A hardy crew: 8 comic book pirates way cooler than Jack Sparrow

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May 23, 2017

All right, you nautical nerds, it's time for my controversial opinion that I just happen to be revealing the week that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales opens in theaters: Jack Sparrow isn't that cool.

Don't get me wrong, Pirates of the Caribbean was in my top three Disneyland rides as a kid, and I find the movies reasonably entertaining, but come on. The shtick gets old. Jack Sparrow can only drunkenly fail upward so many times before the charm wears off. I don't want my pirates bumbling and incompetent, I want them to be cutthroat, driven, rebellious, and occasionally time-displaced rock monster superheroes. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

There are more pirates in the bay than just Jack Sparrow, and there are plenty in comic books alone that put him to shame in the arts of swashbucklery. To make my point, I've gathered the eight slickest pirates that have ever sailed the seven seas of the comic shop racks, from pirates who navigate the spaceways to those who tame dinosaurs and summon the chi of Shou-Lao the Undying.

This is of course only the tip of the iceberg, so let us know your favorite comic characters to have flown the Jolly Roger in the comments below. And as a quick reminder, please don't pirate these comics.

The Thing

(Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; Art by Jack Kirby)

Did you know that in the Marvel Universe, The Thing was the notorious pirate Captain Blackbeard? In the titular team's first encounter with Doctor Doom in Fantastic Four #5, the dastardly despot sends Thing, Human Torch and Mr. Fantastic back in time to bring him the treasure chest of Blackbeard. Upon arrival in the past, the trio quickly found disguises, including a fake beard for Ben Grimm, and seek out a local tavern where they are promptly drugged and captured. When the heroes come to, Ben subdues the crew and takes command of it, just in time for another ship to attack. Apparently pirates aren't phased by people with really weird skin, and so the crew obeys his orders and call him Blackbeard, effectively replacing the actual person in Marvel history. Time travel, everybody.

While the Fantastic Four obviously reunited and lived to fight on, this remains a fun weird bit of Marvel continuity, and a pretty crazy pirate story too. It’s also worth noting that the Fantastick Four of the 1602 universe is the crew of a ship as well, so the team fits surprisingly well into the explorer/swashbuckler mold.

Tales of the Black Freighter

(Created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons; Art by Dave Gibbons)

In a graphic novel you may have heard of called Watchmen, the tale of Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl and all the rest is punctuated by cutaway scenes of a boy sitting at a newsstand reading comics and we see some of the story he's reading. The comic-within-a-comic's story is contrasted with the main Watchmen narrative and frequently mirrors events in the story to comment them in a meta-textual way.

He's reading a pirate comic called Tales of the Black Freighter, and it tells the stories of the evil souls that have been damned to swab the ghostly decks of the ship known as the Black Freighter. The story we see is called "Marooned" and tells the tale of a lone shipwreck survivor trying to return to his hometown to warn them that the Black Freighter is coming. He quickly begins losing his mind as he's forced to make a raft out of the bodies of his mates and fight off sharks. He makes it back, only to accidentally kill his wife thinking she was a pirate, damning him to join the Freighter's crew. It's a little bit Curse of the Black Pearl but a raft made of bodies is the kind of hardcore piracy that Jack Sparrow can only dream of.

The Starjammers

(Created by Dave Cockrum; Art by Dave Cockrum)

The X-Men known as Cyclops and Havok are brothers who had it rough. Some kids' parents leave to get a pack of smokes and never make it back, but their parents were abducted by aliens. The mutant brothers thought their parents died in a plane crash but they were actually taken by the Shi'ar, who killed their mother, though their father Christopher joined with a group of fellow mis-matched alien prisoners to break out of prison and steal a ship. They named the ship Starjammer, and they used it, and their various talents, to wreak havoc upon the Shi'ar Empire by attacking and raiding their ships. How awesome is that? Cyclops' dad, and time-traveling cyber soldier Cable's grandfather, is a space pirate. You've gotta love the X-Men.

Anyway, Christopher Summers goes as 'Corsair' now and continues to be a space pirate ... and a thorn in the Shi'ar's side, alongside his trusty crew. He eventually awkwardly reunited with his sons when they were both adults and X-Men, but there wasn't a whole lot of an attempt at bonding. However, Havok did join the Starjammers for a while, and recently the young time-displaced Cyclops joined his father on a journey through the spaceways. If you have to have a deadbeat dad, you can do worse than one who's a space pirate …

Cursed Pirate Girl

(Created by Jeremy Bastian; Art by Jeremt Bastian)

This cult-hit series from writer-artist Jeremy Bastian is one of the most beautifully drawn comics your eyeballs will ever have the pleasure of feasting upon. The eponymous Cursed Pirate Girl is on a fairy tale-like quest to find her long-lost pirate captain father and must wander through all sorts of magical and whimsical locales on her search. It's a story filled with the usual pirate tropes but with a bit more magic, with talking parrots inside giant fish, swordfish brothers and much more. It's sort of like if Alice went off to become a pirate instead of ending up in Wonderland.

And, again, it's incomparably beautiful. So much detail is packed into every panel that you'll feel like you're awash in the high seas as well. You'd never find a pirate like Cursed Pirate Girl in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie!

Wu Ao-Shi, Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay

(Created by Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker and Travel Foreman; Art by Travel Foreman)

There have been many to wear the mantle of the Iron Fist through the ages, but few of them reach the levels of sheer badassery achieved by Iron Fist Wu-Ao Shi, the first woman to hold the title. She was an orphaned girl on the streets of K'un Lun when she was saved and taken in by Lei Kung the Thunderer and began her training to be a warrior of the immortal city. During her years in training she met and fell in love with a fisherman. Shortly after they married, she was allowed to attempt the trial of the Iron Fist and succeeded in defeating the dragon Shou Lao, becoming the Iron Fist.

However, her husband did not wish to see her risk her life over and over, so he left for the real world. Wu followed but couldn't find him for several years and, unable to return to K'un Lun, turned to beating up bad people for money. Eventually they were reunited when Wu Ao-Shi battled and overthrew the Pirate King, who'd taken over the fisherman's new home of Pinghai Bay and she became its benevolent new ruler. Also, did I mention she fires arrows infused with her chi? She's exactly the type of pirate that Jack Sparrow is terrified of.

Pirates of Pangaea

(Created by Daniel Hartwell and Neill Cameron; Art by Neill Cameron.)

This is a comic I only recently discovered, but boy am I glad I did because pirates and dinosaurs are two things that are even better together than they are apart. This series centers on the island of Pangaea, which is discovered at the height of the age of piracy and a conflict erupts over its ownership. Why do people want control of Pangaea so bad? Because on the island, dinosaurs are still alive. Naturally, the only course of action is to then build pirate ships atop the massive creatures and ride them into battle against your enemies.

This all-ages comic has everything you'd want in a pirate story, with a strong female protagonist, colonial politics, a treasure map and scurvy dogs aplenty, but it also — I just want to make sure this is getting through clearly — has dinosaurs. I know, you never knew you needed to see a T-rex flying the Jolly Roger so badly, did you?

Captain Fear

(Created by Robert Kanigher and Alex Niño; Art by Cliff Chiang.)

At this point you're probably asking, "All these magical, cosmic, super-powered, time-traveling pirates are great, but what about just a normal old seafaring one?" To which I say … you're lucky I left out the vampires and the time Batman was a pirate.

But don't worry, our penultimate inclusion on this list features your classic conniving captain type of rogue. Captain Fear is an old DC character from their Adventure Comics anthology series that debuted in the early '70s. Captain Fear was originally just an ordinary Haitian boy named Fero until he was taken by the Spanish invaders, who also killed his father. He was sent to work the mines but he lead his fellow slaves in a revolt in which they manage to steal a ship from the Spanish and escape. However, that crew dies and his ship is destroyed in a storm, leaving Fero the lone survivor, who is then picked up by a Chinese pirate ship. But Fero was undeterred and challenged the ship captain for control and killed him in ensuing battle. He then declared himself Captain Fear and that was that. That's some solid piracy right there.

His story was short-lived but he later showed up in a story called Doctor 13: Architecture & Morality, where he teamed up with a gorilla, a haunted tank, a cave man, a vampire (but not a vampire pirate, sadly) and a contagious superhero from the future, which I suppose does disqualify Captain Fear as what I earlier described as a "normal old seafaring pirate," but it does make him so much cooler than Jack Sparrow.

Lady Sin

(Created by Chuck Dixon and Steve Epting; Art by Steve Epting.)

Okay, that last one was kind of a cheat. You want a straight-up pirate comic? Then you have to try out El Cazador. This was a sadly short-lived series from CrossGen in the early 2000s and it had no science-fiction or fantasy twist at all -- which was actually odd, considering that it was set in CrossGen Universe, whose future was filled with that kinda stuff.

Anyway, it follows a Donessa named Cinzia Elena Marie Esperanza Diego-Luis Hidalgo whose family is slain aboard their ship, leaving her one of the few survivors and bent on exacting revenge on the pirates who did the deed. She renames herself Lady Sin and aboard her ship El Cazador she becomes a pirate herself and sets off on her quest for vengeance. It's a pretty great story and the single volume isn't too hard to find; it's well worth tracking down if you'd like to read about the type of pirate that's way cooler than Jack Sparrow.