My first thought after finishing The Mercenary Sea was “Is Kel Symons Jim Valentino’s cousin or something?” Turns out I was pretty close, per a CBR promotional interview Symons (i Love Trouble, also from Image) is a development executive and film/TV writer that’s friends with Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson. So, apparently, that’s how a publisher with a glowing reputation for impressive work from comics' greatest talents and most exciting newcomers releases a cliché-ridden collection of tired story beats and paper thin characters.
It’s all in who you know.
The Mercenary Sea commits the crime of offering nothing new, interesting or original. It’s barely more than a movie pitch (“What if Firefly took place on a hijacked sub in 1938?”) and its cast are adventure/war film staples. There’s a wily Frenchman, a German who replaces all his w’s with v’s, a plucky young female mechanic, a doctor that’s a former drunk. This ragtag group is led by Malcom Solo Indiana Whoever; he’s stoic, squints into the distance often, exchanges banter with improbably English-speaking island cannibals. He’s hunting treasure and the legend of a mysterious island. A short sequence hints that there may be dinosaurs on the island!
You can imagine my surprise.
There’s almost nothing in this book that isn’t cribbed from better stories. A few pages in I noticed an African American character bore a resemblance to Carl Weather’s character in Predator. Two pages later Symons’ inexplicably recreates the scene from that film where a scorpion is stabbed off a character’s back. It’s the same exact beat; the possibility of betrayal as a knife is raised towards the unsuspecting teammate, the stab, the reveal of a dangerous creature. There’s a scene where a guy from Brooklyn reminisces about Brooklyn, a couple of pages where a “mysterious stranger” with an eye-patch recounts the sordid history of our motley crew, a bar fight that ends with the old it-looks-like-I-stabbed-this-guy-in-the-head-but-really-I-just-stuck-the-knife-in-the-table-next-to-his-head bit.
The art, by Matthew Reynolds, is some sort of vector/digital style with a lot of silhouettes and unfocused backgrounds. The second page has a neat cinematic rack focus trick between panels but overall it’s not my cup of tea. I recognize the skill it takes and the storytelling is clear and the characters are competently designed but I just don’t care for the style. On the other hand the coloring, also by Reynolds, it pretty simplistic. Maybe I’m spoiled by Jordie Bellaire working on half the books I read but the basic palette Reynolds’ uses didn’t impress. Pages are coded with one color per scene pretty much; the jungle is a cool blue, the bar is red, flashbacks are yellow, it becomes pretty monotonous.
In the end The Mercenary Sea comes off as little more than a tired rehash of its obvious inspirations. The characters are dull and lifeless, the attempted humor falls flat, there’s no tension or sexiness or danger, all important ingredients in what is supposed to be a rollicking adventure book. I’m staying away and I suggest you save your money too.