The Mercenary Sea is by far, one of the most enjoyable books to come out of Image Comics in quite a while. What is most interesting about it though is that it is, like most Image books, unlike most anything out on the stands today. It contains a mix of genres which is always a good thing as it always keeps you interested in at least one aspect of the book, though to be fair, the entire thing will keep you interested from cover to cover. It is of course set solidly during the Second World War and because of that, features many of the references and politics of the time, not to mention the situations caused due to its time and setting. It is a bit of a spy thriller, a solid adventure, has a little bit of pulp and romance thrown in for good measure and has a fair amount of mystery as well. All in all, a well-rounded book to be sure.
Written by Kel Symons, he takes the reader on a ride through the South Seas aboard a submarine filled with a group of mercenaries and treasure hunters, most of who also happen to be ex-soldiers of various nations. They take on jobs here and there, doing what they must to keep going and stay out of the war, though for some, they can never go home. When Jack Harper receives an offer to go and rescue a British spy, he does not have much choice except to say yes as the crew needs the money and their sub needs the repairs. But come the end of the story, Symons delivers a twist, and a reveal is made that leaves the reader wanting more.
There is action galore in this book which really keeps it moving along at a good pace. Whether under the sea or on land, rescuing villagers or fighting in a bar, Symons keeps the book moving along at a good pace so as to never be boring. But queue in the mystery of a lost treasure, the politics of the war and sailing in enemy waters and the book would have been interesting even without all the great action sequences. Symons also peppers the book with some great cultural and popular references of the time, obviously having done his homework to give the story as much of an authentic feel as possible. Mentioning Claudette Colbert was a nice touch even though most people in these modern times would have no idea who she is and even titling the first story-arc after an Irving Berlin and Fred Astaire song, though with a slight change to the wording, was sheer genius. It was incredibly fun to read the book and pick out all the little things here and there; almost like Symons was sending the reader on a little treasure hunt of our own. Add to all of this a strong cast of characters made up of man and woman, hero and villain and the book is one compelling read.
To say that the artwork by Mathew Reynolds is good would be doing it a disservice. It is better than good, merging a traditional comic style with that of animation and creating something completely unique with a fantastic colour palette that really makes it pop. The artwork is almost reminiscent of a Bruce Timm cartoon though with a little more detail, giving it a near rugged and mature look at times. Reynolds also does his own colouring and it practically steals the show at times. The use of a single colour during certain periods during the book really highlights what the story is trying to tell at the moment, whether it be soft blues to depict nighttime or ocean sequences, or bright oranges for early mornings or deep reds for battle, the colour just adds another whole level of storytelling to this wonderful tale.
There are not too many titles that depict the Great War anymore, perhaps because of time and a newer generation, including newer conflicts of which to choose from for people to craft their stories about are all possible reasons. Garth Ennis still likes to reflect back upon it, Kieron Gillen has done so with Uber by creating an alternate reality and Marvel and DC still flash back once in a blue moon as some of their characters find their origins in that time. This book, while not particularly focusing upon that war, does float around the edges of it, touching upon it and the events that were taking place in that particular area of the world. It is a gripping story that proves there are still tales to be told in and around that time period in history. Kel Symons and Mathew Reynolds bring one of those to the reader, as if it had just jumped off the big screen as you can see it there, it is so realized. The Mercenary Sea is something different, good-different, and is an epic in the making so do yourself a favour and climb aboard Jack Harper’s sub and take a ride.
4.5 out of 5