Let's discuss perspective. After reading No Mercy #1 for the first time I sent the following to Comic Bastards' Dear Leader: “That was a fun and tense comic, even though nothing bad happens until the last few pages. I will find a way to keep reading this comic without having a heart attack.” Now after my second read leading up to writing this review I realize there is a giant error, the action kicks in halfway through the book! It felt like the action was minimal and the build was long, yet they were divided evenly. What could possibly create such disconnect? The first half of the book has a feeling of dread looming over it. You are told right away something big and bad is coming, but you have to wait for it. There is a monster at the end of this book and this teenage cast is making their way towards it one awkward, flirting, and needlessly cruel moment at a time.
The teens are a large group of American pre-freshman college volunteers in a South American country to help build a school. They are everything you instantly imagine when you see or hear the word teenager. In their short introduction many stereotypes are reaffirmed, and a few are slightly twisted or just left unfulfilled. Some of them talk in emoticons and are always on their phone. Which does lead to some adorable emoticon artwork and some neat text messages being readable in panels. Others are busy flirting like the hormonal humans they are. But all of them act like teenagers. They aren't as smart as they believe they are, they are randomly dramatic, and also needlessly cruel.
Yet these teens are hurdling towards an unforeseen doom. Well unforeseen by the characters, thanks to an amazing two page spread on the second and third page, we know it is coming. Which starts that palatable feeling of dread I mentioned earlier. Knowing SOMETHING will happen, but not sure how bad it will be or how it will transpire is agonizing. Every expression and word bubble gives more insight into characters, but not what lies ahead. Each page you turn gives you a moment of doubt, will this be the page it all goes to shit? And yet you trek on.
Then finally it happens, the bus literally goes off a cliff and everything changes. Seeing the bus fly downward gave me a brief sense of relief. It was here. By the time the bus landed, and everyone started reacting, a new dread took over. The issue ends with one of the teens trying to rationalize it all, they will be safe soon enough. They are Americans, they will get rescued. That is how these stories end, right? But it's not, not here at least. The bus leaping off the cliff is just the start, what happens next, I can only guess, but I don't expect it to be pretty. Which makes this a book I need to read when it comes out. I must know what happens next, I need that feeling of dread to go away. But I suspect it will only escalate for a while.
You may notice I have done zero in the way of discussing characters specifically. The front cover shares the names of fifteen characters from the book. While I already have some favorites, there is little that can be said about most of them. This is the first twenty minutes of the movie, stereotypes are bandied about, with a little bit of hints towards greater secrets. Over this series we will get to know the characters and they can be discussed in full. Until then, they are just that group of teens. Come next issue I expect them to start differentiating themselves more as the initial trauma is more deeply responded to.
I would be remiss by not mentioning how gorgeous the artwork is. Carla Speed McNeil is the best artist you have likely never heard of. She is also the creator of Finder, one of the best science fiction comics ever. Her character expressions are full of life and story. I will admit half of my favorite characters are only my favorites due to their design and how they emote. She can also do amazing crowd scenes, the two page spread that starts the book is a group photo of the cast and it has so much to take in it isn't funny. From that image you get so much characterization that I already feel like I know them and join in mourning their loss before any horror has even begun. The cast also looks like they are teens, they look and act young. They also have a diversity of body types which is welcome while also helping easily identify with the characters. Honestly I'd probably buy this book just to look at the art, thankfully the story is strong too.
No Mercy has character, tension, and mood to spare. The feeling of dread is real, which isn't something that happens in most comics. Go buy this book so I'm not the only one panicking with each page.
You can also here more about No Mercy #1 on this week's CBMFP