Title: The Unsinkable Walker Bean
Written and Illustrated by: Aaron Renier 
Colored by Alex Longstreth 
ISBN: 9781596434530
Pages: 192 pages
Publisher/Date: First Second, c2010.

“Somewhere, in the middle of the ocean…off the coast of an uncharted island chain… there is a TRENCH. For miles it dives beneath the ocean’s floor… past smoke-stacks… spewing boiling, toxic sulfur… Here, where sunlight cannot reach… Here, live the strangest of the strange. Here, live the most evil of the evil Here, in the deepest, darkest spot, the very bottom of the ocean, dwell Tartessa and Remora, the evil Merwitch sisters. Slowly, in their pitch black cell, they began to lose their powers, which dripped out of them like silvery glowing molasses. Desperate to hold on, they devised a plan. They scooped up the remains of their enemies. And like an oyster forms a pearl, they swished the skulls and bones in their thick, nacre saliva… And when they were coated and transformed into magical bone-shaped pearls… they SPAT tem onto the seabed. And then stacked them up like a brick wall… Each enchanted skeleton reflected the secrets of its former life. The past, present, and future laid out before the sisters. Collectively the omniscient wall projected a near perfect picture of the world above. Their prison became their auditorium of knowledge. Even now… they can see us. The visions from the wall are so STRONG that only those with HEART and BLOOD as THICK as theirs can gaze into it without going into shock and dying. But what would be the price to pay to look into just ONE bone? A SNIFFLE? A COUGH? I’d risk that, to possibly get any answers to my long list of questions.” (1-8)

Walker Bean’s grandfather falls ill after coming into possession of one of the bones. The old Admiral tasks William, Walker’s father, to take the skull back to the Merwitch sisters, believing it’s his only chance of survival. Walker’s father is approached by a suspicious doctor with a better deal; sell the skull to a wealthy merchant. Complications arise though when pirates steal the skull to find the hidden treasures of Atlantis and Walker ends up on their ship. How is he going to get the skull away from a ship full of pirates?

I was engrossed by this graphic novel. The author’s note at the back of the book goes into great detail about how the illustrations came about, and that detail is taken on the actual story. It’s a great kick-off to what appears to be a series, with a sneak peek provided of the second book’s illustrations. While the main storyline wraps up nicely, there’s still enough intrigue and unanswered questions to keep readers waiting for the sequel. The artwork is stunning, and I chuckled at what appears to be references to Where’s Waldo and Family Circus in the market scene on pages 71-72. (Can you find the pirate Waldo?) Other supporting characters are also scattered throughout that double page spread if you look carefully enough.

Aaron Renier has created an entire mythology surrounding these Merwitch Sisters, and you can just hear the Jaws theme music when they make their first appearance. Readers will love the action, from lobster clawed merwitches to swashbuckling pirates and explosive battle sequences. In fact, the battle sequences have a comic book quality, with words like “POW!” and “CHH-PPA-KRAKK” splitting across the page in bright yellows, oranges, and reds that starkly contrast against the dark blues and purples that permeate the murky, moody, and watery depths.

There are some fantastical elements mixed in with Walker’s “scientific” inventions, including a mechanical kitchen appliance and a “message in a bottle” that seems to be its own postal service. You have to suspend your rationality regarding these items. It’s impossible to explain how experienced pirates don’t realize that they’re on the wrong course. It seems impossible that a crew of pirates can transform a beached ship into a water-worthy vessel in less than 24 hours. But that’s what happens, and you’re willingly to ignore those minor details as you pulled along and into the book. It’s MacGyver meets Harry Potter as the bespectacled boy and his two sidekicks rush to return a magical item to it’s rightful place. Pick up and enjoy.