Pulp Corner: The Mercenary Sea Vol. 1
It’s a good time to be a fan of the pulp genre. There has been an explosion in the last few years covering many of the different styles that make it what it is. In my eyes there are basically two camps it can be boiled down to. The costumed vigilantes that grew out of The Shadow or the more Indiana Jones type adventurers that follow in the Doc Savage tradition. While Dynamite Entertainment is publishing endless streams of these golden age pulp characters (mainly of masked vigilante variety), Image Comics is putting out two very solid books which follow more of the traditional globetrotting fortune hunters. The first is Five Ghosts which I honestly can’t say enough about and the other is the reason you’re here, The Mercenary Sea.
The series follows Jack Harper and other soldiers of fortune that make up the crew of the Venture in the heady days at the tip of WWII when the whole world was in a panic. They are made up of a group of expatriates with murky morality from various countries taking on different jobs throughout the world and looking for adventure. Harper plays the role of the loveable rogue with a heart of gold. He’s a former American bootlegger turned mercenary hired by the Chinese during WWI to pilot a German U-Boat for them which found itself not being returned to its owners.
I remember reading about it before it appeared on the shelves last fall. One particular interview between Comic Book Resources and author Kel Symons stood out to me:
“Mathew and I always talked about doing this like a lost Howard Hawks film — in the vein of “To Have and Have Not” or “Only Angels Have Wings”– movies about honorable but desperate men, often in far off places, trying to carve out a living in one of the last frontier”
How could I possibly resist that? That description is exactly what I want in a good adventure yarn.
The next thing I noticed was the art, this is what I think will make or break someone’s opinion of the book. It could have easily just assigned any traditional artist good with replicating the style an old school story like this needs. Instead, Matthew Reynolds art stands out like a sore thumb. It’s like a grown up Johnny Quest. It’s all big colors without outlines, and everything looking very solid. I’m not sure if I could ever properly explain it, but you know it when you see it. I was indifferent to it at first, but came around by the end of the trade. More importantly, it makes this book jump out on comic book stands. Nothing remotely resembles it.
I could get into the particulars of the story, but in all honesty I don’t think that’s what will sell you. The plot is serviceable and we don’t learn an awful lot about the motley crew of the Venture focusing mostly on Harper instead. It’s espionage, it’s war, it’s far off and exotic locations, it’s cinematic, it’s diverse and colorful characters and it’s fun. That’s all you need to know. It’s a 1940’s action adventure serial in a comic book format and that’s something that had been sorely missing from the shelves for a long time. Just seeing the maps and ocean charts that start off each chapter of the trade gets me excited.
If any of this sounds remotely interesting to you, give it a shot. The first trade contains issues 1-6 and follows the Image pricing plan of $9.99 (hear that Marvel?). Honestly, how could you go wrong?
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