In my book, there’s one cardinal rule when it comes to the “serial” genre, it’s the delivery of a solid cliffhanger ending whenever possible. Thank goodness that The Mercenary Sea, just in time for the final issue of their maiden arc, throws down a shocking doozy of a twist that’ll have you wondering if November and August can swap spots, if only for this year. For those not “in the know,” The Mercenary Sea, after reaching its sixth issue, won’t be weighing anchor on store shelves until November. Thankfully, after a pair of issues that had the Venture’s “on-screen” crew effectively halved, tied up with owing favors, and engaging in back-to-back rescue missions at night, TMS #6 makes short work of my shortlist of (past) shortcomings.

Yes, TMS #6 is pure pulp perfection from beginning to end, and it kicks off with what is probably my favorite cover of the series, courtesy of Mathew Reynolds’ stellar art. If you thought this guy could draw sunsets, shootouts, and explosions…his open-water waves have such a depth and force to them that you’ll reflexively tread water, no matter how landlocked you are. And between Jaw’s cousin hovering near their feet, and the angular fin making a beeline for Jack and Evelyn, it’s enough to make one ignore the statistical improbabilities of shark attacks, and “stick to the rivers and lakes that you’re used to.” Yup. Breaking out the infinite wisdom of TLC.

Here's that "stats" page for those that are curious.

Here’s that “stats” page for those that are curious.

Turn to the first page, and you’re greeted with a fantastic statistical breakdown of just how “evenly matched” the Venture and Captain Tono’s the Mikazuki are. The info junkies and history buffs will love it, and Kel Symons’ usual wit weaves its way in, in the form of the Venture’s final item. Of course, most of that information is irrelevant, save for speed; Tono has set a course for Tokyo Bay, and at the pace they’re setting, the window for a rescue attempt by the non-captured members of the Venture’s crew is closing rapidly.

Thankfully, we get Symons at the top of his game, deftly hopping between Captain Harper’s improvisatory attempt to contact the Venture (mind you, while he’s chained up in the brig), and the skeleton crew of the Venture scrambling to put said plan into motion. It’s a scene wonderfully fraught with danger and tension, made all the more palpable when the Tono’s radio operator catches wind of Captain Jack’s madcap scheming. Deus ex machina derived lockpicks aside, Symons makes good use of the Venture’s less-heralded members (their absence from the past couple installments being one of my few noted issues with TMS) and, in probably the first instance I’ve ever encountered, the communications specialist ends up being the “hero of the day.” Maybe next time, Uhura.

torpedosaway

“and then there was one…torpedo.”  Also, the Venture looks GREAT here.

If Symons’ taut pulse-pounding direction of the crew’s preparations, ultimately resulting in the Venture launching two of its three remaining torpedoes, at the very ship housing their compatriots wasn’t enough to have you “white knuckling” the pages, there’s more. Complicating things is the fact that Evelyn had the audacity to go and “double book” her interrogation session off in some other part of the ship at the exact same time. Girls, right? Oh, and did I mention the evasive maneuvers available to a surfaced submarine? Caus’ there aren’t many. All in all, it’s a perfectly paced action sequence that isn’t drawn out, or ends up overstaying its welcome.

Of course, “all torpedo-induced escape plans and no downtime makes Jack a Michael Bay protagonist.” I kid, I kid. Bay wishes he could concoct explosive scenarios like that. Yet *SPOILERS* there’s no rest for the weary, as a pant-less Evelyn pops in on an equally shirtless Jack (nothing quite gets people undressed like the act of changing out of briny garments) and she’s quite up for a different understanding of “downtime.” Like, you know, sex. Kudos to Symons for not forcing the Venture’s crew to “third wheel” another Jack and Evelyn flirt sesh, and for picking this exact moment to have Sam traipse in, spare pants in hand, deadpanning to Evelyn that “you don’t look like you need them at the moment.” It would appear that, even underwater, one still stands a chance of being “third-degree burned.”

Captain Jack Harper: The next Old Spice spokesman?

Captain Jack Harper: The next Old Spice spokesman?

However, I’d like to point out that, despite Sam’s considerably important job (that of resident mechanic, not All-American “cock-block”) her actions have been relegated to the following: flirting with Jack, stopping others from [possibly doing more than] flirting with Jack, and later in the issue, attempting to make herself more “feminine” in dress and appearance (arguably in an effort to appeal to/incite jealousy in Jack). Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate Symons’ use of the age-old classic, the love triangle, and realize that he’s proven time and time again that he’s more than capable of subverting the problematic elements of the “serial” as a medium. Yet it’d be nice to have it clearly demonstrated that Sam does more than occasionally show up to serve as romantic tension, or keep things from being an unadulterated “sausage fest.” Just a minor suggestion.

That aside, hopefully without revealing much, (or with luck, any of it) it bears mentioning that Symons’ “final reveal” is a fantastic masterstroke to close out the arc. Even for a cynical and jaded individual such as myself, I was only able to predict that someone would be capable of carrying out the shocking twist…and it wasn’t the person I suspected. Not in the slightest. This…this is definitely going to complicate all sorts of things. Well played, The Mercenary Sea. Well played, indeed.

"...and those were the last words Jarreau ever uttered."

“…and those were the last words Jarreau ever uttered.”

While Symons turns in one hell of a page-turner that rivals his strongest work on the series: bursting at the seams with “sudden, but inevitable betrayal,” a German firing German missiles at the behest of an American, from a submarine stolen from the Chinese, in the hopes of derailing a Japanese ship, and the unsurprising truth that Captain Harper’s armpits don’t sweat, but merely secrete undiluted manliness…you probably want to know if artist Reynolds and letterer Pat Brosseau deliver the goods again. In short: absolutely.

There’s nothing quite as rewarding as watching an artist’s growth before one’s own eyes, and that’s exactly the sort of experience I’ve become accustomed to from Reynolds. Not to beat a dead octopus (or whatever the designated nautical equivalent of a horse is), but Mr. Reynolds isn’t just content to churn out top-notch art every month. Instead, his work shows a marked improvement from issue to issue. For example, in The Mercenary Sea #5, I found his depiction of such vehicles as the getaway truck and the Japanese planes as erring more on the side of sparse minimalism than Reynolds’ “stylized, but semi-detailed” aesthetic. It’s splitting hairs, I know. Yet here in the sixth issue the Venture and the Mikazuki look fantastic, having the textured coloring and definition that is a staple of Reynolds’ work.

divedivedive

By far one of my favorite pages in this issue, just the way the water moves around and onto the Venture is wonderful.

Beyond that, Symons’ story for The Mercenary Sea #6 requires a little bit of everything from previous issues, and then some…and Reynolds tackles all of it with equal aplomb. We’ve got those wonderful “on board the Venture” scenes draped in pale blues and blacks, with the shadows and silhouettes of the Venture’s piping in the background. Not to mention, a submarine-destroyer showdown that offers up a fantastic birds-eye view of Jack closing the hatch, some fantastic POV shots straight from Wulf’s periscope, and a pair of stellar splash pages with a shot of the torpedoes’ collision both above and underwater the Mikazuki, as well as the rescue of Jack and Evelyn. And the color work as the team parts ways, and Graham and Evelyn fly off into the sunset? Breathtaking…especially the final shot of the Venture imposed in front of the sun slipping into a sea of reds and purples. With all of this, and more (including a pin-up poster that has Brian Bolland-esque shading), it’s not hard to see why Reynolds needed some extra time to wrap up this issue. I, for one, feel the finished product was more than worth the wait.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t briefly touch on Pat Brosseau’s stellar lettering. If you want to see lettering that effectively supplements the art and story, check out Brosseau’s Morse Code “TAPS” that bounce from Jack’s hand on the wall, to the exterior of the Mikazuki’s hull, to Toby’s headset…and finally into the headset of an unintended audience. It’s a helpful reminder of just what everyone is reacting to, without a more overt explanation. And the “FWOOSH”s that bookend the launched torpedoes give a real punch to their speed. I could go on. I should go on. But because the picture:words exchange rate is apparently 1:1000, I’ll just opt for one of those.

The way Brosseau's lettering mirrors Reynold's splash is a joy to look at.

The way Brosseau’s lettering mirrors Reynold’s splash is a joy to look at.

In the end, The Mercenary Sea #6 is just what our Limey Doc[tor] ordered. It’s a rip-roaring adventure that bears all the trappings of the serials we know and love, isn’t afraid to turn the stakes up to 11, and, true to the genre, proved that not everybody can be trusted. This issue is a fitting example of what a team that’s perfectly in synch is capable of producing, and does little to temper my impatience over the book’s impending sabbatical.

The Mercenary Sea can be purchased at your Local Comic Shop, from Image (DRM Free!), or on Comixology (DRM Free!).

Overall Score
95 %

The Mercenary Sea #6 channels the energy and "Oceans 11" feel of its first two issues in the last issue of its first arc. Kel Symons writes what is arguably the best issue to date, and Mathew Reynolds is tasked with drawing everything but the kitchen sink.

Writing 95%
Pencils 95%
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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