By Kel Symons & Mathew Reynolds
At first glance, The Mercenary Sea #1 looks like an interesting read. However, looks can be deceiving. It may be up to subjective tastes, but this initial outing was an outright turn off in terms of writing and overall delivery.
Kel Symons opens up a very pulpy looking tale set amidst the Pacific in 1938. However, for a vast majority of the book there was absolutely no sense of who any of the characters were or what the aim of this story might be. By one of the last couple of pages we finally get a brief background on the players who appear to be central to the story, but it was too little far too late. This type of relative ambiguity can work well for an opening issue if executed correctly, but in the case of Mercenary Sea, the characters were so uninteresting and bland that the confusion over their very identities was just another unnecessary obstacle in getting through this book. There isn’t a lot more to be said on the writing side of things; the characters are boring, there was barely any semblance of story, the dialogue was bland, and some events seem to happen out of nowhere without any sensible context. Maybe this issue could’ve worked if the series was already established, but as an initial outing it was kind of a mess.
Thankfully, there are a fairly large number of panels, and even whole pages, completely devoid of dialogue. These are the relative golden moments in the book, as Mathew Reynolds displays a very unique stylistic approach. A lot of panels, particularly early in the book, provide a very deep pulp sensibility, particularly through the minimalist color schemes. There were also a number of images that came off too cartoony for the apparent tone of the book, at times making it feel cheap. Yes, some of the artwork was quite beautiful, but overall it was somewhat weak in execution. The details were sorely lacking and a lot of the framing and positioning felt awkward.
Overall, this first installment of The Mercenary Sea was just very boring. At least personally, there was nothing to like about this book. The few great visuals weren’t enough to recover from the surprisingly bland writing. Maybe this series will develop a solid story, but this didn’t feel like a great way to bring in new readers. As an introduction to the title, this book didn’t really offer anything to get excited about or interested in.