Image has been announcing books left and right lately and 2014 is already shaping up to be a strong year from them. The problem with that is that sometimes a book slips by or is forgotten because of all the announcements. I had the opportunity to read The Mercenary Sea prior to its release and I have to say that this book should be on more people’s radar. The story is set in the Pacific, 1938. For you those of you wondering what the importance of that year is, it’s in the days before the U.S. joined World War II. The opening is fantastic because it’s very suspenseful as we meet our team of mercenaries as they land on an island leaving their submarine a safe distance from shore. In this quick moment we get a quick look at everyone on the team. It’s a great opening scene that I won’t spoil for you.
From there we get to know the crew a little bit as they hang out with some natives of the island. Jack the leader of the group asks the tribe leader about an island filled with treasure and monsters that time forgot. Jack learns that the island is called Koji Ra, but that it’s the thing of stories, not reality. It’s clear that Koji Ra will play a part in the story eventually, even if it’s just Jack’s white whale.
Our group of mercenaries takes off for civilization and lands at South Haven. It’s clearly a pirate esque town from the way it’s set up. Jack asks one of his men, Jarreau, to drum up work and trade supplies while they too look for work. This leads Jack to his familiar watering hole where he’s greeted by a beautiful woman and a punch to the face from a very pissed off dude. This scene is used to quickly establish the caliber of man who Jack is as we learn that he sunk the man and his friend’s ships because they were enslaving people. We also learn that Jack can handle his own in a fight as he takes on three guys and wins.
This draws the attention of a man by the name of “Mr. Taylor” who just so happens to have a job for them, but not before he runs down the file he has on each of the crew members. Jack and Renner call him out instantly for being a spy and pass on the job. Really the scene is just a smart way to give the black & white details of each characters background. There’s no context to any of the events which leaves it open for further exploration in the story, but it’s a good start for the readers.
I really liked this issue. A lot of it had to do with artist Mathew Reynolds visuals. Writer Kel Symons understands that Reynolds can at times tell the story better than the narration and this is especially true of the beginning. There’s a bit of banter between the characters when they reach the island, but for the most part the intensity comes from Reynolds artwork.
His style has a classic look to it. I don’t want to say that its pulp inspired because it’s too clean and sharp for that. I honestly look at it and the first thing that comes to mind is animation and at times it looks very animated in the way it almost moves on the page. Reynolds style is familiar and once you read the issue you’ll see what I mean. You’ve probably seen fan art on the internet that looks just like it, but even though it’s familiar it’s still 100% Reynolds and the man can tell a story visually.
What really impressed me about his artwork was the fact that it captured the era with a lot of accuracy. The clothing, the fashion, the weapons and just everything visually look authentic. Even though the look was animated it still transports your imagination back to that time which is very powerful.
Now the writing has some familiar devices that stood out to me. They may not stand out to everyone because it really depends on your level of exposure to storytelling. Things like Jack proving his morals and fighting skills was reminiscent of Indiana Jones and even Serenity. The run through with the files was the same thing, a quick and easy way to give the reader info about the characters within the early moments of the story which can be found in any story involving con men. Even though these scenes stood out to me and I knew what the point of the devices was they were incredibly effective for the story.
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t get into Symons previous Image title I Love Trouble, but here the story is much more grounded. The pacing is steady and while there are predictable elements of the story, I’m still very interested in seeing where it goes. I’m sure there will be plenty of twists and turns for the series.
Overall I like the setting and the period in which the story takes place. I like that it’s before the U.S.’s involvement in WWII and that it’s happening on the Pacific side of things. The approach is very different and in that regards isn’t following the beaten path that Hollywood has dredged over and over.
This is a really good first issue and I hope that people pay attention to it because it has the potential to be a great series. Sure the creators are some of the more established comic industry names working at Image, but that’s what’s made Image great… up and coming creators. With as many big titles coming down the pipeline they’re going to be hard pressed to beat The Mercenary Sea in my opinion. Do not miss out on this issue, my gut and experience tell me that’s it geared towards a second print already.
Writer: Kel Symons Artist: Mathew Reynolds Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 2/12/14