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Roughly midway through the first issue of Mercenary Sea, Jack, captain of the Venture, settles into his office because he’s “got some work to do.” Sitting on his worktable is a stack of books; among them are Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Tarzan. I don’t think it’s coincidental that this comic is reminiscent of these early works of adventure literature. Mercenary Sea is at once new and nostalgic, and the first issue set the stage for what promises to be a fun and addictive series.
From the moment I flipped to page one, I was instantly blown away by the artwork. Mathew Reynolds is quite obviously a master of minimalistic yet detailed spreads. In so many scenes, he manages to depict so much using only backdrops and silhouettes. Normally, I like to look at the book as a whole before breaking down individual contributions by the creative team, but my jaw dropped when I saw page one, and I was repeatedly impressed from beginning to end. Visually speaking, reading Mercenary Sea is like watching a classic film, and judging by Kel Symon’s inspiration for the comic, I’m guessing that wasn’t an accident.
So yes, silhouettes and experimental lighting make this a very visually appealing book—but what about the story? What about the characters? As the title suggests, the heroes of this nautical adventure are mercenaries, a ragtag bunch of misfits with checkered pasts and an odd yet touching tolerance for all of each other’s quirks and idiosyncrasies. Despite their flaws and past mistakes, the very same troubles that landed them on this submarine, they possess a firmly grounded moral compass. Make no mistake about it: these are the good guys.
This issue opened up so many threads that I don’t know where to begin. Jack has so many allies and enemies that the fine line separating friend from foe can be difficult to trace. From the south pacific island natives they visit to exchange supplies for film screenings to the angry slavers that want Jack dead, from curious “tourists” who know the intimate details of each of the Venture’s crewmembers, to the suspiciously friendly proprietors of the seedy seaside bar they meet in, this is a chess game with a lot of pieces in play. The captain of the Venture has an overwhelming amount of bounties out on his head and any number of people could be working to bring him down.
I think it goes without saying that Kel Symons has hit a homerun with Mercenary Sea. I’m more fascinated than overwhelmed by the sheer volume of characters introduced in this eventful first issue. Additionally, every moment was spent wisely. The bantering among the mercenaries taught me all about their group dynamic, as did the movie bartering. The dialogue is excellently written and tells so much without being overly expository—and there’s nothing worse than expository dialogue. The crew of the venture was tastefully introduced, giving just enough detail to leave me wanting more. I love these characters, and I can’t wait to follow them to the bottom of the sea and back.
Mercenary Sea #1 is set in the south Pacific during the tumultuous and chaotic years leading into World War II. I have a hard time believing that this pirate filled, wartime adventure comic will ever run out of exciting new dangers for Captain Jack and his crew to grapple with. I am most certainly on board with Mercenary Sea, and I can’t wait to see what exploits Symons has in store, and the beautiful images that Reynolds will put them to, in the coming issues.