There’s another Pirates of the Caribbean movie on its way to theaters. The commercials have started and folks are already either chatting with excitement about what to expect or questioning if we seriously need yet another journey into the life of Captain Jack Sparrow. But whichever side of the fence you’re on, pirates are one of those things that are scary and awful in real life but romanticized and fun in fiction. So here’s a look at some great pirates we’ve seen in comics and cartoons!
THE DRAGON LADY
Beginning as a daily newspaper strip in October 1934, Terry and the Pirates earned over 31 million readers before ending in 1946. The title character Terry Lee is a “wide-awake American boy” who winds up matching wits with various criminals, raiders, spies and yes, pirates. A major character was the cold-hearted Chinese pirate known as the Dragon Lady.
If you think that sounds kind of offensive, rest assured it is offensive, so much so that today the phrase “Dragon Lady” now refers to an insultingly stereotypical way of portraying an Asian woman. But Terry and the Pirates holds a significant place in comic strip history and so we must mention the Dragon Lady, who was inspired by real life pirate Lai Choi San and over time slowly evolved from a walking stereotype into a somewhat more fleshed out character. During World War II, this pirate became a resistance fighter against the Japanese (though she returned to crime as soon as Japan surrendered).
THE BLACK PIRATE
Created by Sheldon Moldoff and introduced in 1940 in the pages of Action Comics #23, Jon Valor is called the Black Pirate but is actually a privateer of the 16th century. The public was not aware that sailor Jon Valor was secretly the masked Black Pirate. Because of this, there were a few times Valor was actually asked to hunt down his own alter ego. While he didn’t always have the best reputation, Jon Valor lived by a strict code of honor and justice. He also got his son to help him in later adventures.
The Black Pirate faded from comics by the 1950s and only made a few appearances in DC Comics stories for decades afterwards, such as in a time travel adventure involving the Justice League and Justice Society. But then writer James Robinson brought him back in the 1990s comic Starman, when modern day hero Jack Knight meets Valor’s ghost. The ghost of the Black Pirate became a recurring character in the critically acclaimed series, gaining a new generation of fans.
THE PIRATES OF DARK WATER
In 1991, Fox premiered a fantasy adventure cartoon mini-series that then went into full series on ABC. The Pirates of Dark Water features George Newbern (Superman from Justice League) as Ren, a young man raised by a lighthouse keeper who learns that he is of royal birth and destined to save his world from a parasitic substance known as Dark Water spreading through the seas. On his quest to banish the Dark Water and recover thirteen legendary treasures, Ren sails around in a stolen boat and picks up some of the more romanticized traits of a pirate himself. He’s not the only pirate sailing through the Dark Water though. There’s also the pirate king Bloth and his crew of killers and scoundrels. This show was full to the brim with strange misfits, talking animals, and pirates!
Although this series ended before Ren found all the treasures and reached his destiny, folks still remember it fondly. Maybe a reboot can come along somewhere down the line.
One of the recurring antagonists of Disney’s TaleSpin, Don Karnage is leader of the air pirates, a band of pilots who raid cargo planes and other folks they come across in the skies. Like the best fictional pirates, Don Karnage is all about flair. Not only do he and his crew fly through the sky in an air fortress called the Sky Vulture, but when he’s earthbound Karnage makes his home inside an actual volcano on Pirate Island (what else would it be called?). And on top of all this, Don Karnage is voiced by Jim Cummings, the same man behind Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Bonkers and Darkwing Duck!
CORSAIR AND THE STARJAMMERS
For years, X-Men fans knew that Cyclops of the X-Men was an orphan. Sure, he had his brother Alex, but that was it. Their parents had died in a plane crash when the two were kids. Oh, but wait. Then the Phoenix Saga happened and during all the chaos of Jean Grey gaining god-like power and the X-Men being sent into outer space, readers learned that Cyclops’ parents, USAF Major Christopher Summers and Katherine Anne Summers, didn’t die after all. Moments before their airplane blew up, they both got zapped onto an alien space ship and imprisoned by the corrupt Emperor D’Ken of the Shi’ar Empire.
What? Yep, that’s what happened. Then Mrs. Katherine Anne Summers was almost raped by D’Ken before he decided to murder her instead, because of course he did, because how else would you motivate her husband to become a hero and a renegade who enjoys disrupting a corrupt empire? I mean, beyond altruism and empathy. Anyway, Christopher Summers escapes imprisonment with others, and they decide to become space pirates called the Starjammers. Why that name? Because their ship is called the Starjammer. That… is not the best reason for a name, but ok. And Major Summers decided he needed a cool new pirate name too, so he took on the alias “Corsair”… which means “pirate.” Clever.
Blackbeard was a real person in history and his reputation has ensured that he appears in comics time and time again. During the Golden Age he made numerous appearances in superhero stories. In different comics, time travel allowed for Blackbeard to meet heroes such as the Ghost, Mark Swift, Blue Beetle, Kid Eternity and the American Eagle. His ghost made appearances in some comics as well, including when he encountered the Green Lama. Sometimes, a modern day criminal pretends to be Blackbeard, though clever heroes such as Batman see through such disguises pretty quickly. Decades later in the mini-series The Return of Bruce Wayne, Batman goes back in time, dresses up like Jon Valor the Black Pirate, and winds up fighting the real Blackbeard.
One of the most fun and oddest uses of Blackbeard in comics was in Fantastic Four #5 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.In that story, which is also the first appearance of Dr. Doom, the heroes go back in time to see if they can’t find Blackbeard and retrieve a special load of treasure he has that once belonged to Merlin (because comics). During the adventure, they dress like pirates so they won’t be too conspicuous. They then get mixed up in a battle between ships and the monstrous hero known as the Thing winds up rallying a whole ship full of pirates to his side. They declare him to be their new leader and dub him Blackbeard. So in the Marvel Universe, Ben Grimm the Thing is actually the original pirate called Blackbeard, due to time travel paradox! Ben was ready to stay in the past and continue living as a pirate, but circumstances led him to reluctantly return to the present.
Be sure to share your own favorite pirate stories!