Years after the explosion at the mine, things are not all at peace in Woodsburgh. And who is the mysterious Miss Hellaine? Find out in Mercy #1 from Image Comics!
Writer: Mirka Andolfo
Artist: Mirka Andolfo
Colorist: Mirka Andolfo
Letterer: Fabio Amelia
Publisher: Image Comics
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: March 4, 2020
Previously in Mercy: A mining disaster, several murders, and the onset of winter set the scene for this Victorian gothic horror tale. And somehow, at the center of it all, there are two beautiful and powerful women.
SETTING UP THE PLAYERS
Mercy #1 opens in the middle of a horrible event in Woodsburgh, WA. There’s a monster; there’s shooting; there are screams and there is blood. We pull back and see this is in a mine. A hysterical Lady Swanson holds on to what remains of her husband. Another woman lights a whole cart of dynamite and sends it down into the mine. Later, we get a page showing the remains of the explosion. A gentleman in a top hat and carrying a fancy cane walks through and finds…a survivor?
Later, perhaps years later, it’s the anniversary of the mine explosion, and there’s a service in the graveyard. Lady Swanson is there with her children, and a little girl bumps into her, wanting to see the angel statue which, she’s heard, looks like her mother. A couple young men do not take kindly to Lady Swanson’s presence, but she calmly ignores them.
This issue introduces the story and a number of characters. I like the way the story flows around them, but I had to go through the book twice to make sure I was remembering who was who. The little girl, Rory, races back to talk to a young black man, Jonathan, and his sister Betsy about the service. Rory is an orphan, half Irish and half Native American. She lives with an “uncle” who is just someone who picks up kids off the street. We find out later he’s basically employs them s child labor. There’s a theme of coldness that winds through story like a gossamer thread, and it starts to snow.
We cut to a coach. The driver wants to stop. His two passengers are well-to-do, Mr. Goodwill, an older gentleman in a top hat, and Miss Hellaine, a lovely young blonde woman with blue eyes. He is lecturing her about how she needs to smile, and how to do it to make it look convincing, which is creepy no matter how you parse it. They stop at a place overlooking Woodsburgh, and Miss Hellaine makes some comment about remembering the place even though she’s never been here before. The boy driving the coach also tells them about Woodsburgh’s Devil.
In town, a woman who slipped out of the hospital raves about the Devil of Woodsburgh. Rory, trying to sneak back home, is caught by her “uncle” and dragged off to his cotton mill. He is not a good man; his only saving grace so far is that he hasn’t sold any of the kids into prostitution. The kids sleep in a dormitory with cracked windows that let the cold in. In the middle of the night, Rory sneaks off to a makeshift shrine she has made to the mother she’s never seen.
Across town we find Betsy working at a brothel and she’s frankly with two men, and we do see her bare breasts. Afterward, the men pay her well. She slips out and Lady Swanson comes in with a couple of toughs behind here. These were the two men who badmouthed her at the cemetery. She gets a vicious revenge on them and retires to a room in this house, which she secretly owns. She later has a nightmare of the monster in the mine.
A coach comes into town after dark – after curfew. The elderly man in the top hat, who is driving, introduces himself as the butler for Madam Nolwenn Hellaine, and that they are new to Woodsburgh. The police stop them, check them out, and send them on their way. They catch a glimpse of Madam Hellaine and one of them describes her as having the face of an angel.
ETHEREAL BEAUTY AND UNDERLYING HORROR
Mercy #1 is all about the contrast between appearances and what lies underneath. After the incident at the mine, what we see in the story’s present, which appears to be in the late 1800’s, is the commemorative statue of an angel, a theme that is revisited a couple times. The day is cloudy and dreary, but she is bathed in light. This is where we see Lady Swanson, solemn and gracious. Rory is exuberant. Betsy is Jonathan’s sister, concerned about him and a realist. When Rory’s uncle grabs her, he is like a character straight out of Dickens, and suddenly we see the underbelly of this world, the child labor, the prostitution, the way the wealthy can get their vengeance with the loyalty of their people and, of course, some cash.
The sex and violence in this book is not over the top, but it is there. Life is gritty, and hard, and cold. That said, this is also a world that is rich in ambience and little details. The settings are beautiful, well, except for the ones with monsters in them, because the monsters are nightmarish indeed.
The one quibble I have about the book is that it is set in Washington state, and having a cotton mill so far away from any cotton production feels a little out of place.
BOTTOM LINE: CREEPY WITH SOME DARK UNDERPINNINGS
Mercy #1 is dramatic and gets off to a busy start. This arc is apparently three issues long, and there is a lot packed in here. Besides the horror, there’s a lot of commentary on the human condition and how terrible people can be to others, even when on the surface they seem to be kind.
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They thought the explosion at the mind would be the end of it, but what if that was just the beginning?