I consider myself something of a hardcore pulp fiction fan, so when I had the chance to check out Image Comics’ The Mercenary Sea #1, I got right to it.
Taking place in the time period that encompasses the Second Sino-Japanese War (1938), a diverse and quirky group of misfit mercenaries travel the South Pacific aboard their sub, aptly named The Venture (I see what you did there), looking for treasures and adventure. Unfortunately, their Captain–appropriately named Jack–has run afoul of some of the toughs he’s crossed, and he’s got one hell of a bounty on his head.
All of this doesn’t really bother Captain Jack. This is the life he’s chosen, and for reasons you’ll just have to discover when you read the comic, he really can’t go back. He’s too notorious.
He’s not alone though. He has a devoted crew that pretty much trust him and seem to like him, despite the occasional disagreement with his German captain Wulf. This rag tag crew features eclectic characters like an African-American boxer, a tomboy with a gift for mechanics, a debonair French soldier, and others. In one scene reminiscent of a dozen movie tropes before, the Frenchman is saved from what looks like a spider/centipede hybrid from hell, when at first it appears he’s going to be stabbed in the back. There is an element of distrust here. There has to be to a certain extent, but they all appear to be loyal thus far.
Kel Symons’ writing is nothing that will go over your head here. It’s simple, and while not ultra multidimensional, he does a great job of weaving a pulp fiction comic, complete with some juvenile sexual references, and ice cold scorn from a femme fatale. Some reviews have been overly harsh on this comic, talking about how cliche and rife with pop culture references it is. My answer to that is this: Duh! That’s the point. One shadowy American character is clearly an homage to Nick Fury pre-Samuel L. Jackson (and The Hoff). It’s so blatantly obvious that Symons was having fun with this comic. And in an age where comics can go in a number of different directions, The Mercenary Sea #1 was a welcome respite with its vintage appeal.
Mathew Reynolds art here is a bit different from what you’d likely expect, and it’s necessary to add a level of freshness to the story. This is very much a Mad Men-esque comic when it comes to the artwork. Reynolds relies on shadowy silhouettes to add life to the story, which actually works, because too much detail would have aged this comic needlessly. I loved the art and the vibrant colors.
Going into The Mercenary Sea #2, I wouldn’t expect a deeper plot, but I definitely expect, and look forward to, a boatload of more adventure.
If you go into reading this comic hoping for some in-depth story, you are going in with the wrong intentions. This is snack-pumping, adventurous comic book fun that isn’t too complicated. What’s not to love?