long career in comics illustration.
The astonishing attention to detail is admirable. Gastonny doesn’t seem to miss anything, and capitalizes on the vast potential of the setting and background of the exotic and remote locale of this story. The underwater scenes are picture perfect and include every detail, from several species of fish in the background to coral and rock outcroppings, the reflection of sunlight refracted by the waters as it glints off the visor glass on a diver’s helmet, as well as every single shaped air bubble as it rises to the surface. The colors and ink work just pops off the page - - so rich in portrayal. I don’t know who the rest of the art team is but the work here is splendid. (My preview copy was lacking a full credits page.)