The Mercenary Sea #1 is a story of high adventure set in the dangerous waters of the late 1930s South Pacific. Featuring the talents of two newcomers, this story of submarines and tropical paradises is well worth your time.
The Mercenary Sea #1 introduces readers to the multi-national crew of a stolen submarine as they ply the South Pacific seas on the cusp of World War Two. Kel Symons crafts a tale of pulpy adventure that reads like a tropical noir. Although there is some humor, The Mercenary Sea has more grit than laughs, with an undercurrent of tension that befits the setting and time period. Symons’ script handles a lot of the pulp tropes one might expect , with cannibals, a legend of a mysterious island with lost treasure, and a roughneck barroom brawl. But the grounding that Symon gives the story puts a new spin on these ideas, making them feel dangerous and alive.
One of the toughest tasks in a first issue is introducing the characters. It’s easy to focus on one or two, and leave the others for later issues, or just thinly sketch the cast as a whole. These are passable things, but a strong issue number one gives the reader identifiable, interesting protagonists from the start. Symons does just that here. With just a few exchanges and a little exposition, almost every character has a defined role, a hook, and an identity. Usually in pulp adventures, the characters are an afterthought, serving only to advance the plot. But in The Mercenary Sea, the characters are at the forefront. With the tension of the era, I can’t wait to see how a crew with American, British, German and French backgrounds holds up.
Newcomer Mathew Reynolds handles the art, employing a flat, heavily-stylized quality that fits with the pulpy trappings. It reminds me of the style Genndy Tartakovsky employed with such great effect in productions like Samurai Jack, although Reynolds is more realistic and detailed in his approach. Reynolds employs some digital blurring in certain panels, meant to resemble something like a camera’s focus, which produced a nice, cinematic feel. The only place where Reynolds stumbles is in the coloring of the night scenes. His art has a lot of striking silhouettes, but in the nighttime scenes in the jungle and at the port docks, there isn’t enough contrast in those scenes to make it work. I also have a small quibble with Pat Brosseau’s lettering. Brosseau does something different with the speech bubbles, giving them wavy edge. I admire trying out something new, but the effect is distracting, making it seem like all the characters are whispering. But the font he employs is attractive, and his choice to outline the bubbles in gray helps them pop in the darker scenes. The overall presentation of The Mercenary Sea #1 is fantastic, from the nautical map underlying the credits page to the black borders surrounding the pages and panels.
BOTTOM LINE: NICE WORK, YOU CAN GET IT
The Mercenary Sea #1 is a strong debut, combining a forceful, unique art style with strong writing. This is an unabashed adventure series with some already interesting characters, and an art style that lines up perfectly with the themes and setting. All my criticisms are small ones, as I wholly enjoyed this issue and can recommend it without reservation. With The Mercenary Sea, Image has taken another chance on a new creative team, and I think it’s given them another hit. Check it out.