Sunday, June 29, 2014

Image Comics' The Mercenary Sea: They aim to misbehave

The Mercenary Sea: They aim to misbehave
by rick olivares

Adventure in the high seas of the last great war. Mercs. Hollywood loving cannibals. Beautiful spies.

If you love Baa Baa Black Sheep, Firefly, and Han Solo you’ll love Kel Symons and Matthew Reynolds’ The Mercenary Sea; one of the best comic books out there today that you might have not heard of but should get to reading post-haste.

The Mercenary Sea is set in the Asia-Pacific theater right before the European conflagration engulfed that hemisphere to become a truly world war. A team led by a bootlegger named Jack Harper has gathered a band of mercenaries of disparate backgrounds and nationalities who ply the shipping routes as smugglers and soldiers of fortune. Standing in their way are the Chinese Nationalist and Japanese Imperial Armies with the former a sometimes ally but of circumstance.

Their Serenity or Millennium Falcon is a submarine called The Venture that was taken (or stolen depending on which point of view you subscribe to) from the Chinese Nationalist Army. And of course, that means they want it back.

I love the fact that Symons uses real events in the backdrop of this story from Japan’s invasion of China to that country’s struggle with a communist insurgency to the use of comfort women, an issue that remains controversial in Southeast Asia to this day.

Harper is a complex man. Although his allegiance is to money and whatever pays the bills, he has a conscience and recklessly dives into trouble such as in the case of rescuing the comfort women or foregoing pay to help a medical mission. This puts him at odds with the rest of the crew most notably Wulf, a former WWI U-Boat commander, who pilots The Venture.

As a kid, I read all sorts of comics and not just the superhero fare. I read westerns and even the war comics like G.I. Combat and Sgt. Rock. My favorite was Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos.

While Symons’ writing contains none of the snappy patter that characterized Stan Lee’s Sgt. Fury, The Mercenary Sea is a great read as the crew of The Venture bicker, argue, and complain as they torpedo into one adventure and battle after another.

John “Smokestack” Johnson is Gabriel Jones. Milton Weatherborne III is Percival Pinkerton. Wulf Renner is Eric Koenig.

Ah, but Symons goes the extra mile because there’s the Carol Danvers-esque Samantha Blair and alluring British spy, Evelyn Greene.

Speaking of my analogy to Sgt. Fury, if you were a fan of that comic book, you will know that a primary character was killed in the fourth issue. With all the shooting on land and sea in The Mercenary Sea, it stands to reason there will be casualties. Eventually.

And a huge part of the book’s allure is the beautiful artwork and coloring by Matthew Reynolds that leaves you gazing at each and every panel. Every page is a visual treat. It’s like going through animated cells from a Saturday morning cartoon; in particular, Jonny Quest.

I love Reynolds’ use of colors. Not since we had Liquid Graphics on X-treme X-men (adding a lot more depth to Salvador Larroca’s already impressive art) as well as Lynn Varley coloring Frank Miller’s 300 has the coloring of a comic book looked so vibrant.

Matt’s use of light and shadows are very evocative; the best since Frank Miller was our tourist guide to Sin City. The Mercenary Sea may have this pop art feel but it is every bit powerful as a blast from a battleship.

And make no mistake, Reynolds’ work is a huge part of the appeal of this book.

The way the team uses its creative titles and covers that reminds me of those classic Punisher issues of Carl Potts and artists Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio.

There are a couple of other “war” books out today – Avatar’s Uber and Image’s Peter Panzerfaust. However, both have a superhero/powers bent to it. The Mercenary Sea is your conventional “war” book with great characters and even bigger action.

Now check it out or report at 0500 hours for latrine duty.

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