‘The Mercenary Sea, Vol. 1’: a pulp treasure as precious as the one its swashbuckling hero seeks

Cover for ‘Mercenary Sea, Vol. 1’ trade (Image Comics)

The Mercenary Sea is set in 1938, shortly before the U.S.’s entry into World War II, and follows the maritime exploits of a Captain Jack Harper and his crew sailing the South Seas in a submarine looking for smuggling work, contraband and a mysterious island called Koji Ra that’s supposedly overflowing with treasures… and danger. Along the way, they encounter friendly cannibals with a yen for the bright lights of Hollywood, American OSS operatives and bounty hunters looking for Captain Harper’s head.

The Mercenary Sea, Vol. 1 collects issues #1-6 of the monthly comic from Image has everything a good modern pulp story should have: intrigue, mystery, romance, extreme adventure and nostalgic nods. I love the array of characters and situations that Kel Symons (@kelsymons) and Mathew Reynolds (@batfish73) have created (for an insider’s look into what inspired their work, check out our recent interview). All of the crew have their unique skills and talents along with enough of a shady background to keep them on Harper’s submarine and out of the public eye for some reason. They’re a crew of true rogues, simply trying to keep themselves employed and fed.

True to the spirit of pulp serial films, every chapter in this volume closes on a cliffhanger that, while torturous for loyal monthly readers like myself, will provide deliciously instant gratification for those who pick up this paperback volume.

Mathew Reynolds’ artistry provides us with images that have a late 30s, Art Nouveau feel. Flat perspectives and bold colors are completely historically accurate for this story and place all of the events and characters completely in context. This title was my first introduction to Reynolds’ art and I have to say that I am genuinely impressed. To me, there seems to be some influence of Howard Chaykin in his drawing, which would also be appropriate for the story’s historical period.

I’ve said this before in my singe issue reviews of this title, but this is one of the best titles out there right now. In fact, I don’t mean to boast, but if you look on the back cover of this trade paperback you’ll see a quote from a review by yours truly alongside other blurbs from BuzzFeed and Ain’t It Cool News.

The Mercenary Sea is a fantastic title for classic adventure and war-story buffs like myself, but it’s also a good book to get younger readers to fall in love with the pulp aesthetic as well as to become more interested the historical pre-WWII era. It’s loaded with a fabulous range of heroes, villains, supporting characters and sub-plots with extensive potential for continued adventures in future story arcs.

About Captain John K. Kirk

Captain John K. Kirk
John Kirk is an English and History teacher and librarian in Toronto, Canada. In addition to the traditional curriculum, John tries to teach his students to make sense of geek culture. And with the name "J. Kirk," it's hard for him to not inject "Star Trek" into his lessons. Comics, RPGs and the usual fanboy gear make up his classroom resources.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.