After last issue set up the conflict between rival police forces in 19th century England, Warren Ellis uses this issue to introduce readers to the eponymous Captain Swing and his mission to provide science and free energy for all. It’s a rambling dialogue-based issue where Ellis shows off his ability to drive stories forward through a singular protagonist speaking. He covers similar thematic ground to his other works, but approaches it from a different perspective and also has Raulo Caceres’s intricately detailed art to bring this odd alternate history England to life.
The idea around which Captain Swing’s mission revolves around is providing a future for people that is free and not used by those who just want power over the rest. There’s an interesting feud between Swing’s scientific knowledge and the Freemasons’ magic set up, putting into microcosm numerous Ellis ideas of science, magic, and the abstract concept of ‘the future.’ Seeing it through this lens gives it an altered feeling, especially if this isn’t meant to be an alternate past, but an untold part of it. That things happened as we know makes Captain Swing’s quest already seem doomed somewhat.
The conflict between science and magic is also implied through both Swing’s real name and the captured policeman that he and his crew take back to Cindery Island: Jonathan Rheinhardt and Charlie Gravel, each alluding to the main characters in “Doktor Sleepless” and “Gravel.” Even looking at Captain Swing’s goggles and costume, there’s a similarity to the John Rheinhardt in “Doktor Sleepless,” but the relationship between the two is unknown. The same applies to Constable Charlie Gravel and William Gravel, the combat magician and current Magician King of England, but a sly grin by the Constable at the end of the issue suggests that he may know more than he admits in the rest of the issue. The invocation of those names definitely adds a layer to “Captain Swing,” possibly suggesting a shared universe or acting as shorthand to represent the conflict at hand here.
Caceres’ art has to carry this issue somewhat since it’s so dialogue-driven. While Ellis can write strong, compelling dialogue, not a lot actually happens, so Caceres has to be at the top of his game to make the book work visually. He does this through heavily detailed pages that mix the science of Swing and the time period in interesting ways. His flying boat is a sight to behold, while the design work of characters gets across who and what they are immediately. His facial expressions are somewhat strained in places, but he has a great handle on Captain Swing, giving him a lot of life and energy. A panel where he takes off his goggles reveals a man who just looks sad and tired of those that oppose him, and is the best character piece Caceres does all issue.
“Captain Swing” #2 is an issue that throws a lot of information at readers with two of the most important details just slipped in there for fans of Ellis to pick up on. It’s still unclear where the plot of this series is going, but it’s intriguing and Raulo Caceres draws some gorgeous pages. Many of the ideas aren’t new to Ellis comics, but he does approach them from a different perspective, making this a solid addition to his body of work.