Ahoy, my fellow Venturites (provided “ahoy” is actual maritime lingo, and not something concocted to lure landlubbers like myself into a false sense of belonging), I can safely say that the fifth installment of The Mercenary Sea is just as stunning as the previous four, and in terms of cover-to-cover action, nearly the equal of TMS #4. Objectively, it’s a totally solid issue, but while it contains all of the trappings and elements that made the opening quartet so fantastic, they don’t quite organically click this time around.

But before we get into that, there’s a quick correction that needs to be made. In my review of The Mercenary Sea #4, I lauded Mathew Reynolds’ work on the stylized sound effects. While the quality of the work remains unchanged, it is Letterer Pat Brosseau who should be credited with this wonderful contribution to The Mercenary Sea’s aesthetic. His word art exudes the very same pulp adventure feel that Reynold’s visuals achieve, adds a percussive punch to the action scenes, as well as an added sense of motion. Again, I apologize for the mix-up.

Between Reynolds' art and Brosseau's letters, this is one of my favorite splash pages ever.

Between Reynolds’ art and Brosseau’s letters, this is one of my favorite splash pages ever.

My inability to properly give credit where credit is indeed due aside, The Mercenary Sea #5 conveniently picks up exactly where #4 left off. For those lacking an eidetic memory (yours truly included) Captain Jack Harper has yet to compensate the Chinese fisherman who guided him through the jungle to Chen Xie, leader of the Resistance. But, true to the Lannister motto (and hopefully none of the unsavory and/or icky qualities the name bestows) the good cap’n has full intention of paying his debts by breaking their wives out of the nearby Japanese supply depot.

Conveniently, Chen Xie had recently set his sights on raiding the same facility, in order to set alight the fuel and ammunition caches powering the base’s planes. Soooooooo…joint mission? Joint mission. Sure, the issue wasn’t capped off with a handshake capable of registering a double-digit Richter scale reading, or turning the time-space continuum into Swiss cheese, but it was close enough.

Perhaps Kel Symons wasn’t eager to have back-to-back issues open on nighttime rescue missions, so #5 leads with an extended conversation between Harper and, a recent rescuee herself, Evelyn Greene. While it’s true that the conversation isn’t information both characters are already privy to, but rehashed for the sake of the readers (one of my pet peeves in comics…or all media), the degree to which Evelyn discusses her family history/past is surprising, given her profession. Throw in the fact that Jack and his crew are relatively fresh faces to Evelyn, and…well…I guess Evelyn must be a really good judge of character, despite the scene feeling out of it. Character, that is.

As much as I love Reynolds' work with light here, this scenario wraps up way too easily.

As much as I love Reynolds’ work with light here, this scenario wraps up way too easily.

As for the raid itself, well, *MINOR SPOILERS* it sort of goes off without a hitch. Do distracts the guards by merely waltzing into camp singing verses from “The Monkeys Have No Tails in Zamboanga,” a song popular amongst American soldiers in the Pacific during WWII. And on that note, kudos to Symons’ research: he’s always got me pulling up Wikipedia several times per issue, learning new things, and I deeply loathe his attempt to educate me when I’m reading comics. Why Do, though?

All rhyming inquiries aside, by virtue of not being “white,” or well-known to the authorities, Do’s appearance creates confusion, whereas someone like Doc or Evelyn would immediately arouse suspicions, if not a “shoot first, interrogations and ‘antiquated, but proven’ forms of torture later” scenario. Sure, this might seem “well, duh” to you, but I mulled over the selection for a good couple minutes. Because I’m dense.

"I love it when a plan comes together."

“I love it when a plan comes together.”

So the women are located, the charges are set, a few overly ambitious pilots are mortally deterred from “spreading the good news,” and everybody crowds into the back of Doc’s awaiting truck, only to drive away while explosions abound. While there’s no doubt that the practically wordless scene is laid out on the page wonderfully, showing every member doing their part to execute the plan, it still seems to go off with few complications, if any. Not that Harper’s crew is a bumbling lot (they aren’t) but I was expecting, as with past issues, that The Mercenary Sea would continue to reinforce what poet Robert Burns had to say regarding the topic of “best laid plans.” It’s just a little too tidy for me, and makes The Mercenary Sea #5 come across as the mere “play-by-play” of the plan laid out at the end of issue four.

However, this urgent need to tie up all of the plot threads stemming from the original plan (that being the rescue of Top Hat/Evelyn) is semi-understandable, when one looks at the “big picture.” See, with this being the penultimate issue of The Mercenary Sea’s opening arc, I’d wager Symons isn’t eager to throw one too many monkey wrenches into the mix at this juncture. Instead, TMS #5 functions more as a setup for the upcoming arc.

While it’s true that the early scene with Evelyn and Jack comes across heavy-handed in its doling out of back story, and the Japanese base raid scene “plays it safe,” there are a few moments in the closing pages of the issue that reminded me why this is one of my favorite monthly reads. I especially enjoyed Jack’s “promotion” of sorts, and the compounding mystery surrounding Koji Ra that accompanied it. Not to mention that Jack’s “final word” when Evelyn playfully chides him about the dangers of following fairy tales says a great deal about his life philosophy.

But the real gem that made me (mostly) forget about the mid-issue misfires is Jack’s two word “deadpan” when he arrives at the rendezvous site. If it doesn’t strike you as something that’d come out of Harrison Ford’s mouth, bullwhip in hand, I don’t know what would. Much unlike Detroit’s bullpen this year, Symons manages to close this issue strong.

Watchtower

“All along the watchtower…”

Chances are, however, you’re wondering if Mathew Reynolds has continued to engage in whatever life-draining primordial ritual has his artwork looking like nothing else in the modern comic scene. Well, guess what? I don’t even need to sift through tea leaves or break out my Parker Bros Ouija board to tell you that the answer is a definitive “Y-E-S.” That’s right, nothing quite promises a quality séance like the guys that brought you Monopoly.

Perhaps the most astounding thing about Reynolds’ art isn’t that it’s consistently good, it’s that it’s persistently better, month after month. There’s no denying that The Mercenary Sea #5 features certain flourishes and motifs that Reynolds favors, but they’re more detailed and nuanced this time around. Take for example Reynold’s self-admitted obsession of playing with light. Look at the scene when the watchtower turns the spotlight on Do, and the way the light bends and breaks when he puts his hand over his eyes. Check out how the light cuts through his hair, and illuminates the lower half of his face, all while continuing to push past him. It’s a fantastic shot that, when coupled with Brosseau’s mechanical lettering of the powering-up spotlight, lends a real sense of foreboding.

Check out Brosseau's amazing lettering.  First rate.

Check out Brosseau’s amazing lettering. First rate.

Oh, and did I mention that Reynolds continues to make hyper-violence look like something I’d still want to frame on my wall? There’s a scene during the raid when “Smokestack” takes down a Japanese pilot: the cockpit becomes a canvas for Reynolds, one of blood splatter, shattered glass, and trails of light as the bullets crash through one side of the glass, and out the other. Well, most of them, anyway.

This increased penchant for detail amidst a stylized aesthetic (as paradoxical as that might sound) is also evident when Captain Harper’s crew, alongside Chen Xie’s soldiers “open up” on the watchtower. Naturally, Reynolds’ trademark blocky art-deco cones of light, and bullet trails are to be found, as well as Brosseau’s ever-present cacophony of ricochets and destruction. However, it’s the fidelity of the clouds of debris thrown up into the air, all of varying sizes and shapes, and the chunks torn out of the tower that really impress me, and further demonstrate Reynolds’ growth as an artist. Bottom line: people that flip through a few pages of TMS and mistakenly assume Reynolds’ style doesn’t lend itself to white-knuckle action are frighteningly wrong.

This would be a "not-so-irrational" fear of flying.

This would be a “not-so-irrational” fear of flying.

There’s a chance that some of you might feel that my touting of The Mercenary Sea has reached a sort of “broken record” status. That you’ve heard me shout the same praises and laud similar aspects of TMS several times over.   Naturally, as a writer, facing the prospects of redundancy and repetition is a frightening thing, and one to be avoided if at all possible. Unfortunately, it appears the only way that’s going to happen is if Symons, Reynolds, and Brosseau collectively scheme to self-sabotage the book that is rapidly finding its way onto “Best Comics You Should be Reading” lists left and right. So if the cost of consistently fantastic reads (issue five’s minor missteps aside) is coming across a bit repetitious, I’ll just have to live with Plato’s words that “there is no harm in repeating a good thing.” There. I just quoted a Greek philosopher. That means, even if it is ripped out of context, I’m right. I win.

The Mercenary Sea can be purchased at your Local Comic Shop, on Comixology, or Image Comics (the latter of which is DRM-Free).

Overall Score
92 %

The Mercenary Sea #5 is not without a few minor hiccups, but strong art, and looming questions about the fate of the Venture's crew more than make up for it.

Writing 88%
Art 92%
Lettering 95%

About The Author

Growing up, Nick White dreamed of a career with the Chicago Bulls. This is because he was young and stupid, and his parents were of the "you can do ANYTHING" mentality.

When he was older, and probably not a whole lot smarter, Nick purchased Alan Moore's From Hell on a whim (that in itself probably says a lot). He was astounded to find that comics were as bizarre and twisted as his beloved Twin Peaks. After that he bought Batman: The Black Mirror strictly on the cover's aesthetics (Who the hell is Scott Snyder?" he said) and hasn't looked back since. Except, of course, in situations that necessitate such.

When he's not "busy" playing Castlevania or harassing Zander about what he ought to be reading, Nick continues to work on his makeshift shrine to Jeff Lemire.

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