The central plot point of No Mercy is a bus crash, but five issues in, it's starting to look a little more like a train wreck. In earlier issues, the series had some notable things going for it. The concept was simple but engaging (as a college senior myself, the idea of sending a group of annoying abroad students off a cliff, iphones in hand, won the book immediate points), the stakes were real, and the dangers were legitimately frightening. The second issue in particular had an excellent sequence in which the students fend coyotes off from the site of a crash that was frenetic, scary, and creative. Sadly, the book has begun to become scattered and unfocused as the various plotlines diverge from the basic survival premise. In issue five, Anthony, Troy, and Kira are picked up by either the local government or a drug cartel (I remain unsure though it could conceivably be both). The lead cartel/agent (I should really figure that out) seems to have something to do with the cocaine revealed to have been on the bus. Meanwhile Tiffany and Deshawn climb back towards civilization and find burly, cliched Hispanic workers. Travis and Gina have a heart to heart in the desert, revealing their mutually shallow personalities. This is a lot of plot to pack into 30 pages (saying nothing of Sister Iines who appears briefly and the twin who are mysteriously absent) and the book moves extremely quickly.
Characterization is a tricky aspect of No Mercy. At one level, author Alex De Campi is doing a good job at balancing an increasingly complex plot without ignoring that the large cast still needs fleshing out. Each issue brings some new insight or character beats to one or two of the students. It is however problematic that the characters remain such insufferable adolescent cliches. In the midst of a life-threatening disaster they talk in emoticons and abbreviations (one character says outloud 'FWIW'), flirt with one another, make horrible decisions, and generally make a good case for not deserving to survive. That probably sounds crueler than I intend it (see again, my status as a college student), but five issues in, I am still waiting for anyone but Anthony, who continues to be fascinating, to show some sort of character and intelligence. For the moment it remains a cast of horror film cannon fodder and, when the issue ends on a particularly gruesome note, it's hard to feel more than a mild surprise and revulsion.
One might suggest that the two-dimensional characterization is a fitting way to indicate the particularly juvenile state of mind people of this age find themselves in. There is perhaps something to this, though it still makes caring about their trials rather difficult, however it would not explain the flatness of the rest of the cast. The Hispanic characters in the story remain confined to the roles of drug runners, nuns, and, in this issue, rapists. Upon finding a wounded, dehydrated Tiffany, and entire group of working class citizens can think of nothing better to do than fondle her and make allusions to sex. It gives Deshawn a chance to act like a hero by rescuing her, but it's at the expense of side characters and realism (frankly, the oppressive bleakness of the story is starting to wear thin).
Carla Speed McNeil's art does very little to add dimension to any element of No Mercy. Her characters continue to appear flat and in some cases hard to tell apart, and the background landscapes lack any bit of barren beauty or even depth. To put it bluntly, thanks in part to McNeil's art but also in part to the use of real texting emoticons in the word balloons, No Mercy looks distractingly cheaply made (an exception in Image's usually sharp-looking catalogue).
The one bright spot in No Mercy #5 is Anthony who continue to be a hugely interesting character. Having a deaf character lends him a specificity the others lack, and in the first four issues he has proved to be the most talented at surviving and thinking on his feet. Sadly, he is given the same amount of focus as every other character and cannot hold the whole book together. This one character aside, unless watching vapid teenagers succumb to infection and predatory animals is your thing (no judgment here), there is increasingly little to recommend No Mercy.
No Mercy #5 Author: Alex De Campi Artist: Carla Speed McNeil Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 12/9/15 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital