REVIEW: ‘The Mercenary Sea’ #3

(Image Comics, 2014)

Writer: Kel Symons
Art & Colors: Mathew Reynolds
Lettering & Design: Pat Brosseau

With its inspired setting and stunning visuals, The Mercenary Sea #3 is the latest issue of the new Image Comics series, written by Kel Svmons, with art by Mathew Reynolds, and lettering by Pat Brosseau. The action and adventures unfold in 1938 – The South Seas, Japan has invaded China, and War is looming in Europe. Ex-bootlegger Captain Jack Harper commands the refitted German U-Boat, The Venture, who along with his motley crew of expats, mercenaries, and treasure hunters, travel the seas in search of adventure and fortune, often carrying out dangerous highly-paid missions just to keep the sub running, battling against pirates, head-hunters, and soldiers in their quest to find the greatest prize of all.

The Mercenary Sea #3 begins as Captain Jack Harper and the crew of the Venture, along with the British Intelligence agent Commander Graham who is posing as a Royal Navy officer, embark on their new mission deep into enemy waters where they must rescue a British spy, code-named “Top Hat,” who became trapped behind enemy lines after the Japanese took Shanghai. However, a run in with their old enemy, Captain Tono of the Imperial Japanese Navy, soon places the Venture and her crew in danger.

Normally it can take a few issues for a new series to hit its stride, but having quickly established the crew of the Venture, writer Kel Symons continues to flesh out some of the characters in this third issue, as Captain Harper’s mission brings him into conflict with Captain Tono. With such a large cast of characters we are still getting to know many of them, they are certainly rag-tad bunch, with a great mix of personalities and nationalities, and I like how Symons has struck just the right balance between the intense action and the humorous banter between the crew.

So far we have barely scratched the surface when it comes to these characters, and we’ve only been fleetingly introduced to many of them. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we discover more about the Venture’s crew and their backgrounds. Their shady pasts and secrets are sure to hold a wealth of intriguing possibilities for Symons to build on and explore in future issues. Captain Tono of the Imperial Japanese Navy also makes a great adversary for the Venture, he’s someone they have tangled with before, and his sudden arrival sets in motion a nerve jangling battle of wits between the two captains.

The art by Mathew Reynolds brings a really distinctive and highly stylized look to every issue. Reynolds use of a multi-plane approach to many of the panels, with the focus often fixed on the characters in the foreground while the background remains slightly blurred, really helps enhance the atmosphere of the submarine setting. It’s a sublime technique, one that allows Reynolds to take full advantage of the digital format, and effortlessly draws you into story. Every page is almost like a collection of animated film cells, the colors are also sumptuous and rich, moulding an uncanny sense of realism around the characters and their environment. The characters are boldly defined, each with simple, yet, distinctive features, and the snappy dialogue heightens the tension further as the Venture’s mission runs into trouble.

I really like the way Reynolds’ use of color also makes every page reflect the tone of the story: especially the shimmering aquatic hues of the underwater sequences, you’d swear you could almost hear every ping of the sonar echoing through the depths as the subs dark, claustrophobic interior seem to close in around you, while the account of an old sea legend is beautifully illustrated with a surreal, almost dreamlike quality.

After the Venture finally reaches its rendezvous point Mr Graham’s agent, Top Hat, seems to be late. With no further transmissions from Top Hat received, Captain Harper and Mr Graham decide to take a team ashore and find Top Hat. Again, these scenes are perfectly staged by Symons, with some great interactions between the principle characters, and the blood red vista of the rising sun creeping over the horizon is another standout example of Reynolds work on this title that will transfix you with its striking clarity as the issue approaches its brutal climax.

This old school style pulp adventure series on the high seas is a really entertaining and visually impressive book, with its great setting and premise, as well as its concise attention to period detail, all works together to make The Mercenary Sea one of the most compelling new titles I’ve read in a long while and definitely one to watch out for.

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Impossible Astronaut Profile

Paul Bowler is a self-Confessed Sci-Fi Geek, Doctor Who fan, and Zombie Disposal Expert. He likes movies, comic books, and all things PS3. He likes to write about his interests, would love to write a novel one day, and also enjoys chatting to the many people he has gotten to know on Twitter. When he’s not busy being an Impossible Astronaut, he likes to take a break from his adventures in time and space to enjoy some of his favourite tv shows and movies – preferably with a nice cuppa tea & a sandwich! You can follow him on Twitter @paul_bowler, or find him at his website, Sci-Fi Jubilee.

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